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Athletes Shouldn't Stray from Gluten Says New Study

Researchers say gluten-free diets don't improve performance or gastrointestinal issues in people without a sensitivity.

Gluten wars raged through 2015 and they’re still ongoing early in 2016. Some claim the stuff—found in wheat, barley, and rye—is essentially poison that can screw your digestive system and even wreak havoc on your performance at the gym. Others say that unless you’re clinically diagnosed with a condition like celiac disease, there’s no reason to cut out the stuff that can actually be pretty healthy—particularly if you’re an athlete. (Just check out these six gluten-filled foods that are great for you!) See, the thing is, there are gluten-filled foods that suck. But there are also gluten-free foods that suck. If you eliminate gluten but fill up on gluten-free brownies, you’re not really doing your body a service, are you?

Still, some athletes say they “feel better” when they eat gluten-free—and there is a case for eliminating the stuff for two weeks to see how you fare. But if you don’t notice major improvements in digestive problems, fatigue, etc., you might want to add it back in, suggests a small recent study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Researchers had a group of 13 competitive endurance athletes without gluten sensitivities follow a gluten-free diet for a week. The following week, some of them were given gluten-free bars while others had bars with 18 grams of wheat added in—none of them new which bars they were eating and they looked and tasted identical.

Afterwards, researchers noted that there was no significant difference in performance—or in gastrointestinal issues during exercise.

“An athlete’s nutrient intake and timing are so critical to performance,” study author Dana Lis, a Ph.D. candidate in Australia, told The New York Times. “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.”

That's the bottom line really: Everyone will react to gluten—and food period—differently. So even though this study was small and short-term and Lis notes that more research is needed, it brings up an important point. Eliminating gluten is not a panacea, Lis told The New York Times. Instead of treating it as such, if you experience digestive issues during exercise, talk to a nutritionist or your doctor about possible solutions.

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