Gluten Free Eating for Runners

Wheat is the third most produced cereal crop
Wheat is everywhere – and completely off limits to me! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, my running fuel revolved around whole wheat. Being diagnosed was simultaneously the worst and best thing that could have happened; the best thing because we finally had an answer to why I was so sick, but the worst because my favorite foods were suddenly off limits. Cake, bread, pasta, cereal – these were my favorite foods. The foundation of runner fuel is carbs–lots and lots of carbs–but I can’t eat a majority of the carbohydrates that most runners rely on. So without wheat, what’s a runner gal to do?

Celiac Disease results in malnourishment because the body cannot absorb nutrients properly (I weighed 97 pounds as of diagnosis). According to PubMed Health, “The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats.”ย  This means bread, stir-fries made with gluten-containing sauces, oatmeal (not all oatmeal is gluten free), crackers and snack mixes are not only off-limits to me, they’re dangerous!

With awareness of Celiac and wheat allergies being higher than ever, gluten free diets have become very popular. And as a runner with no choice but to go gluten free, I’m more than happy to share my experience with anyone who is interested in dietary options that taste good, include healthy protein and fat, prevent gastrointestinal distress while running and are high in the complex carbohydrates we need to fuel ourselves as athletes!


First, a few notes about adjusting to a gluten free diet:

Most gluten-free products, especially baked goods, have a different taste and consistency. I’m used to them now, but they were pretty unpalatable at first. Call me crazy, but I like my food to tasteย good.

And as a runner with a sensitive gastrointestinal system on long runs, and I’d worked out a carefully planned meal pre-run that was timed perfectly so as not to cause any problems. With my new dietary restrictions I had to repeat the process all over again. It was tricky to figure out what to eat and when, but be patient with yourself, do your research and you’ll get there!

Watch out! A BIG problem with most gluten-free products on the market is that they are highly-processed (read: not whole grain) and high in sugar or fat – not the complex carbs we need to sustain our training!


Now, on to my food recommendations:

To start the day, I love gluten-free hot cereal. I recommend Ecoplanet Maple Hot cereal*. It has six grams of protein and is full of complex carbs (and deliciousness). I mix it with egg whites to create a yummy, high-protein baked oatmeal.ย  *This cereal contains oats. Some people with Celiac disease cannot eat oats, but I’m lucky that I can (the other gluten grains are still out though!).

Pre-run, I rely on Perfect Foods Bars, especially the 200 -calories Cranberry Lite bar. With 10 grams of protein and just the right proportion of complex to simple carbs, I’ve never had a gastrointenstinal problem on a run.

Post-run or strength training, I love PR Bars. They have 200 calores, 15 grams of protein and are simply delicious. I even choose them for dessert or pre-bedtime snack.

stir fry
With the right sauce, stir fries are a great gluten-free fuel option (Photo credit: ereneta)

For meals, I still love to make stir-fries, but I rely on San-J’s gluten-free soy and other sauces. They are perfect over brown rice (which is naturally gluten-free). Luckily, fruit, vegetables and meat are naturally gluten-free, so I can eat them to my heart’s content. Baked goods are just like normal when I use Bob Red Mill’s all-purpose gluten-free flour (and works as a thickener for soups, like my gluten-free clam chowder). Corn starch (check the ingredients; sometimes this contains gluten) can also substitute for flour in my stir-fries and gravy. With a few kitchen staples, gluten-free cooking and baking can return to normal. Finally, most of my snacks begin and end with popcorn. Naturally gluten-free (check the label on flavored versions), it is a whole grain and filling. When I’m training, I also like to treat myself to Jelly Belly jelly beans (my favorite flavor is buttered popcorn) – they are also gluten-free and delicious.

Now, it’s normal to want to snack – but I still try to stay away from too many gluten-free packaged snacks…except for the Wow! Snickerdoodles. They are epic.

If you are new to being gluten-free, or have questions, I’m happy to help! Just comment below, or send me an email!

Are you gluten-free? What are your go-to diet staples?

Recovering ultrarunner, running to beat all the boys to the yard. I write about running, CrossFit, and feminism.

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  1. Thank you for this great article. I have been gluten free for 9 years and just started with running and marathons 2 years ago. I have signed up for the Twin Cities Marathon this year and nutrition is a very big stress for me. I am looking for items that will fuel me but not cause GI distress. The one time I took a gel I felt ill so am still on the hunt for things that I can take during a run that will help. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you again!

    1. That’s a great question – I’ve found that drinks make me sick, so I use a combination of Stinger organic energy chews (with caffeine, although experiment with it first to see how it affects you) and pure organics bars does the trick for me. I start with the chews at 45 minutes, and fuel in small amounts every 15 minutes after that.

      I also had to learn how much to drink – I take a small drink every five minutes from the very beginning of the run or a full Dixie cup every time it is offered (during the race).

      I hope this helps – let me know if you have any additional questions!

      1. Thank you for the advise. I tried small sips of water today as I usually do not drink during runs but need to start for the long runs. I have some sharkie chews that I am working thru and so far so good. I appreciate your help. I am still on the look out for a yummy healthy bar to eat so if you come across anything I would love to know about it.