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Could a gluten free diet be beneficial for professional cyclists?

In 2010, the Garmin professional cycling team moved to a gluten free diet before the Tour de France, on the advice of Garmin’s exercise physiologist. Leading riders reported improved digestion, better sleep and stronger recovery.

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So could a gluten free diet be beneficial for professional cyclists? Certainly cyclists perceive that gluten triggers inflammation, and 70% of cyclists report they suffer from digestive symptoms.

Is gluten to blame?

Professional cyclists burn a colossal number of calories, around 8,000 a day during an endurance race like the Tour de France. A great deal of those calories come from carbohydrates like pasta and rice, and the sugars in these foods may be partly to blame, as they are poorly digested, causing bloating and diarrhoea. Intense exercise may also be to blame, as it directs blood flow from the gut and into the muscles.

However, with 1 in 100 people suffering from coeliac disease, and a further 10% of the population estimated to have ‘non-coeliac gluten sensitivity’, could going gluten free deliver performance gains?

Gluten free and high performance cycling

The University of Colorado tested how a gluten free diet affected a group of non-coeliac professional cyclists. These cyclists had no previous history of irritable bowel conditions.

The cyclists ate either gluten free or gluten diets for 7 days, then swapped diets for another 7 days – with gluten free snacks supplementing gluten free meals. Researchers monitored performance, inflammation and digestion markers and found no significant difference between the 2 groups.

So what are the benefits?

Although the study was conclusive regarding performance enhancement, eliminating gluten completely is essential if you have been diagnosed with coeliac disease, and is beneficial if you have a gluten sensitivity.

If you decide to try a gluten free diet, and base it around plenty of wholegrains, leafy green vegetables and unprocessed foods, then you’ll enjoy the benefits of eating healthily. There are also plenty of gluten free alternatives to the snacks all cyclists need mid-ride – just try online

You will need to build in those carbohydrates that fuel your performance, so focus on grains like quinoa, rice, corn oats and pulses and substitute your wheat based breakfast cereal with porridge and rice cereals.

With the enduring popularity of gluten free, it seems that for now at least, pasta’s days may be numbered.

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