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Scientific evidence suggests gluten-free diet does not improve physical performance

ABC News logo ABC News 19/10/2014
Eating a gluten-free diet doesn't affect physical performance, scientists believe. © Grady Coppell/Getty Images Eating a gluten-free diet doesn't affect physical performance, scientists believe.

A growing number of recreational and professional athletes have been avoiding gluten in a bid to boost their performance, but there has been little scientific evidence of whether the dietary strategy works.

A study by University of Tasmania (UTAS) PhD student Dana Lis found up to 40 per cent of recreational and professional athletes are avoiding gluten.

But the Launceston based researcher said there was little scientific evidence to back up the strategy.

"Especially [for] high performance athletes we really need to be advising on evidence-based research and not anecdotal write-ups on the internet," she said.

Co-researcher Dr Cecilia Shing said there could be downsides to going gluten-free unless advised by a doctor.

"It's expensive, there's often a risk of even micronutrient deficiencies because a lot of the foods aren't fortified, you may be affecting your fibre intake. It's difficult when you're travelling," she said.

To test the effects of a gluten-free diet, Ms Lis measured the performance and wellbeing of a group of cyclists and triathletes.

The athletes ate a special diet for two weeks but were not told whether it included gluten.

There were early indications that avoiding gluten did not boost performance.

"Between trial one and trial two, or even the familiarisation and the trials, there was no significant difference in performance," said Ms Lis.

Body builder and personal trainer Jesthony Ziemkiewicz believed going gluten-free would give him a winning edge.

The athlete also sells nutritional products to athletes who want to avoid the protein found in wheat-based foods like bread.

"I do eat a lot of gluten-free products, most of my sup[plement]s I take are gluten free. It just seems to be a trend that everyone's following," he said.

Mr Ziemkiewicz believed athletes were also keen to get the inside scoop on gluten.

"Yeah, for sure, I'd be very interested," he exclaimed.

"I'd be the first to read any research journals that come out."

The results of the study will be presented at a conference in the United States next year.

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