Commercial Hype Versus Reality: Our Current Scientific Understanding of Gluten and Athletic Performance

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Abstract

Recent explosion in the prevalence of gluten-free athletes, exacerbated by unsubstantiated commercial health claims, has led to some professional athletes touting gluten-free diet as the secret to their success. Forty-one percent of athletes report adhering to a gluten-free diet (GFD), which is four-fold higher than the population-based clinical requirements. Many nonceliac athletes believe that gluten avoidance improves gastrointestinal well-being, reduces inflammation, and provides an ergogenic edge, despite the fact that limited data yet exist to support any of these benefits. There are several plausible associations between endurance-based exercise and gastrointestinal permeability whereby a GFD may be beneficial. However, the implications of confounding factors, including the risks of unnecessary dietary restriction, financial burden, food availability, psychosocial implications, alterations in short-chain carbohydrates (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), and other wheat constituents emphasize the need for further evaluation.

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