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Is a Gluten-free Diet Good for Professional Cyclists?

Does a gluten-free diet imrove the performance of competitive bicyclists, even if they don't have celiac disease?


Photo: CC--Tomas Faro

Celiac.com 11/18/2016 - Does a gluten-free diet offer special benefits to competitive bicyclists? A number of professional cyclists have adopted gluten-free diets in the last few years, mostly based on the notion that ditching gluten will improve training and/or performance.

The first big push came when team Garmin, led by their CEO and exercise physiologist, switched to a gluten-free diet in advance of the 2010 cycling tour. By 2012, according to a University of Colorado survey of almost 300 endurance cyclists, the gluten-free was the most popular 'special' diet among that group. Moreover, 84% of gluten-free cyclists said that eating gluten caused symptoms that adversely impacted their training.

Now, in fairness, about 7 out of 10 endurance athletes who compete at recreational level report digestive issues. So, could a gluten-free diet help? Recently, the University of Colorado scientists studied the effects of a short-term gluten-free diet in a group of non-celiac competitive cyclists, all with no history of irritable bowel symptoms.

Here's how it went down. For seven days, under normal training conditions, the research team gave the cyclists either a gluten-free or gluten-containing diet, then subjected them to a 45-minute steady-state ride and 15-minute time trial on day seven. The research team then led the cyclists through a washout period before reversing the diets, then again conducting the timed rides. Cyclists had no idea which diet they were on at any given time. This was done by concealing the gluten in otherwise gluten-free food bars, which the riders consumed twice each day.

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During the study researchers monitored cycling performance, digestion and inflammation markers. On reviewing the data, they found no difference between the two diets on performance, digestive health or inflammation.

Larger, more comprehensive studies are needed before we know for sure, but this casts serious doubt on any claims of enhanced performance for athletes without celiac disease who adopt gluten-free diets.

So, while athletes with celiac disease will definitely see health benefits, and likely performance benefits, from going gluten-free, those without celiac disease would do just as well to go back to their normal training diets.

Read more at Cycling Weekly.

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