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Carb Up Your Gluten-Free Training Diet

By Monique Ryan 

Navigating our wheat-filled environment can be a challenge for the athlete diagnosed with celiac disease. But there is no need to go against the grain and put the brakes on your high octane training diet and experience fatigue and poor recovery. The key is consuming the right amounts of gluten-free carbohydrate replacements for bread, cereals, pastas and other gluten containing foods, to meet the fuel demands of your training program.

mzGluten-free choices
Good high-performance gluten-free grains include rice, corn, flax, quinoa, amaranth, millet, potatoes, buckwheat, tapioca and wild rice. Oats that are not cross contaminated with gluten during production can also be consumed. Gluten contamination of even naturally gluten-free grains is possible. For inherently gluten-free grains and flours, purchase those that are labeled as “gluten-free.” There are many manufacturers that are doing things correctly and follow good manufacturing practices. They test at-risk raw ingredients as well as have a separate production factory. 

Look for quality nutrient dense gluten-free grains as well. It is especially important to consume nutrient-rich, gluten-free foods containing B vitamins and fiber when replacing fortified wheat products.

Getting in the carbohydrates
Sports nutrition plans are often characterized by the timing of carbohydrates around training, which serve as fuel before training, during training and for recovery after training.

Two hours before exercise aim for 50 to 75 grams of carbohydrate from an easily digested gluten-free snack.  During exercise lasting over 60 minutes consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour from a gluten-free sports drink. Within 30 minutes after training, consume half a gram of carbohydrate per pound of body weight for fuel replacement, paired with 10 to 20 grams of protein for muscle repair and rebuilding.

For healthy grab-and-go choices try homemade gluten-free granola, as well as nut butters on gluten-free bread and muffins. Larabars, Bumble Bars and Kind Bars are three gluten-free bars. Other quick, easy-to-pack carbohydrates such as yogurt drinks, canned fruit and applesauce can supply fuel before a workout. Of course fresh fruits and vegetables also contribute nutrient-dense carbohydrates. Plan ahead and be prepared, because you can’t grab and go on a gluten-free diet. 

Other challenges
Eating out is the biggest challenge for anyone on a gluten-free diet, including an athlete. I would recommend that they pack their own foods and meals, especially when traveling to competition. Inadvertently consuming gluten close to an important training session or competition can also slow down an athlete. Planning a strategy for managing any symptoms that arise should be personalized.

Quinoa salad with black beans and corn
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup fresh corn kernels
3 green onions, chopped
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 small red pepper seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice from one lime
2 teaspoons cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Cook quinoa in boiling water for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed and the little “tails” appear. Place the warm quinoa in a large bowl. Add the beans, corn, onion, red pepper and tomato. Mix olive oil, lime juice, garlic, black pepper and cumin and stir into quinoa mixture. Salad can be served warm or at room temperature.

Monique Ryan, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN is the leading endurance sports nutritionist. Her nearly 30 years of professional experience working with Olympic (consultant to USAT and USA Cycling), elite and age-group endurance athletes and professional sports teams make her one of the most experienced and qualified sports nutritionists in the U.S. Ryan is founder of Chicago-based Personal Nutrition Designs, LLC, and the best-selling author of "Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes" (3rd edition, VeloPress) and three other sports nutrition books. PND provides detailed nutrition plans for triathletes across North America competing in all race distances, with programs at Ryan is a Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist and a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.