Gluten-Free Fuel for Long Runs

I have been asked time and time again on Twitter what I use for long training runs. Before my celiac diagnosis, I always suffered a lot of GI distress, and this especially came to life during my long runs to the point where I absolutely dreaded them every weekend. Since my diagnosis, GI distress is minimal and feels like a thing of the past. No more emergency stops and painful, desperate needs for the Porta-Jon on racecourses, and in the past it was something that I needed for EVERY race. It’s been an incredible transition!

I’ve pretty much narrowed it down to a few staple fuels, but initially my Spi Belt had far more variety for long runs. When I was a member of Team in Training, I was used to the water stop tables being laden with pretzels, candy, cookies, Twizzlers, water and sports drinks. So for my first TNT-less marathon in Vermont, I trained with things like gluten-free pretzels, oreos, raisins, and even chocolate covered espresso beans! I also loved chocolate, so why not train with safe candy like M&M’s and mini peanut butter cups?

As time passed I relied less on solid “real” food for training, and started making things a lot simpler on myself.  I felt it was best to rely on simple digesting sugars rather than foods that might take longer to break down into energy. I carry a hand-held bottle that I can refill at various stops with water, and carry a small Ziploc bag filled with Swedish fish, Sour Patch Kids, or packets of honey. The gels I have used (Gu, Powergel, Carb-Boom) are all gluten-free, but can be expensive for training. Honey, while much lower in sodium, works well enough for training runs.  For hotter months, I sometimes carry powdered sports drink to mix with my water, as it’s very easy to lose sodium during warm long runs.

Everyone’s body processes things differently. What works for me may not work for someone else.  My best advice is try things out during a long run and see how they make you feel.  But some good, gluten-free options are:

  • Swedish fish, Sour Patch kids or Jelly Belly jellybeans
  • Gluten-free pretzels or cookies from Glutino
  • Gels (Gu, Honey Stinger (not the waffles), Powergel, Hammer Gel, Clif Shots and Carb Boom are all OK)
  • Gu Chomps, Cliff Shots, Sharkies, and Sport Beans
  • Powerade and Gatorade
  • Chocolate Candy: I no longer follow this option, but in the past I loved M&Ms (all but the pretzel filled ones are gluten-free), Butterfingers and Reese’s peanut butter cups
  • Fruit (naturally gluten-free!): grapes, bananas and orange slices are good, as well as dried fruit like raisins or dried apricots, mangos or figs
  • Boiled, salted potatoes or sweet potatoes cut into cubes
  • Honey, straight from the bottle or in small portable packets, 4 packets = 100 calories

A good rule of thumb is to never try a new fuel on race day. Race days are the only days I bother using gel, and Gu is by far my go-to, but the past several races I did the research to see what was being handed out on the racecourse and simply took what was offered by the volunteers, which was usually (yay!) Gu! Also, from what I have researched, commonly used sports drinks on racecourses like Powerade and Gatorade are gluten free and I have never had any issues with them.  It always helps to prepare and see what they will provide and plan accordingly. But we can get into THAT another time!

Good luck experimenting! Let me know what gluten-free fuel works for you, perhaps I can adopt some new favorites!

EDIT: As my most recent blog entry from March stated, I am abandoning refined sugars and sticking to the most natural fuel sources possible when training, so I have been training mainly with fruit (bananas and grapes, the grapes especially give a quick sugar boost), water and coconut water (as much as I can’t stand it, it’s good for keeping yourself hydrated). Race day is a little trickier (can’t imagine carrying grapes in my Spi-Belt and popping them into my mouth as I run a 8:30 minute mile, LOL) but I do plan on using Honey Stinger Gold gels, since they are mainly honey, water, salt and some essential nutrients. I already tested them out during a long run and they not only tasted good, they were easy to consume and worked great!  Also, no more sports drinks, just sticking to water during a race, and I may just carry a salt packet to be safe during race that may be particularly warm or humid.

SO far I have been sticking to the natural sugar plan with flying colors. Just because I run marathons doesn’t give me a license to eat too much garbage! Who knows, it might even help boost my running performance, but only time will tell. My advice to you is simply to listen to your body, see what works best for you, and experiment!

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