Gluten-free diet has become the new fad among the health conscious, especially those with an athletic bent of mind. Many aspiring sportsmen forsake gluten in their diets for superior performance but a new study suggests that the benefits of a gluten free diet are greatly exaggerated.
More than 1000 athletes took part in a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise last year which indicated that 41% of them followed a gluten-free diet. Only 13% of them, however, had been medically diagnosed with some form of allergy to gluten, indicating that most of them followed the diet mostly because of its purported health benefits, reported the New York Times.
The study, conducted by Dana Lis, a PhD candidate from Australia made an attempt to understand whether gluten, a protein found in bread, rye and barley, had any influence on the body at all.
Many participants in the study told researchers that they believed the diet would help them avoid digestive problems. Some estimates suggest that 90% of athletes, especially those who take part in endurance sports, experience some form of gastrointestinal problems after a workout.
Lis devised an ingenious solution to solving this problem. She developed two sports bars, both indistinguishable in taste but with one of them containing gluten. Then, she invited cyclists to take part in an experiment where they would be fed random bars for one week each, neither the researchers nor the participants having any idea about which bar they were consuming.
The participants were asked to fill daily questionnaires about any gastrointestinal problems they may be facing. At the end of each week, they were put through a strenuous time trial session to test their athletic performance.
The results, surprisingly, showed no real differences. “An athlete’s nutrient intake and timing are so critical to performance,” Dana Lis concluded. “I hope that people learn to be more objective in terms of what they hear and read about gluten-free diets and nutrition in general.”
Of course, the study was small-scale and short term. Whether the results change over the course of a longer testing period remains to be seen.