Gluten-Free Pre-Workout Meals and Snacks for Athletes
It is important for athletes following a gluten-free diet to know what to eat prior to competition. Consuming the right foods at the right times can help ensure athletes are fueled to perform at their best. Let’s take a look at what gluten is. Then we will explore the best gluten-free pre-workout meals and snacks for athletes.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in wheat and other grains including barley, rye, and grains made by crossing wheat and rye. Gluten helps provide texture, structure, and elasticity to food products. Given its unique characteristics, processed foods may have added gluten to help the product maintain form and enhance texture.
Carbohydrates for Energy Pre-Workout
Carbohydrates provide the energy athletes need to perform at their best. Thus, carbohydrates should be at the foundation of an athlete’s pre-workout meal and snacks.
Given that wheat, barley, and rye are commonly used in breads, pastas, and cereals, athletes following a gluten-free diet may wonder what to consume pre-workout. Fortunately, there are numerous ways athletes following a gluten-free diet can meet their carbohydrate needs.
Gluten-Free Carbohydrate Ideas
- Fruit: Fresh fruit, frozen fruit, dried fruit
- Dairy: Milk, yogurt
- Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, corn, peas, beans, and lentils
- Other grains and seeds: Rice, quinoa, oats*
- Gluten-free products: Bread, bagels, pasta, breakfast cereal, granola, baking mixes
*Oats are considered high-risk for cross-contamination with wheat, barley, and rye during harvest and processing. The Celiac Disease Foundation recommends individuals on a gluten-free diet only purchase oat products specifically labeled as being gluten-free. In addition, athletes should visit with their doctor and dietitian prior to adding oats to their gluten-free diet.
For additional information on gluten-free carbohydrate options, check-out my blog: Gluten-Free Carbohydrates for Athletes.
Planning Your Gluten-Free Pre-Workout Meal
It is important to consider the timing of meals and snacks eaten before a workout. In general, the less time you have prior to the start of the activity, the less food you will want to eat with your pre-workout meal.
Aim to schedule your pre-workout meal to be eaten 3-4 hours prior to the exercise session. Planning this meal several hours before the exercise session allows time for your body to digest the meal prior to activity. It also allows time to go to the restroom before the workout if needed.
Gluten-Free Pre-Workout Meal Ideas
When planning your pre-workout meal, it should include a good source of carbohydrates, a moderate amount of protein, and be low in fat and fiber. There are a variety of ways athletes can plan a gluten-free pre-workout meal that meets their needs.
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on gluten-free bread* with a banana
- Grilled chicken breast, steamed rice, green beans, and fresh sliced fruit cup
- Grilled salmon, baked sweet potato, steamed broccoli, gluten-free roll, and grapes
- Gluten-free pasta with marinara sauce, sliced chicken, and grilled vegetables
- French toast made with gluten-free bread* with fresh strawberries
- Greek yogurt parfait made with fresh berries and gluten-free granola*
- Fruit smoothie
Planning Gluten-Free Pre-Workout Snacks
If you have less time before the workout (1-2 hours), focus on consuming a carbohydrate-rich snack for energy. Eating foods that are high in fat, fiber, and/or protein too close to the competition may cause GI distress during the activity1.
Gluten-Free Pre-Workout Snack Ideas
- Banana, orange, grapes, or apple slices
- Dried fruit
- Applesauce squeeze pouch
- Gluten-free bagel
- Gluten-free pretzels – Snyder’s® and Snack Factory® both have gluten-free varieties.
- Gluten-free breakfast cereal – ChexTM, Nature’s Path®, and Barbara’s®, have a variety of gluten-free cereals available.
- Gluten-free granola bars – MadeGood®, KIND®, and Annie’s® all offer a selection of gluten-free bars.
- Sports drinks, gels, chews, or bars (see note below)
What About Sports Drinks, Gels, Chews, and Bars?
When picking out a sports drink, gel, chew, or bar to enjoy prior to a workout, make sure to read the ingredient label on the product closely. Sports bars in particular may include added ingredients that contain gluten. To reduce your risk of inadvertently consuming gluten, choose a product that is labeled gluten-free or certified as gluten-free.
Use Caution with Pre-Workout Supplements
It is also important to read the ingredient label closely if you are considering a pre-workout supplement. Check the label for possible gluten-containing ingredients. Also use caution, as many pre-workout supplements contain added stimulants and mega-doses of nutrients that are not necessary prior to exercise.
Tips for reviewing pre-workout supplements include the following:
Is the supplement third-party tested?
Sports supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the same way that food is. When a supplement is third-party tested an outside organization has evaluated the supplement for accuracy of ingredients. Two companies that evaluate sports supplements are NSF International Certified for Sport and Informed Sport.
Does the supplement contain a proprietary blend?
Many supplements contain a proprietary or confidential blend of ingredients. The supplement label will typically list the ingredients within the blend, but not amounts.
Use caution with proprietary blends. If a product label does not tell you the name of the ingredient and the amount included, you cannot evaluate the potential effectiveness of the product. In addition, you run the risk of consuming a gluten-containing ingredient within the blend.
In addition to caffeine, what stimulants does the product contain?
Many pre-workout supplements contain a variety of ingredients aimed at causing a stimulatory effect. These may be included in the pre-workout supplement as an “energy blend.” Ingredients such as synephrine, green tea extract, and yerba mate all have stimulatory effects on the body and are often found in pre-workout supplements. The combination of stimulants may have a synergistic effect and be dangerous to your health.
Are the dosages of ingredients included in the pre-workout supplement based on research?
It is common to find mega-doses of vitamins, particularly B vitamins, in pre-workout supplements. Many pre-workout supplements also contain ingredients such as creatine and beta-alanine, but not always in the dosages shown by research to be effective.
Similar to all dietary supplements, recognize that pre-workout supplements have the risk of being contaminated by banned substances. If you have questions on a pre-workout supplement, seek out guidance from a Sports Dietitian.
Plan Your Gluten-Free Pre-Workout Meals and Snacks
You are now set with a variety of ideas for gluten-free pre-workout meals and snacks. Make sure to practice these meals and snacks prior to competition. This will allow you to ensure you have found the foods and beverages that work best for you. Having a well-practiced sports nutrition plan in place can provide you with confidence that you are fueled to perform at your best.
For additional sports nutrition meal planning tips, check-out my recent blog: 5 Keys to Building the Ideal Athlete Meal Plan.
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About the Author
Mandy is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Mandy believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.
- Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 48(3), 543–568. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0000000000000852