The gluten free rugby diet – fad or fantastic?

The gluten free rugby diet – fad or fantastic?

With the Wales v England Six Nations match looming, and a trend of ‘the rugby gluten free diet’ emerging, we ask – is it beneficial for non-coeliac athletes to follow a GF diet?

Originally, the GF diet was followed almost exclusively by people who suffer from coeliac disease. Now however, we know that among the general population, gluten avoidance has become prevalent primarily as a result of self-diagnosed bowel-related disorders. People with symptoms associated with irritable bowel have dabbled with many different dietary restrictions in the belief that these may alleviate symptoms. However, many without abdominal complaints have also elected to adopt dietary restriction under the premise that a wheat or gluten-free diet, for example, is healthier or can aid weight loss.


There is a widespread belief amongst certain areas of the sporting community that going GF will improve athletic performance and increase wellbeing. Although there is little scientific fact to back this, there are plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the theory, and indeed plenty of evidence to disprove the theory. For example, Novak Djokovic believes that his success is due to having a gluten free diet, whereas Andy Murray is reported as saying that it made him feel weak.


Possible causes for athletes finding a gluten free diet beneficial are that it can actually be healthier simply because you have to avoid a lot of processed foods, therefore, your body doesn't have to work as hard to digest them. Result? You feel better! Another quite possible cause put forward by the scientific community is that the effect is psychological, you think that you are going to perform better so you do.


Whatever the truth, one thing is plain, the GF diet works for some in sport and not for others; it is a highly individual thing.