"Gluten-free" used to be a diet followed exclusively by celiacs, people with an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that requires completely eliminating gluten. But in 2012, Celiac.com reported 1.6 million people follow a gluten-free diet without a celiac diagnosis.
Today, many non-celiac endurance athletes have begun to adopt this eating style, as well. Some say they remove gluten from their diet to control weight. Others follow the diet to reduce inflammation.
Regardless the reason, the question is: Should non-celiac athletes go gluten-free? The answer isn't cut-and-dry. There are pros and cons. Consider both to know if a gluten-free diet is right for you.
The ProsShifts the Focus Back to Whole: Eliminating wheat, oats, barley and rye helps reduce processed food intake when done correctly. Wheat is found in foods such as bread, pasta, pastries, cereals, pancakes, pretzels, snack mixes and crackers. It's also hiding in items like salad dressing, marinades, seasonings, soups and alcoholic beverages.
Although it's important for endurance athletes to include adequate amounts of carbohydrate in their diets, consumption of gluten-filled grains is not required. There are plenty of non-gluten carbohydrate sources, including fruit, sweet potatoes, legumes, dairy products and grains like quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat and brown rice. Following a gluten-free diet can promote the consumption of more nutrient-dense, whole-food choices.
Reduces GI Distress and Inflammation: Gluten can trigger an inflammatory response in the body among celiacs and non-celiacs alike, according to The American Journal of Gastroenterology. Tummy troubles and training-induced inflammation are prevalent among endurance athletes. For many athletes, elimination of gluten products improves both issues and, therefore, leads to a boost in performance.
One theory behind the explosion of gluten intolerance in recent years is that we're over-consuming wheat, oats, barley and rye. As a result, gluten resistance can become a possibility even for non-celiac individuals. At this time, these findings are mainly testimonial. The ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal recommends more research be conducted in this area.
Eliminates Intolerance Risk: There are varying degrees of gluten intolerance/sensitivity, and the Celiac Disease Foundation cites that one in three people are at least mildly gluten intolerant. They may have fewer side effects than a true celiac, but gluten protein still wreaks havoc on their bodies. Cutting gluten from the diet eliminates any health risks associated with gluten consumption among individuals who have sensitivities to the protein.