Is bread bad or good for athletes?
One of the common questions I get about diet is about bread. Is it part of a healthy diet? Eat it? Avoid it? Gluten-free, whole-grain or white? What place does it have in athlete’s diet?
This question comes from ordinary people and from athletes alike. I am sure that there is someone you know who avoids bread.

The two main reasons why people avoid bread are:

  1. Avoiding bread due to health concerns (Celiac disease, gluten-free diet, paleo …).
  2. Avoiding bread to lose weight.
In this post, I will focus on grains and bread in general.
An extensive article on cereals and their effects on health was recently published in the journal Advances in Nutrition (Jones et al., 2020). The authors focused on the comparison of white and whole grains and their effects on various health indicators, such as weight, inflammation in the body, all cause mortality, the incidence of diabetes, or cardiovascular diseases.
Here are the results they found:
  • No effect on weight and weight loss was found. However, different populations reacted to different cereals in different ways (eg. Chinese are better adapted to high rice consumption> 400g / day)
  • The more processed the food, the greater the effect on blood sugar. However, this has no practical implications for a healthy population.
  • Consumption of whole grain products has a positive effect on satiety. It is more difficult to overeat whole grain products.
  • People who eat whole grains have higher education and socio-economic status, more activity and do not smoke. This reflects the links between whole grain foods and better health outcomes.
  • Bread itself does not have a significant effect on health and body weight. What your diet looks as a whole is the most important factor.

How to choose healthy bread, recommendations:

Before I give you recommendations on how to choose bread, let’s look into the history of bread-making. It will help you understand the ins and outs of bread.

Bread has played an essential role in development of the human race. Ever since we settled down and started growing crops thousands years ago.

A brief history of bread

Bread is found in Neolithic sites in Turkey and Europe from around 9,100 years ago. (from Wikipedia)

Different cultures processed bread differently and used different crops. In Europe and the Middle East, wheat and barley were the most popular, maize was used in America, and rice in Asia. So the next time a friend tells you not to eat bread because your predecessors did not eat it, remind him or her about that.

The modern bread

However, the bread we know nowadays comes nowhere close to what it was thousands years ago. We selectively bread crops to have higher starch content and later started using genetic modification of plants.

While genetic modification does not make the grain bad for our health, GMO wheat is associated with gut issues. It is more likely that the problem is not in the genetic modification itself, but rather how it is used.

Genetic modification alters the crop to be more resistant to pesticides and herbicides, which allows farmers to use more of it. As a result, we get more of these compounds in our diet, which can contribute to gut microbiome disruptions and increased gut permeability (Leaky gut syndrome).

From grain to loaf – The role of processing

Processing of grains and bread-making has changed as well. While thousands of years ago it would take hours to days to make a loaf of bread, nowadays the process is much quicker, at the expense of us, the consumers. Part of the processing is removing bran, which contains some vitamins, minerals and fiber, while exposing starch in the endosperm. What this means that the energy we get per gram of flour went up, while nutrient density went down.

Milling has improved as well, allowing for finer grind. Lower particle size allows us to digest energy more efficiently, once again providing more energy to us. While this can be somewhat negative for sedentary people, for active people and athletes with high energy demands, including easier to absorb sources of energy are beneficial.


  • Eat at least half of the cereals, in this case the bread, in its whole grain form and don’t worry about white bread.
  • I recommend wholemeal sourdough bread for taste and for better intestinal microflora.
  • Focus on bread that is locally produced and not frozen, then imported and finished (it contains stiffeners, oils and other unnecessary or undesirable substances).
  • Bread should include: flour, water, salt and yeast. Possibly nuts & seeds.. Some breads on the market also contain added vitamins and minerals.
  • Read the labels. Just because bread is brown doesn’t mean it’s whole grain. Wholemeal bread is made from wholemeal flour. A good example is Ezekiel bread and kosher bread.
  • For general consumption, choose bread that has a carbohydrate to fiber ratio of less than 5:1 (eg 50g of carbohydrates, 10g or more of fiber).
  • Learn to bake and bake bread at home. With a little practice it can be a pleasant weekend ritual (when you’re not racing somewhere).
Finally, a quote from Nancy Clark: “Keep in mind that no grains, refined or whole, is a rich source of vitamins and minerals compared to nutritious vegetables, fruits, proteins and dairy foods.”