Gluten Free Fuel To Tackle Any Exercise

Gluten Free AthletesNFL running back James Starks and quarterback Drew Brees are a few of the many professional athletes who have been tied to following a gluten free diet. Whether you are a casual exerciser or a die-hard fitness enthusiast, one thing that athletes of all levels have in common is the need for the proper fuel to prepare, sustain, and recover from exercise.

Nutritional needs of athletes vary greatly depending on the type and duration of exercise as well as the athlete’s age, gender, and body composition. The optimal blend of carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fluids play a necessary role in improving strength and performance, delaying the onset of fatigue, and reducing the incidences of injury.  Though seemingly a challenge, gluten free athletes can perform up to the same caliber with proper menu planning.

Carbohydrates play a vital function in the diets of athletes; they provide the first, immediate energy source during exercise.  It is especially important for gluten free athletes to get enough carbohydrates in their diets to prevent early fatigue and injury.  Gluten free sources of carbohydrates include fruit, dairy, certain sports drinks and nutrition bars, rice, potatoes, oats, and quinoa.

Fat is burned as an energy source in long duration, low intensity exercises.  It is best to choose monounsaturated fats, found in nuts, olive oil, and avocados, because of their effect in lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) and raising good cholesterol (HDL) levels.  It is important to limit saturated and trans fats, which are found in margarines, many processed baked goods, and high fat meats and dairy, because they raise LDL levels.

Protein functions to repair and build muscle tissue and promote a healthy immune system.  Healthy sources of protein include lean meat, poultry, fish, low fat dairy, eggs, beans, and soy.

The Gluten Free Pre-Exercise Meal
Athletes should consume a carbohydrate-rich meal 3-4 hours prior to exercise.  The meal should contain a small amount of protein, and should be low in fat and fiber for easier digestion.  It is important that all athletes are well hydrated prior to initiating activity.

Gluten Free Meal & Snack Ideas Pre-Exercise

During Exercise
Athletes participating in long-duration activities, such as marathons, may require carbohydrate and electrolyte (e.g. sodium and potassium) supplementation throughout the activity.  Athletes should focus on foods with easily digested carbohydrates to prevent any stomach discomfort and provide immediate muscle fuel.  It is important that athletes stay well hydrated to prevent dehydration, which can lead to fatigue and impaired performance.  Water is a sufficient hydration source for low to moderate activities lasting a short duration (less than 60 minutes), whereas high intensity exercises lasting more than 60 minutes may require electrolyte replacement with a sports drink.

Quick Gluten Free Fuel During Exercise

  • Bananas
  • Udi’s Bread with Jelly
  • Gluten Free Sports Drinks, Bars, and Gels (Check out gluten free varieties from these brands: Luna Protein, Hammer, PranaBar, Bumble Bar, NuGo)

The Gluten Free Recovery Meal
After exercise, it is important to replenish the fluid and electrolytes lost through sweat to prevent cramping and heat exhaustion.  A snack or meal composed of carbohydrates and protein eaten within 60 minutes of exercise can help to replace muscle glycogen (carbohydrate stored in muscles), repair any torn muscle fibers, and stimulate muscle growth.

Gluten Free Meal & Snack Ideas for Recovery:

  • Rice Bowl made with Brown Rice with Beans, Cheese, Salsa, and Avocado
  • Lean Turkey Burger on an Udi’s Whole Grain Bun + Banana
  • Stir Fry with Brown Rice, Grilled Chicken, Bell Peppers, Broccoli, and Carrots

No matter your fitness goal, gluten free food sources can provide the proper fuel needed to tackle any exercise.  You just need to create the right mental playbook.

Have other suggestions for gluten-free fuel? Comment below!
American Dietetic Association-;
Sports Illustrated-

3 responses to “Gluten Free Fuel To Tackle Any Exercise”

  1. Angela says:

    Udis saved my life:-)

  2. Becca Howard says:

    Thank you for this! I am running the Chevron Houston Marathon on Sunday and needing some fueling ideas.

  3. Lisa says:

    Great article, Jill.
    I’m a GF endurance athlete and usually eat GF oatmeal before a big workout or race (Bobs Red Mill brand to be specific) – mix with water and add in dried fruits and nuts, or a spoonful of natural peanut butter. I also top with Udi’s granola for a little crunch. I find this type of pre-workout meal tides me over a lot longer than a bagel or muffin.

    During long workouts or races, I’d think it would be pretty difficult to carry a sandwich around (but I’ve seen it done!) – personally I stick to the gels and gummy blocks. GU, Clif and Honey Stinger are my favorite brands. Infinite Nutrition also provides a way to customize a sports drink that can replace all other fuel (contains, carbs, protein, electrolytes, etc.) – useful for those doing something like an Ironman distance race.

    And post race I am always craving a pizza (they tease you with regular pizza at most races!) and have been known to have a friend bring a gluten free pizza to the finish line for me 🙂

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