5 ways to avoid getting stuck in a gluten-free rut

If you have decided to go gluten free, or you’re contemplating it because you believe you may have a gluten sensitivity, you’ve undoubtedly discovered that training on a gluten-free diet is difficult.

Carbohydrates are a dynamic and import part of a runner’s diet and avoiding them, especially when it seems like everything has gluten in it, is a difficult task. Not to mention, almost everything you read about running nutrition discusses carbohydrate rich or high gluten foods, so getting good information about how to eat right as a gluten-free runner can be tricky.

So, what is a runner to do when they need to fuel their training with high-carbohydrate sources, yet need to avoid most common “running foods” such as bagels, pasta, and baked goods?

Most gluten-free runners inevitably turn to corn and rice, which are good gluten-free carbohydrate sources. However, sticking to just these two sources of carbohydrates often causes people to get in what I call a “gluten free grain rut”, which means they eat the same foods day after day.

While corn and rice are definitely great choices for carbohydrates, without variety, sticking to a gluten-free diet is difficult and bland – the perfect combination for cheating and making eating healthy feel like a chore.

Luckily for gluten-free runners, there are many different gluten-free grains to explore and experiment with. To help get you out of the gluten-free rut, here are some tips, tricks and recipes that you can explore to boost the overall nutrition of your diet and establish new gluten free habits:

Meeting New Grains

Many gluten-free runners may not realize this, but there are at least four non-gluten grains for every one gluten containing grain. Wheat (and all it’s variations), Barley, Triticale and Rye are the four gluten containing grains, which tend to be the most common; but there are also 12 non-gluten grains, which can be just as easy to cook and tasty as well.

Here are five gluten-free options, with cooking instructions, to get you started:

Non-Gluten “Grains”:

(We categorize these as grains, but some of them technically belong in other categories, like grasses, vegetables or seeds.)

Amaranth:
Great source of lysine and methionine (important amino acids for muscle recovery).

Cooking time: 20-25 minutes
Liquid per cup of grain: 2 1/2 – 3 cups

How to cook amaranth: Combine amaranth with two and a half cups water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for up to 20 minutes, until grains are fluffy and water is absorbed.

You can also “pop” amaranth like corn; simply preheat a pot or skillet over high heat (must be very hot), and add amaranth seeds one or two tablespoons at a time (adding too many seeds at once can cause them to burn). Continuously stir the seeds with a spoon as they pop, and once mostly popped, quickly remove from pan. Popped amaranth can be enjoyed on its own or served with milk or a milk alternative and fruit for a healthy breakfast.

Buckwheat:
Has been found to bind cholesterol tightly. It is being studied for reducing plasma cholesterol in people with hyperlipidemia. Has eight times the amount of fiber compared to wheat.

Cooking time: Toasted buckwheat, 15-20 minutes
Liquid per cup of grain: 2 cups

How to cook buckwheat: Place in a pot with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer until tender.

Millet:
Rich in B vitamins, which are important for energy and iron utlization.
Cooking Time: 25 Minutes
Liquid per cup gain: 3 cups

To cook millet: Place in pot with water and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer until tender. If you leave it alone as it cooks, you’ll get fluffy grains like rice; if you stir frequently and add a little extra liquid during cooking, you’ll get a dish that resembles mashed potatoes.

Quinoa:
18% protein content and a complete protein
Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
Liquid per cup of grain: 2 cups

To cook quinoa: pre-wash to remove the bitter saponin coating on its outer hull. Run cold water over quinoa in fine-meshed strainer, rubbing the seeds with your fingers. After rinsing, place quinoa and water in a covered pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the grains become translucent and the germ appears as a thin white ring around each grain. Fluff with a fork.

Teff:
Contains all eight amino acids and high in calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and most of the B-vitamins
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Liquid per cup of grain: 3 cups

To cook Teff: Bring water to a boil, add teff and let it boil again Once it reaches a boil, turn temperature to low and cover the teff. Allow to cook for 15-20 minutes. There may still be some water left after 20 minutes, but that is okay. Turn the heat off, replace the lid and allow to sit for 10 minutes. It will be ready to serve after it has sat for 10 minutes.

Other Non-Gluten “Grains” you can try:

  • Corn – High supportive antioxidants
  • Montina (Indian Rice Grass): More Protein than brown rice
  • Arrowroot: Thickens at a lower temperature than flour
  • Oats *: Have more soluble fiber than any other grain
  • Rice: Good Source of Panothenic Acid & Thiamin
  • Sorghum: Rich in B Vitamins
  • Wild Rice: High in manganese and zinc

Each of these twelve gluten free grains offers different nutritional benefits. Using different types of grains at each meal will improve your over all diet and provide the variety to make staying on a gluten-free diet enjoyable.

Other great gluten-free recipes

Beef and Quinoa Soup

Tempted to exchange the barley in your favorite Beef and Barley Soup or other recipes with rice, again? Instead, try experimenting with the other non-gluten grains we’ve mentioned. Here is a recipe for Beef and Barley Soup from allrecipies modified by replacing the Barley with Quinoa.

Ingredients
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
4 cups beef broth (gluten free)
4 cups water
2 cups chopped cooked roast beef
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup frozen peas

Directions
In a soup kettle or Dutch oven, saute carrot, celery and onion in butter until tender, about 5 minutes.
Add the broth, water, beef, tomatoes, quinoa, salt, pepper, basil and oregano; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the peas. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Exchanging the barley for quinoa in the recipe is not only an easy switch, but it also increases the calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc and manganese of the soup. Not a bad trade, if I do say so myself!

Pasta

Pasta has been the number one staple food in a runners diet since what seems to be the beginning of time. But have no fears, you do not have to give up your beloved pasta. Pasta made from the brown rice, white rice, corn, potato and quinoa flours, can be found in most grocery stores today. Gluten-free pasta does need to be cooked a little differently than regular durum wheat pasta. Here are few tricks for making the best gluten free pasta:

1. Set a timer – Gluten-free pasta can go from al dante to mush in seconds!
2. Prevent stickiness by adding a teaspoon of oil to the water before adding the pasta and stirring the pasta often.
3. Rinse gluten-free pasta after cooking — run cold water over the pasta to stop the cooking and to keep it al dente.
4. When making soup, add noodles at the end of cooking as they will not hold up to long boiling or simmering.
5. Serve right away — gluten-free pastas can turn mushy, firm or gritty as they cool.

Broccoli & Garlic Creamy Pasta

Try this Broccoli and Garlic Yogurt Sauce Quinoa Pasta for a boost in iron, protein, fiber and antioxidants!
Broccoli & Garlic Creamy Pasta
From ahnutrition.weebly.com
(all measurements by taste)
-Olive Oil
-Fresh Garlic, Minced
-Salt & Pepper to taste
-Plain Yogurt Full Fat (at room temperature).
-Broccoli cut into bite size pieces
– Quinoa Noodles
-Bragg Liquid Amino
– Parmesan Cheese

Directions:
Cook pasta noodles according to package. Remove from stove, rinse with cool water and allow to drain in the sink. Heat olive oil and minced garlic until aromatic on medium heat. Add broccoli and saute until bright green and slightly tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in noodles, coating them with the olive oil, garlic and spices. Once noodles are lightly coated, reduce heat to low and spoon in yogurt to desired thickness. Be careful not to get your pot to warm or the yogurt will separate. Stir noodles the yogurt is evenly distributed. Cover the pot with a lid and allow the pasta to get warm. Dish out the pasta and top with Bragg Aminos and Parmesan cheese for an easy, healthy, creamy pasta dinner.

I hope these gluten-free grain and recipe suggestions help you break out of the gluten-free rut and provide some carbohydrate spice to your diet to help keep you fueled and training hard. As always, if you have any questions, please leave a comment and I would be happy to answer.

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4 Responses on “5 ways to avoid getting stuck in a gluten-free rut

  1. I want to thatnk you so much for this article. I am gluten free and statred running but really can’t figure out the best way to train and eat carbs before trainning, race and half marathon and I sometimes run out of energy on long runs. Please give as much information as possible for gluten free people.

    thanks,

    Jamie Hahn

    • Jamie! I am glad the article was helpful! Being gluten free can be such a battle sometimes! Personally, quinoa is my grain/carbohydrate of choice the night before long runs and races. I have never had digestive issues with it and quinoa always seems to carry me through. Try these gluten free grains in their most whole form the night before or the morning of your long runs. Often the gluten free bread or crackers has been highly processed and your body will digest it very quickly. I have a couple more gluten free articles coming, so keep reading!

      Also, lack of energy really becomes an issue, consider a consultation. Then we can take a look at your diet and see what might be missing!!

  2. This is really awesome information. I am gluten free and have been running for a while now and I know I need more carbs. I find that I struggle at times to run and I know it’s directly related to my food intake. I’m definitely going to try Quinoa!!!!

    • Kim! I am really glad you found this information helpful. Running and being gluten free can be so tricky! Quinoa is on of my favorite gluten free carbohydrate options! One of the latest Gluten Free Quinoa recipes I have found myself going back to is a Turkey, Quinoa Meat Loaf. I serve it with a large salad of mixed vegetables and half a sweet potato. The meal is easy, gluten free, blood sugar balancing and delicious. Here is the recipe if you want to give it a try:

      Quinoa Turkey Meatloaf
      For 2 servings:
      1 pound organic ground Turkey
      2 organic eggs
      1/4 cup of uncooked quinoa
      1 medium onion
      3-4 garlic cloves
      2 chilies
      1 tablespoon coconut oil or olive oil
      1 teaspoon Thyme
      1 teaspoon Rosemary
      1/4 teaspoon black pepper
      1 teaspoon salt
      Cook quinoa as directed. Preheat oven to 350 F. Add onion, chili, and cloves to a food processor and chop finely. Add cooked quinoa and all ingredients to a large bowl and mix together. Grease a loaf tray with coconut or olive oil, then add the mixture and bake for 1 hour.

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