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Does a gluten-free diet make you a better athlete?


gluten_free_athletes3Gluten has been a buzzword in the wellness world for quite some time—and for some seriously fit people, getting rid of the grain was seen as a panacea for tackling the not-so-fun parts of being healthy: bloating, cramps, diarrhea, and other gut problems that might plague you as you try to set a PR. (About 90 percent of distance runners, cyclists, and triathletes have dealt with this issue, the New York Times reports.)

But is going gluten-free truly the answer? A recent study from the University of Tasmania and the Canadian Sport Institute Pacific reports that giving up gluten does not give athletes a boost—at least in the short term.

The randomized, controlled, double-blind study looked at 13 male and female competitive cyclists with no known gluten sensitivities and started them on two weeklong gluten-free diets. (During one week, each cyclist was fully gluten-free; during the other, he or she ate a “hefty amount of gluten” thanks to a sports bar specifically designed for the study.)

The results? No significant differences. The cyclists’ performances were essentially identical after a week eating zero gluten and a week eating lots of it. Plus, their inflammatory markers were indistinguishable.

This study was only a short-term one, so whether or not going gluten-free in the long run will help or hurt you (ahem) on long runs is TBD. But for now, unless you have a diagnosed sensitivity, there’s no need to go too crazy tracking down a nutrition bar sans gluten before your next Mile High Run Club workout. —Alison Feller

For tried-and-true advice on competitive fitness, check out these tips from a New York City Triathlon pro

(Photo: Robert Caplin)