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Gluten Free Carbs for Athletes

If you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, you may be searching for gluten free carbs for athletes. This list of high carb gluten free foods can help you get the most bang for your buck, nutritionally!

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What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and some other grains.

A gluten-free diet is a dietary approach that eliminates the consumption of gluten.

While people tend to focus on things they can’t have on a gluten free diet, there are several foods that are naturally gluten free that work well as part of a long distance runner’s diet plan.

Such foods can form the basis of a gluten free diet for athletes, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy products, eggs, fish, poultry, and meat.

bins of gluten free carbs

Gluten free carbs for runners may seem intimidating, but do include a wide variety of foods for performance.

Why Follow a Gluten Free Diet?

Someone may choose to follow a gluten free diet if he/she has celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage and inflammation in the small intestine.

About 1/100 people are affected with celiac disease, though only about 30% of people are properly diagnosed.

The prevalence of celiac disease in the general population is about 0.5 % to 1%.

Both true prevalence, as well as detection and diagnosis, have increased over the past 10 to 20 years.

The incidence is greater among people with autoimmune disorders like type 1 diabetes. In first-degree relatives of people affected by celiac disease, the risk is 1 in 10.

The prevalence of celiac disease in the general population is about 0.5-1%, but prevalence, detection and diagnosis have increased over the past 10-20 years.

Posner EB, Haseeb M. Celiac Disease. [Updated 2023 Aug 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441900/

Celiac Disease Symptoms

Celiac disease has over 200+ symptoms that may occur in the digestive system or other parts of the body.

Some of these symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain and bloating
  • cognitive impairment
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • depression and anxiety
  • fatigue
  • headaches and migraines
  • joint pain
  • itchy skin rash
  • nausea and vomiting
  • weight loss (unexplained)

A gluten intolerance, or sensitivity, may also lead to undesirable symptoms that occur after consuming gluten.

woman holding stomach in pain

Non-Celiac Gluten or Wheat Sensitivity

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a condition in which individuals experience symptoms similar to those of celiac disease when they consume gluten-containing foods, but they do not test positive for celiac disease or wheat allergy.

Some of these symptoms include:

  • foggy brain
  • depression
  • ADHD-symptoms

For individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a gluten-free diet may be recommended, but it should be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

It was traditionally thought that non-celiac gluten sensitivity did not lead to damage of the intestine, but a Columbia University study in 2016 found that wheat exposure in this group is, in fact, triggering a systemic immune reaction and accompanying intestinal cell damage.

Should All Athletes Go Gluten Free?

No, not all athletes need to eat a gluten-free diet.

Whether or not an athlete should consume gluten-free foods depends on their individual dietary needs and any medical conditions they may have, such as celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

However, for the vast majority of athletes who do not have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there is no compelling scientific evidence to suggest that going gluten-free will provide any performance benefits.

In fact, gluten-containing grains like wheat, barley, and rye, are some of the best carbs for runners, and can be part of a healthy diet and provide valuable nutrients, including carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

What Are Some High Carb Gluten Free Foods?

It’s important to note that there are more gluten-free substitutes now than ever before.

Many gluten-free alternatives are available, such as gluten-free flours (e.g., rice flour, almond flour, tapioca flour), gluten-free bread, pastas, and baked goods made from alternative grains like corn, quinoa, amaranth, millet, and buckwheat.

flours and oats can be gluten free foods

Therefore, runners following a gluten free diet are at no disadvantage, and should still be able to eat enough carbs for runners and follow proper protocols for carb loading foods.

However, the best gluten free carbs for runners may just look a little different. See how to incorporate gluten free carbs when carb loading for a marathon.

Here are some gluten free high carb foods:

  • quinoa
  • buckwheat
  • oats (make sure to buy certified gluten-free)
  • amaranth
  • sorghum
  • tapioca
  • millet
  • teff
  • potatoes
  • sweet potatoes
  • rice
  • corn
  • millet
  • fruits and vegetables – here’s a list of the best fruits for athletes!
  • fruit juices (there are many benefits of tart cherry juice for athletes, in addition to it being gluten-free)
  • legumes
  • unflavored soy foods

While nuts/seeds aren’t typically a carb source, they are gluten-free and nutritous add-in’s for your diet! Here’s a piece about the benefits of chia seeds for runners.

Tips for A Gluten Free Diet for Runners

If you are following a gluten free diet, here are some tips to keep in mind. In the beginning, it helps to have a gluten free carbohydrates list available.

Beware of Missing Nutrients

A gluten-free diet can sometimes be lacking in certain nutrients like fiber, iron, calcium, and B vitamins, and can lead to deficiencies.

This is why important to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before starting a gluten-free diet to ensure you receive appropriate nutrition guidance and support.

We want to ensure you are consuming a balanced diet by incorporating a variety of naturally gluten-free whole foods, as well as supplements, if necessary.

Read Food Labels Carefully

While consuming whole foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, potatoes, etc.) are safe, processed foods can be sneaky.

freezer of processed foods

This is why you want to read food labels carefully.

Some gluten additives can be food in pastas, noodles, breads, pastries, crackers, baked goods, cereals, breading, sauces, gravies, tortillas, chips, energy bars, soups, soy sauce and more.

I always advise my clients to make their own foods when possible to avoid cross-contamination. These gluten-free protein bars are easy and great around workouts.

There may also be additives or gluten ingredients in certain collagen powders or protein powders.

It can be very difficult to pay more attention when you are used to eating these foods.

Furthermore, the Celiac Disease Foundation also cautions the use of gluten in products like lipstick, makeup, toothpaste and oral care products, drugs, medications, communion wafers, vitamins and supplements.

Avoid Cross Contamination at Home

It’s crucial to prevent gluten-containing foods from coming into contact with gluten-free foods.

This may include using separate cooking utensils, cutting boards, toasters and more at home.

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Summary

Athletes should focus on a well-balanced diet that meets their individual nutritional needs, taking into account their training intensity, sport-specific demands, and any dietary restrictions or allergies they may have.

Consulting with a registered dietitian or sports nutritionist can help athletes develop personalized nutrition plans that optimize their performance and overall health.

Want your running nutrition questions answered?
Fill out this form to be matched with one of our sports dietitians.

References:

  • Lis, D., Stellingwerff, T., Kitic, C. M., Ahuja, K. D., & Fell, J. (2015). No Effects of a Short-Term Gluten-Free Diet on Performance in Nonceliac Athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 47(12), 2563-2570.
  • Niland B, Cash BD. Health Benefits and Adverse Effects of a Gluten-Free Diet in Non-Celiac Disease Patients. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2018 Feb;14(2):82-91. PMID: 29606920; PMCID: PMC5866307.
  • Posner EB, Haseeb M. Celiac Disease. [Updated 2023 Aug 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441900/
  • Uhde M, Ajamian M, Caio G, De Giorgio R, Indart A, Green PH, Verna EC, Volta U, Alaedini A. Intestinal cell damage and systemic immune activation in individuals reporting sensitivity to wheat in the absence of coeliac disease. Gut. 2016 Dec;65(12):1930-1937. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2016-311964. Epub 2016 Jul 25. PMID: 27459152; PMCID: PMC5136710.
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