Best Foods for Gluten-Free Runners

Bean salad
Rob MacDougall

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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