Adherence to a gluten-free diet (GFD) for nonceliac athletes (NCA) has become increasingly popular despite a paucity of supportive medical or ergogenic evidence. This study aimed to quantify the demographics of NCA and determine associated experiences, perceptions, and sources of information related to GFD. Athletes (n = 910, female = 528, no gender selected = 5) completed a 17-question online survey. Forty-one percent of NCA respondents, including 18-world and/or Olympic medalists, follow a GFD 50–100% of the time (GFD > 50): only 13% for treatment of reported medical conditions with 57% self-diagnosing their gluten sensitivity. The GFD > 50 group characteristics included predominantly endurance sport athletes (70.0%) at the recreationally competitive level (32.3%), between 31 and 40 years of age (29.1%). Those who follow a GFD > 50 reported experiencing, abdominal/gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms alone (16.7%) or in conjunction with two (30.7%) or three (35.7%) additional symptoms (e.g., fatigue) believed to be triggered by gluten. Eighty-four percent of GFD > 50 indicated symptom improvement with gluten-removal. Symptom-based and non-symptom-based self-diagnosed gluten-sensitivity (56.7%) was the primary reason for adopting a GFD. Leading sources of GFD information were online (28.7%), trainer/coach (26.2%) and other athletes (17.4%). Although 5–10% of the general population is estimated to benefit clinically from a GFD a higher prevalence of GFD adherence was found in NCA (41.2%). Prescription of a GFD among many athletes does not result from evidence-based practice suggesting that adoption of a GFD in the majority of cases was not based on medical rationale and may be driven by perception that gluten removal provides health benefits and an ergogenic edge in NCA.
Dana M. Lis, Trent Stellingwerff, Cecilia M. Shing, Kiran D.K. Ahuja, and James W. Fell
Dana Lis, Kiran D.K. Ahuja, Trent Stellingwerff, Cecilia M. Kitic, and James Fell
Athletes employ various dietary strategies in attempts to attenuate exercise-induced gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms to ensure optimal performance. This case-study outlines one of these GI-targeted approaches via the implementation of a short-term low FODMAP (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) diet, with the aim to attenuate persistent running specific GI symptoms in a recreationally competitive multisport athlete (male, 86 kg, 57.9 ml·kg·min-1 V02max, 10–15 hr/week training, with no diagnosed GI disorder). Using a single-blinded approach a habitual diet was compared with a 6-day low FODMAP intervention diet (81 ± 5g vs 7.2 ± 5.7g FODMAP s/day) for their effect on GI symptoms and perceptual wellbeing. Training was similar during the habitual and dietary intervention periods. Postexercise (During) GI symptom ratings were recorded immediately following training. Daily GI symptoms and the Daily Analysis of Life Demands for Athletes (DALDA) were recorded at the end of each day. Daily and During GI symptom scores (scale 0–9) ranged from 0–4 during the habitual dietary period while during the low FODMAP dietary period all scores were 0 (no symptoms at all). DALDA scores for worse than normal ranged from 3–10 vs 0–8 in the habitual and low FODMAP dietary periods, respectively, indicating improvement. This intervention was effective for this GI symptom prone athlete; however, randomized-controlled trials are required to assess the suitability of low FODMAP diets for reducing GI distress in other symptomatic athletes.