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Can Gluten-free Diet Help Athletic Performance by Reducing Junk Food Intake?

Celiac.com 03/23/2016 - Can a gluten-free diet help athletes who do not have celiac disease or gluten-intolerance to improve their performance in competition? Photo: Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon--CC--FourthandfifteenYes, says Luke Corey, a dietitian for Exos, which creates sports performance and nutrition training programs at Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota.

These benefits are real, Corey says, even though there is no published research indicating a gluten-free diet benefits the general population, athletes who avoid gluten enjoy an overall healthier diet. Corey adds that a gluten-free diet benefits an athlete's health and fitness even if he or she did not have a problem with gluten.

"The main thing is the change in the overall diet," said Corey, who has worked with a wide variety of amateur and pro athletes, including players from the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball.

In most cases, the benefits come not so much by removing wheat, but by removing “…unhealthy, highly processed foods that are not very nutritious and replacing them with foods that are better quality and more nutritious.

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Corey says that the athletes he treats who eliminate gluten generally avoid highly processed bread, pasta, cookies, desserts and snacks that contain wheat.

Major professional athletes who claim to have benefitted from a gluten-free diet, even though they do not have celiac disease, include: Tennis champion Novak Djokovic; New York Yankees' Mark Teixeira; Christie Rampone of the United States women's national soccer team; and Justin Pugh, New York Giants offensive tackle.

What do you think? Are athletes who follow a gluten-free diet for non-medical reasons seeing benefits largely from eating healthier, less-processed foods? Is that a bad thing?

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