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The Endurance Athlete’s Guide to Eating Gluten-Free

Have you been thinking about switching to a gluten-free diet, but you don’t know how to pull it off? I mean, it can’t work for an endurance athlete, can it?

As it turns out, it can work very, very well! I thought it was a fad until I tried it myself – now I’m a gluten-free convert. I only wish I had tried it sooner. If you want to go gluten-free, keep reading for my tips and advice that will cut gluten out of your diet without much effort.

What You Need to Know About Gluten

Gluten is a protein found in wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye.

So grains are terrible, right? Not so fast… It may seem counter intuitive to Paleo practitioners and low-carb proponents, but the problem with grains in this case is due to a protein, not the carbohydrates.

The point is this – going gluten-free does not mean you have to give up your #1 fuel source, carbohydrates!

You just need to be careful, because many high-carb foods tend to be high in gluten. Examples include: bread, cereal bars, cereal, cookies, snack cakes, doughnuts, bagels, beer, etc..

Bread flours are the worst (even worse than pastry flours) since gluten enhances the elasticity of the dough, making for delicious, chewy bread. So most bread is unnaturally high in gluten!

Fortunately, nearly all these foods can be replicated in gluten-free versions! There are also other grains, like oats, which are naturally gluten-free. In the next sections, I’ll cover why you should go gluten-free and give you some specific food recommendations.

Why Go Gluten-Free?

First, there’s the obvious reason – if you have Celiac disease, gluten is going to make your life miserable. Between 0.5 and 1.0 percent of people in the United States are sensitive to gluten due to Celiac disease. The only treatment for them is a lifelong gluten-free diet.

For the rest of us, it’s quite possible we have a slight sensitivity to gluten but don’t even realize it. I removed wheat from my diet about a year ago, following an elimination diet protocol, and I have found that I consistently feel fresh and well-rested. If I add wheat into my diet, I feel sluggish. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that I function better on a wheat/gluten-free diet.

In general, people choose to go gluten-free for health reasons including less inflammation and better immune system function. If your immune system is weak or you feel tired and fatigued all the time, consider going gluten-free. There’s a tremendous upside and virtually no downside to doing a trial run. (Oh, you don’t want to give up doughnuts? Cry me a river!)

This next section will outline all the good food options for you…

Gluten-Free Foods Are Everywhere These Days

Though wheat, rye, and barley are packed with gluten, some grains are naturally gluten-free. These are rice, corn, and oats. Unless you’re extremely sensitive to gluten, you can consume these grains without concern.

The only reason you see products like “gluten-free oats” is because of possible gluten contamination. Oats can be contaminated in the field and in the factory by stray wheat; consider farm equipment that harvests both wheat and oats as one example. The amount of contamination is negligible… unless you have Celiac disease. In that case, it’s worth the extra money to get that extra assurance.

For the average endurance athlete, simply avoiding wheat is enough to see a difference.

Wheat alternatives to round out your diet:

  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Chia seeds
  • Beans and lentils
  • Potatoes

Wheat flour alternatives:

You can use potato, rice, soy, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, bean, or oat flour in place of wheat flour if you like to cook. Look into almond flour (almond meal) too. A little bit of that will transform your baking!

Bread and pasta alternatives:

If you look around, it’s amazing what you’ll find. You can go to the grocery store and get a box of corn pasta or brown rice pasta, and not only is it gluten-free, it tastes even better than normal wheat pasta!

Gluten-free bread isn’t hard to find, either. You can find actual loaves of bread in your local stores or look online and you’ll see products like Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Homemade Wonderful Bread Mix which let you bake your own.

Next up, we’ll look at an endurance athlete necessity – energy bars!

Gluten-Free Energy Bars

There are a number of good energy bars, energy bar alternatives, gels, and sports drinks that are gluten-free.

Quite a few popular bars are oat-based and wheat-free, making them good choices for those who don’t need certified gluten-free bars. The Good Greens bars I reviewed earlier this month even use gluten-free oats.

When it comes to gels and sports drinks, very few of them contain wheat or flour, so it’s a similar situation. Most are based on maltodextrin, which is generally derived from corn and poses little risk. Other ingredients are mostly simple sugars that shouldn’t pose a threat either.

A few energy gels to consider:

Bars which claim to be gluten-free:

LaraBarwww.LaraBar.com (See my review!)
The LaraBar is very simple. Each bar contains just dates, fruit, and nuts. They’re one of my all-time favorites. Ready to buy? You can order these from Amazon.com.

Bonk Breakerwww.BonkBreaker.com
The Bonk Breaker is “where homestyle baking meets sports nutrition.” They look homemade – the PB&J flavor even looks like a sandwich. Ready to buy? You can order these at Amazon.com.

NuGowww.NuGoNutrition.com
The all-natural, raw NuGo bars are made of a mix of dates, figs, fruit, nuts, and seeds. Ready to buy? You can order these from Amazon.com.

Raw Revolutionwww.RawRev.com (See my review!)
Raw energy bars in great flavors including spirulina cashew, the best of the spirulina bars! Ready to buy? You can order these at Amazon.com.

BumbleBarwww.BumbleBar.com
BumbleBars are handcrafted in Spokane, Washington using only the most natural ingredients. Ready to buy? You can order these at Amazon.com.

Wonderbarwww.WonderEnergyBar.com
The WonderBar is an all-natural fruit and nut bar sweetened only with honey. Ready to buy? Purchase at www.WonderEnergyBar.com.

RiseBarwww.RiseBar.com
Rise Bars are packed with antioxidant-rich fruits and nutrient-dense nuts to deliver an all-natural energy boost that feeds the mind and body. Ready to buy? You can order these from Amazon.com.

Juti Barwww.JutiBar.com
The Juti Bar is a handmade energy bar using all organic ingredients, including chia seeds. Ready to buy? Order at JutiBar.com.

ProBar Fuelwww.TheProBar.com
Get two servings of fruit and Omega-3’s in each Fruition bar, which is a blend of dates, oats, chia seeds, and cashews. Ready to buy? You can order these at Amazon.com.

Chunks of Energywww.ChunksOfEnergy.com (See my review!)
These are literally “chunks” of energy bars made with wholesome ingredients, and they’re delicious. Ready to buy? Check out www.ChunksOfEnergy.com.

Freeland Go Raw Barwww.GoRaw.com
Incorporate raw, living ingredients (such as sprouted organic buckwheat groats) into your diet with this Go Raw bar. Ready to buy? You can buy these at Amazon.com.

KIND Plus Nutrition Barswww.KINDsnacks.com
Containing natural fruit and nut ingredients and coming in awesome flavors like Mango Macadamia, KIND Bars look incredible. Ready to buy? You can order these at Amazon.com.

MACROBARwww.GoMacro.com
This is a high-protein, macrobiotic bar with no additives or preservatives. Ready to buy? You can buy these at Amazon.com.

Pure Barwww.ThePureBar.com
The Pure Bar is a “real food bar” with a list of ingredients that reads like a recipe of old-fashioned goodness. Ready to buy? You can buy these at Amazon.com.

Gluten-Free Cooking at Home

So, you’re the hands-on type and would prefer to make your own gluten-free energy bars? I’ll show you the good ingredients and share some of my favorite recipes!

Gluten-free flour:

All three options have 4.5+ star ratings at Amazon.com.

Gluten-free oats:

These three all have perfect 5 star customer ratings at Amazon.

Other goodies:

All 4+ star ratings at Amazon for these seeds.

My favorite recipes:

By the way, that Pure Bar knockoff recipe is actually from Veronica Bosgraaf, the founder of Pure Bar!

 

As you can see, gluten-free foods aren’t hard to find at all. There are many alternatives and replacements for whatever you eat normally.

Making the switch isn’t that difficult, either. You might not want to go 100% gluten-free, and that’s fine – I’m on a “gluten-sparse” diet, and it’s awesome for performance and general well-being. I just eat a lot of oatmeal, steamed rice, and all kinds of potatoes and yams.

If you try it or are already doing it, please share your experience in the comments!

 

*Please keep in mind that this is a guide for endurance athletes who are contemplating a wheat-free or gluten-free lifestyle. It is not intended to be a complete resource for those affected by Celiac disease.

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2 Comments
  1. It’s really nice to see people are starting to follow gluten-free diets without having Coeliac disease. I have the disease, and because it’s becoming common news, now I can read all these articles and such from the internet which wasn’t available a few years back. So – if you are following gluten free-diets by choice or whatever, please continue to do so, so the prices continue to fall and I can have better and cheaper choices on the consumers market!

  2. I’m not shocked that you tend to feel better on a gluten-free diet. It makes you really think about what you eat and I know that I tend to eat healthier when I cut gluten out of my diet. I just have a weak spot for bread that keeps me from being a purist. However, I, like you, notice the difference when I cheat on my gluten free diet.

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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