Best Gluten-free Foods for Runners

Choosing the right foods is essential to your running performance and post-run recovery. Carbohydrates fuel your body during workouts and they (combined with protein) also help your body recover, especially after long runs.

If you’re trying to eliminate gluten from your diet, you can’t have some of the typical runners’ carb staples, such as wheat pasta and bread. But finding tasty, gluten-free carb options is not as tough as some may think. Here are some naturally gluten-free options that provide runners those essential carbs:

Fresh and dried fruit.  Fruits are a great source of carbs. Many runners prefer low-fiber, fast-digesting fruits like bananas as part of a pre-run breakfast or as a snack. An added bonus of bananas is that they contain potassium, which can aid in muscle contraction and helps prevent muscle cramping. Dried fruit is perfect for some fuel during a run.

Butternut squash. A great source of carbohydrates, butternut squash is packed with vitamin A, which can aid in recovery and help reduce exercise-related inflammation. Like sweet potatoes, they’re great in fall soups and salads.

Cornmeal is an extremely versatile food and is packed with flavor and antioxidants. You can use it to make cereal, polenta, grits, crab cakes, stuffing, corn cakes, and as breading for many different recipes.

Greek yogurt. Packed with protein (14 grams per serving), Greek yogurt also contains essential minerals such as potassium and calcium. Use Greek yogurt in a smoothie or add some gluten-free granola (I love the one from Trader Joe’s) to a container of Greek yogurt for a quick pre-run or post-run mini-meal. Another benefit of greek yogurt vs. regular yogurt is that it keeps you full and satisfied longer, so you won’t feel hungry as quickly.

QuinoaA tasty and healthy alternative to pasta, quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a grain that has a fluffy, creamy, almost crunchy texture and a nutty flavor when cooked. Quinoa is not only packed with carbs, it’s also very protein-rich. Look for quinoa in the grain section at health food stores and some supermarkets. And you don’t have to be a gourmet chef to prepare it – if you can boil rice, you can cook quinoa.  Some runners I know eat it with fish or chicken, or even cold in a salad.

Soba noodles.  Japanese soba noodles are made with buckwheat, which is actually not wheat, so they’re gluten-free. (Some brands do contain wheat, so be sure to check the label.) They provide as many carbs as regular spaghetti and 8 grams of protein per serving.

Sweet Potatoes. Delicious and versatile, sweet potatoes are chock-full of vitamin A, an antioxidant, and carbs. They’re also a good source of vitamin C, potassium, iron.They’re perfect in a salad or soup after a long marathon training run when they’re in season in the fall.

Brown rice, brown rice pasta, and brown rice cakes. Whole-grain brown rice provides slow-burning carbs and lots vitamins and minerals, plus fiber to keep you full.

White rice. While not as nutritious as brown rice, white rice is lower in fiber and a good option if you want to eat easily digested carbohydrates the night before a race or long run.

Beans. Beans provide carbs, protein, and fiber all in one convenient package. Beans also contain iron, which is important to maintaining your energy. Just make sure you don’t overdo it with beans, especially the night before a long run or race, since you could find yourself making many pit stops.

Popcorn. As long as it’s not loaded with butter, oil, sugar, or loads of salt, air-popped popcorn can be a healthy, low-cal snack. Popcorn also contains lots of antioxidants.  Corn kernels are a whole grain, so they have similar nutritional benefits to brown rice or whole wheat bread. Popcorn is also full of fiber, so even a 100-calorie serving (about 3 cups) will help you feel fuller longer.

For even more gluten-free foods and recipes for runners, check out this gluten-free snacks round-up on Runners Connect.

Gluten-free Options for Long Runs

For longer runs or races that are 90+ minutes, runners need to consume some quick-digesting carbs to replace the energy they’re burning and avoid hitting the wall. Fortunately for gluten-free runners, there are lots of gluten-free options for easy-to-carry carbs.

Rebecca, a gluten-free marathoner and blogger, offers some excellent tips for running gluten-free and suggestions for long run foods on her blog post, Gluten-Free Fuel for Long Runs. Here are ideas from some of my gluten-free running friends and trainees. Make sure that you try out a food during a training run before using it during a race. Remember: Nothing new on race day!

  • Honey Stinger honey packets
  • Fruit leather
  • Gummy candies such as Swedish fish, gummy bears, Sour Patch kids or jelly beans
  • Gluten-free pretzels or cookies
  • Gluten-free cereal such as Rice Chex
  • Gels (Powergel, Gu, Hammer Gel, Clif Shot and Carb Boom)
  • Gu Chomps, Cliff Shots, Sharkies, and Sport Beans
  • Trail mix with nuts, raisins, and M&Ms (Make your own, since some manufacturers add ingredients with gluten to packaged trail mix.)
  • Dried fruit. Raisins, figs, or dried apricots are good choices.
  • Regular fruit. Grapes, bananas, orange slices are good options if you can figure out how to carry them! Many marathons have a fruit station in the second half of the race.

Are you a gluten-free runner?  Share your ideas for pre- and post-run foods, as well as on-the-go long run options in the comments.

Photo credit:  CC BY 2.0 by katerha

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