Carbo loading: it used to be thought of as the secret to a great workout (I, for one, remember being served many gluten-heavy pre-race spaghetti dinners when I ran cross country in high school). But now that we know about gluten intolerance and the dark side of wheat protein, gluten-laden carbohydrates don’t seem like the exercise essential they once were. Of course, that hasn’t stopped manufacturers from adding gluten to just about everything, particularly in sports bars and other athlete-fare, making it hard to avoid when you want to work out.
To look at the ingredients in those products, you’d think that active types were still scarfing down carbs like the old days. But actually, many athletes have switched to a gluten-free diet as a way to curb symptoms of stomach discomfort and bloating. Whether or not gluten-free eating actually improves athletic performance is still up for discussion, but the good news is that it definitely won’t hinder your workout at all. And there are lots of ways to get energy without globling down a bunch of gluten before, after and during your exercise routine. Here’s how.
Before Your Workout
Experts usually recommend healthy carbohydrates before a workout. The reason? Muscles rely on the glucose from carbs to fuel your run. But don’t worry, “carbs” doesn’t have to mean “gluten.” Try one of these pre-workout snacks to fuel your warmup.
A banana. Bananas have been hailed as nature’s power bar, and for good reason! They’re packed with potassium, which helps maintain electrolytes and fluids. And they have lots of good, gluten-free carbohydrates to keep your muscles going.
Greek yogurt plus fruit. Your body breaks down the carbs in fruit quickly, giving you energy for your exercise. Greek yogurt, on the other hand, is full of protein, which takes a bit longer to digest—so it’ll be ready to get to work repairing your muscles once you’re finished!
During Your Workout
Unless you’re running a marathon or planning an intense day of activity, it’s best to snack for your workout beforehand. However, if you’re planning to go hard for more than an hour, you may need to schedule a pit stop somewhere in between activities. Grab a few sips of water and one of the following snacks to keep you going through the home stretch:
A handful of raisins. Like bananas, raisins come with plenty of potassium and healthy carbohydrates, but they also contain lots of fiber, iron and antioxidants, as well. And they’re easy to munch on between sets!
Homemade protein bars. Protein bars are a great choice for a little extra fuel on the road, but store-bought bars often contain gluten, not to mention other potentially harmful ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and difficult-to-digest sugar alcohols. Instead, we recommend making your own gluten-free protein bars ahead of time for a quick snack during your workout.
After Your Workout
The key to after-workout eating is protein. This macronutrient helps restore tissue, repairing the small tears in muscle fiber that occur when you workout. It can also mitigate cramps and other post-workout issues. The good news is that most protein sources are blessedly gluten-free. Here are a few suggestions to get you back in working order fast:
Omelets: So what if it’s not breakfast anymore? Omelets offer a great source of protein any time of day, and can be combined with other nutrient-rich foods, like spinach, peppers, avocados or lean turkey.
Salmon and Veggies: In addition to plain-old proteins, salmon gives you an extra post-workout boost: it contains bioactive peptides, which are small protein molecules that work to reduce inflammation—great for after a tough workout. Try it with sweet potatoes, which helps restore depleted glycogen levels post-activity.
Your Best Bet Is to Consult a Nutritionist
New to the world of gluten-free exercising? A fitness trainer with a nutrition certification or background can help you create a diet plan that will work for your activity level and specific health considerations. And they can work with you to design a workout program that will fuel your progress without leaving you exhausted and depleted. Now there’s something to celebrate—gluten-free or not!
About the Guest Author
Erin Vaughan is a yoga fanatic, runner and sometime cyclist. She currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes for FitnessTrainer, the leading online marketplace to find a local personal trainer that can help you achieve your health and wellness goals!