Are you curious about going gluten free? Have you heard from running friends it made them faster and more energetic with quicker recovery times? Being a gluten free distance runner, requires planning to ensure you don’t lack energy or nutrients.
Repeatedly, I’ve shared that I don’t believe in any one diet working for everyone. So this is something to test out and see how you feel.
Give it a minimum of 10 days to really judge the effects of eliminating gluten and finding out if it’s a food intolerance for you. I’ve had many of my athletes say it made a world of difference for them and others not notice a darn thing.
In this article, I’ll go over everything you need to know about a gluten-free diet as well as a quick one-week gluten-free meal plan you can use to get started with this diet today!
What to Keep in Mind for a Gluten-Free Diet
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains. It gives bread and baked goods their chewy texture and some people need to avoid gluten completely because it causes them digestive problems or other health issues like celiac disease.
If you have celiac disease, gluten damages your small intestine so you have to be super careful and not eat any gluten at all, as following a gluten-free diet and avoiding cross-contamination can lead to fewer symptoms of gut issues and other complications..
There are also people who don’t have celiac disease but still feel better on a gluten-free diet. They might have something called non-celiac gluten sensitivity or gluten ataxia.
Going gluten-free can help with bloating, diarrhea, constipation, gas and fatigue. It also reduces inflammation if you have celiac disease. Some good things about avoiding gluten!
But there are downsides, too. Gluten-free products often don’t have as much fiber or protein. And they’re not fortified with vitamins like folate B12 and vitamin D like regular wheat breads and cereals. So you have to be careful not to end up with nutritional deficiencies if you’re gluten-free.
Just be aware you may need to supplement or eat lots of nutrient-dense foods if you go gluten-free. Especially fiber, iron, calcium and B vitamins.
Gluten Free Meal Plan for Distance Runners
As I mentioned above, the major thing that runners need to be aware of is cutting an entire food group from their diet means a possible lack of important nutrients and, in this case, FIBER.
That means fatigue, injuries, and poor performance.
When you are first starting out (assuming you don’t have a medical issue), try not to go crazy figuring out every single source of gluten.
Instead, just be aware that it is in a TON of foods, and over time you can start to weed them out.
- Fried foods, potato chips
- Salad dressing, pre-made seasonings and marinades
- Worcestershire Sauce, soy sauce, artificial flavorings
- Canned soups, candy
It’s important to work with a registered dietitian who can help you plan balanced meals that meet your nutritional needs.
Gluten-Free Diet Food List to Use in Your Meal Plan
Following a gluten-free diet requires paying careful attention to food selections, the ingredients found in foods, and their nutritional content.
Many naturally gluten-free foods can be a part of a healthy diet so it’s good to add them to your next grocery list! Let’s look at the main ones:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Beans, seeds, legumes and nuts in their natural, unprocessed forms
- Most low-fat dairy products
- Lean, nonprocessed meats, fish, and poultry such as chicken, steak, fresh tuna, salmon
- Plant-based proteins such as tofu is also allowed
Gluten Free Fruits and Veggies
Fresh produce like fruits and veggies are gluten-free in their natural state. But once they get processed into other foods, gluten can sneak in and companies might toss in wheat or malt to add flavor or thicken up the texture. So you have to keep an eye on the ingredients list if you’re avoiding gluten.
Some gluten-filled additives to watch for are hydrolyzed wheat protein and modified food starch. Although I can’t name every fruit or veggie out there, here are a few you can eat worry-free on a gluten-free diet:
- Greens, e.g., spinach, kale, Swiss chard, lettuce
- Bell peppers
- Sweet potatoes
- Green beans
Fruits and Vegetables to Double-Check on a Gluten-Free Diet
- Canned fruits and veggies can have sauces with gluten. The ones canned in just water or natural juice should be fine for gluten free diets.
- Frozen fruits and veggies are usually good too, but watch out for ones with added flavors and sauces which might have gluten.
- Dried fruits and veggies are okay if they’re plain without anything added. The sweetened kinds might have gluten though so check.
- The pre-chopped kind from the grocery shop may be risky since it may have been prepped somewhere that might contaminate it with gluten.
Basically, plain, frozen, and canned fruits and veggies in water tend to be safer bets. Dried is okay if it’s plain.
Anything with additions and sauces should be inspected closely. When in doubt, making things from scratch avoids the uncertainties of store-bought.
Are Potatoes Gluten Free?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains. Since potatoes are a starchy vegetable and not a grain, they don’t contain gluten.
So yes, potatoes themselves are totally gluten-free! This is great news if you are sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease, and you can still enjoy potatoes as part of your diet.
In fact, potatoes can be a tasty substitute for foods made with wheat or other gluten-containing grains that you need to avoid.
Mashed potatoes, for example, can take the place of wheat-based bread rolls or pasta. Baked potatoes can stand in for sandwich bread. Just be careful not to top your potatoes with ingredients that do contain gluten, like wheat-based gravy or soy sauce.
As long as you keep your potato dishes gluten-free, you can eat to your heart’s content!
Gluten Free Carbs for Runners
We all know that carbs are essential for us as runners. Here are the top carbs to have for runners on a gluten-free diet:
- Potatoes – one of the best runner carbs there is and yes even for during the run (potato fuel ideas here)
- Dried fruits – pineapple, apricots – both are good on the run fuel
- Cheerios – I do eat a LOT of Cheerios
- Gluten free oats make a stellar post run refuel
- Modern Table – red lentil pasta is a combo of protein and carbs
- Sprouted for Life or Udi’s breads are all gluten free
- Technically all candy and chocolate bars are gluten free foods too, so enjoy your swedish fish on the run
Gluten-Free Grains, Starches, and Flours:
Grains, starches or flours that can be part of a gluten-free diet include:
- Corn (cornmeal, grits, and polenta labeled gluten-free)
- Gluten-free flour (rice, soy, corn, bean, and potato flour)
- Hominy (corn)
- Rice, including wild rice and brown rice
- Tapioca (cassava root)
Grains to Avoid for Gluten-Free Diet
Avoid all foods and drinks containing the following:
- Triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)
- Oats, in some cases
Even though oats are naturally gluten-free, they can get contaminated during production and so you need to buy oats labeled gluten-free if you want to have them.
It’s worth noting that some people with celiac disease cannot tolerate even those.
What to Avoid When Shopping for Grains on a Gluten-Free Diet
If you’re not sure whether your bread, crackers, pasta and other essentials made from grains is gluten-free, taking a quick peek at the ingredients list can help you figure it out.
Steer clear of products with any of these because they contain gluten:
- Triticale (a cross between rye and wheat)
You should also avoid all other forms and varieties of wheat, including whole wheat, bulgur, farina, farro, spelt, wheat berries, emmer, einkorn, Kamut, durum, graham, semolina, and bromated flour.
Other Flours with Gluten
There are all kinds of names for wheat flour depending on what you do to the wheat or flour when you mill it. All these flours have gluten in them:
- Graham flour
- Self rising flour (aka phosphate flour)
- Enriched flour with added vitamins and minerals
Glute-Free Meal Plan
It can feel overwhelming or confusing to understand gluten-free running, so here is a sample week of gluten-free meal prep ideas for endurance athletes.
This will ensure you take in enough calories, variety, and nutrients to keep you running strong. These are my go-to gluten-free recipes:
Morning runners need to pay the most attention to this meal.
We’re often rushing from run to work, but getting in some solid nutrition will off set hunger cravings later in the day, keep mood and energy high and of course give your body what it’s earned for all that hard work!
Good news nothing needs to change, slurp down those greens! After busting your butt with a tough workout, a protein-packed smoothie isn’t only a fast way to refuel.
Research shows protein rich drinks such as smoothies can also help repair muscle damage and encourage muscle growth when you get enough protein.
Here’s a fun fact – studies increasingly reveal that if women want to reap the full benefits of maintaining metabolism and building (not losing!) muscle from running or training hard, it’s ideal to refuel within 30 minutes of finishing an intense workout or long run.
It just shows how critical it is to feed your muscles promptly after challenging them in order to maximize their growth and recovery.
These make delicious make-ahead breakfast that you can just grab and go. I recommend enjoying it with some nut butter on half a GF bagel.
A great make ahead breakfast that you can grab and go. Enjoy with some nut butter on half a GF bagel
These fluffy gluten-free French toast are perfect to reload the muscles depleted of glycogen. I love that this recipe is super simple and only requires 6 pantry staple ingredients.
The best part is that you can freeze these for up to three months!
If you had a morning run, this is a great time to continue replenishing so you don’t hit the afternoon slump and crave sweets. Planning an evening run? Then go for easily digestible foods!
The goal is to ensure you’re getting a mix of proteins, fats and carbs.
- Salad lover – Check the label on your dressing, but otherwise as mentioned above, all veggies, meat, and fruits are safe!
- On-the-go eater – Make a burrito with GF Udi’s, stuffed with black beans, spinach, salsa, avocado, and ground turkey
- Make ahead – Hearty Veggie Chili or Spicy White Bean Chicken Chili
Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, recommends experimenting with a new diet – including a gluten-free one – at least three to four months before race day.
Our final chance to get in a good amount of protein for muscle repair and carbs to ensure that you wake up tomorrow ready to keep training!
Pizza fiend? Gluten free chicken tikka masala pizza from NutMegNanny is incredible.
Pizza is a go to before long runs around here. And this pizza with chicken tikka masala is a tasty gluten-free choice for pizza night. It’s packed with aromatic Indian spices and comes together easily.
You’ll love the flavor combo of chicken, tomatoes, and Indian spices piled high on a crispy gluten-free crust.
Pizza night just got a whole lot more interesting thanks to this creative spin on Indian food, and the rich, creamy tikka masala sauce pairs perfectly with the melted cheese.
This polenta casserole is my current one-dish obsession! Polenta a super versatile stone ground cornmeal and water mixture traditionally made from Italian corn which holds its texture.
Sometimes, it’s cooked to a nice creamy consistency, and others are sliced and baked, used in place of potatoes, pasta or even breadcrumbs. In this recipe, we’re turning it into a casserole that will remind you of the classic cheesy Mid-West ones you’ve grown up having.
This butternut squash mac and cheese is a gluten-free version of the classic, and will give you the tastiest mac and cheese ever!
It’s incredibly easy to make, and best of all it’s also dairy-free!
“I just had all-around better digestion, and digestion is the biggest thing in utilizing the energy I consume.” Christian Vande Velde of team Garmin prior to Tour De France.
Snacks are often the place where runners get hung up on carbs. It’s so easy to reach for the cookies, candy and bagels at your office or when on the go. Here are some gluten free snack ideas that you’ll still love.
- Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies from a Spicy Perspective
- Loaded Gluten Free Nachos From the Almond Eater
- Vanilla pumpkin cranberry muffins
- Easy Energy Bites
- And dark chocolate…have I mentioned chocolate being gluten free yet?!
Looking for more sports nutrition?
- How to Properly Carb Load for the Marathon
- Half Marathon Fueling Strategy
- What to Eat Before a Long Run
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