Perhaps It's Not The Gluten...

Gluten. Contrary to what you probably have been told & believe, it’s not some evil monster (unless you have coeliac disease). And people are contributing gluten with many health problems we’re seeing today when this couldn’t be further from the truth. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s one of the most common questions we’re asked about by young athletes & parents when it comes to nutrition…

Gluten is simply a protein that is found in plant-based foods such as wheat, rye, barley, and oats. And more and more people are blaming it for their feelings of flatulence, stomach discomfort, bloating, and other gut symptoms. And yet, gluten essentially will only affect people who have coeliac disease - which is ~1 in every 100 people

And with “gluten-free” diets increasing in popularity for their “weight” loss and health benefits, it’s time to set things straight for the impressionable young athletes. Firstly, the only time you should truly go gluten free, in our opinion, is if you’ve been tested and diagnosed as a coeliac. The reason being, that a lot of the symptoms described above such as bloating, flatulence, and stomach discomfort, as also symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is much more common than celiac disease, and has a plethora of other foods that set it off

And because we never consume foods that are ever solely just gluten containing, such as they’re always accompanied by other foods, it’s hard to solely blame gluten for these symptoms in the majority of cases

We eat wheat containing foods with other foods. Our bread is topped with butter, meats, vegetables, cheeses and other delicacies. And the same goes for our pasta’s and oats. And this is what people are not comprehending, it could be any one of these foods within the meal that are causing the reactive symptoms. For example, it may be an intolerance to amines, salicylate, or glutamates - found in some meats, vegetables, fruits, and other foods)

And due to these ‘complex’ and mixed meals, we cannot solely blame gluten for the discomfort we may feel. And what’s worse, is that completely cutting our gluten-containing foods minimises our intakes of essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals such as - fibre, iron, zinc, phosphorus, and essential B-Vitamins like thiamin, folate, riboflavin, and niacin

And that’s the point that many people miss…

These symptoms people experience and are blaming gluten for may not actually be caused by the gluten. They’re using it as a scapegoat and those symptoms may actually be from another food they’re consuming with their “gluten containing” foods

And when it comes to young athletes and adolescents, who are so impressional and require vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for growth, they need to know the truth. As going “gluten free” when there is no real need to is much more of a hassle than it should be. It provides headaches for preparing meals, purchasing “gluten free foods”, and also how to best fuel ourselves and recover

As we know that carbohydrates are essential for performance and recovery. And a lot of the gluten containing foods are our carbohydrate-rich sources - so this causes another headache and topic of discussion

Biggest Takeaway

If you experience feelings of discomfort after eating certain foods, we recommend seeing a dietitian or booking yourself in with your GP to go for a coeliac’s test. As this is the only way you’ll know 100% for sure. And, you’ll save yourself the headaches, money (and your tastebuds) from not having to go gluten-free when it’s not the causal factor. Plus, you can identify what truly is giving you these symptoms of discomfort, thus allowing you to move on and enjoy your food and eating occasions in the future

Nick Maier