Gluten Free Fitness


Fueling options for the gluten free endurance athlete


Fueling options for the gluten free endurance athlete

As many of you know, I’ve gone back to my endurance athlete ways.

I played around with being a figure athlete for a while, when I wasn’t “allowed” to ride due to the complexity and fragility of the surgical repairs to my knees, but when I was cleared by my orthopedist to return to road cycling last fall, I jumped back in.

Since then, I’ve progressed significantly and am learning to get my head and preconceived notions out of the way of what my body is capable of.  

Training for endurance athletics versus training for aesthetics and strength require very different types of fueling, specifically during exercise.  I definitely run well on carbohydrate (yes, I know it’s not “necessary” to life, and some people do fine on low carb diets, even endurance athletes, but I am not one of them.  Trial and error and experience have taught me that I do just fine with carbs.)  In general, when training for strength and aesthetics, your actual exercise time is not very long, usually less than an hour.  There’s no real need for “during exercise” fueling.  On the other hand, I can easily be out for 2-4 hours training on the bike, on a generally 5 day per week basis.  That requires some fuel.

As an endurance athlete with celiac disease, I have to be very aware and careful with what fuel I choose.  I always carry enough food to sustain me, as I do not like to be dependent upon finding appropriate food while at a ride or race.  (The only exception is a banana-I feel very safe peeling one of those myself and eating it, and pretty much every convenience store/gas station has bananas these days.)

As always when it comes to specific brands and foods, if it is a packaged/labeled/manufactured item, always check labels and double check with the companies if you are not sure.  Although these items were safe and gluten free at the time this was written, formulations and ingredients change and it is always better to be careful.

There are quite a few options out there, so I’m just going to focus on the ones I’ve personally tried.  Let’s split it up into fluids, gels, and real food (aka food that requires chewing.)  Just for grins.  Let’s remember that sugars are OK when you’re exercising for a long period of time, and for the sake of this discussion that means > 90 minutes of a moderate intensity.


  • Good old water.  If your training session is 90 minutes or less of moderate or easy intensity, you’re good with just water or perhaps a low calorie electrolyte providing beverage, such as…
  • ZYM. I like ZYM Catapult because it has a little caffeine (a performance enhancer) but not too much, and I like the Berry flavor.  It has a little fizz to it but it goes away quickly.  I’ve also tried the lemon lime flavor which was quite good as well.  The flavoring is subtle.  These are handy because you can toss the tube into your pocket and take it with you, which saves me having to use Gatorade on the road to refill out of desperation.  (The osmolality in Gatorade is not my friend, tummy discomfort galore.)  I’ve heard Nuun tabs are similar, but I’ve not tried those.
  • Generation UCAN.  This is technically a pre-training drink, but it is a fluid, so here you go.  I did extensive testing and reviews of Gen UCAN, and still use it.  I alternate UCAN with a mixture of honey and coconut oil as my pre-ride fuel.  (I ride very early in the morning.)  UCAN is a carbohydrate and electrolyte drink, designed for use pre-workout.  Read my reviews here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
  • First Endurance Electrolyte Fuel System Drink Mix.  This is my drink of choice for providing carbohydrate and electrolytes in fluid form while training.  I’ve tried another brand (Hammer’s HEED) which I did not like the taste of and did not have as good of an electrolyte profile as the EFS does.  I like the Fruit Punch flavor.

 Gels (’cause when I’m riding hard, ain’t no way I’m chewing.)

  •  Honey Stinger Energy Gel.  This is my current favorite.  The packets are easy to open, and the consistency of the honey is slightly watered down so it is easy to swallow.  I like the chocolate and Ginsting (which is a regular honey flavor with a little caffeine) flavors.  I especially appreciate the limited ingredient list.  Honey is a really good carbohydrate source for athletes, by the way.  Check it out.  The research was funded by the Honey Board, but still.  It’s also good for lots of other stuff.  (As an aside, that is why on the days I do not use Gen UCAN as my pre training drink, I use a mix of coconut oil or coconut butter and honey.  The medium chain triglycerides in the coconut oil get used for fuel, and the honey is a great carb source.  I started using this on the suggestion of Kelli Jennings at Apex Nutrition.  As Kelli says “These are fast-acting, quick-metabolizing energy foods.  The honey provides moderately fast carbs that act similarly to maltodextrin (moderately fast and longer lasting than glucose), natural enzymes to improve digestion, and antioxidants.  The organic coconut oil provides fast-acting medium chain triglycerides which are used directly by the mitochondria of cells (energy producers) without the need for bile or slow digestion.”  I am working on a DIY energy gel using these and salt, but haven’t got it yet.) The packaging for these gels is easy to open, yet is sturdy enough for a full packet to make it through the washing machine without breaking open.  I speak with first hand knowledge.  Got to check those jersey pockets.
  • Chocolate #9.  Like Honey Stinger Gels, these have a lovely ingredient list.    These were VERY chocolatey, and had a considerably thicker texture than the Honey Stinger.  They were like brownie batter, which would be lovely under different circumstances, but trying to swallow it as quickly as possible lessened my enjoyment.  Plus, it made it harder to get out of the package with your teeth.  (Keep in mind, this is while I’m riding, so teeth and one hand.)  These have less carbohydrate than the Honey Stingers as well.  These were good, but for my purposes and taste I prefer the Honey Stinger gels.

Real Food aka you have to chew it.

(For me, these are used for a ride > 2.5 hours.)

  • Bananas.  Self explanatory.  Really, any fruit, but none have the comic potential that bananas do.  Cyclists are a funny group.  Bananas are one of the few chew-requiring foods that I can eat on the bike.
  • Jovial Fig Fruit Filled Gluten Free Organic Cookies .  Fig Newtons are kind of a staple in the endurance world.  I was feeling nostalgic, so went looking for a gluten free alternative and came across these.  They are handily packaged in 2’s, which is perfect for tossing in a jersey pocket.  Tasty, too.
  • Raisins or any dried fruit.
  • LÄRABAR .  I like the Cherry Pie, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and Carrot Cake flavors.  You may be different.  A friend of mine bought the Peanut Butter Cookie and hated it, while I like it.  The combo of nuts and dried fruit gives a little bit of faster carb and the longer lasting fat fuel.
  • Coconutz Fuel Energy Balls.  Check out my review of the awesome balls here.
  • Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews.  These are nice because they don’t require too much chewing, in a pinch you can even just swallow them.  My only gripe is that they leave your fingers sticky, so try to shoot them into your mouth from the package.
  • Sweet potatoes.  Kelli Jennings of Apex Nutrition gives some awesome recipes here.  I’ve not tried these yet but they sound great, although potentially messy.
  • Potato wedges with sea salt
  • Fig and Honey Rice Cakes from The Feed Zone Cookbook (great book, very gluten free friendly.)

More ideas

My friends Kim at Gluten Free is Life and Pete at No Gluten, No Problem are endurance runners.  Check out their blogs for some more ideas.  Also, Pete was co-author with my sister from another mother Melissa, the genius behind Gluten Free for Good of the eagerly anticipated book, The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life. It will be released on July 3rd, so go pre-order it.  It’s going to be awesome.  And that’s not even because I was one of the gluten free athletes interviewed for the book, I promise.

Hopefully this gives all you endurance athletes some ideas!  Like I said, this is by no means an all inclusive list, these are just the items I’ve tried and used.  Please leave a comment if there is something else you use and like!

If you need some more info for generally eating a healthier gluten free menu, not just for sports nutrition, check out Gluten Free and Fit 101 for lots of articles to get you started.

How to get your husband to eat more veggies


How to get your husband to eat more veggies

I have waxed philosophic about how awesome my husband is on multiple occasions.

He is truly an incredible individual and the perfect partner for me.  Now, neither of us are perfect, but we are perfect partners.

Having said that, he does not eat nearly enough vegetables.  Recently, a colleague of his was telling him that he started juicing.  He offered Jeff a glass of juice, which he actually drank.  When I heard about this, I jumped on it.

“You mean you’ll actually drink that?!?!”  Never in a million years had I thought he would consider drinking a green smoothie or juice.  Bingo, I thought.  I can fit a whole day’s worth of veggies in a smoothie.  Plus, I’d been itching for an excuse to buy a Blendtec for a year.

I had been looking over the high powered blenders, the Vitamixes, the Blendtec, OmniBlend etc, and had decided a while back that I wanted a Blendtec.  (Lexie’s Kitchen has posted a great overview and comparison, if you need a place to start.)  The online shopping fest began, and I was actually very fortunate to find a new one for a very reasonable price on ebay.

Can you see all the nutrients in there?

We’re doing a green smoothie every weekday now.  Sometimes on weekends, but not nearly as consistently.  I’ve also used the Blendtec to make cookie, muffin, and quick bread batters, protein shakes, all kinds of stuff.  It really is versatile and super easy to clean.  I’m happy with the purchase for sure.  More happy, though, that I am finally able to get the nutrition from veggies into my husband on a regular basis.  I like him and I’d like to keep him around for a while 😉

I could have tried to make the smoothie look all nice, in a glass, with a garnish or something but let’s be honest.  You’re not here for the food photography.  This is how we roll in the GFF household.  BlenderBottle for the win. Those things are genius.

Check out the green smoothie recipe here.

All in all, I’m really happy with the Blendtec.  It fits well under my cabinets on the countertop, is super easy to clean, is no louder than my cheap blender was, and gets my husband to ingest vegetable matter.  Truly a win.

If you’d like some more gluten free stuff, go check out Gluten Free and Fit 101.  Lots of info there to read while you sip on your smoothie.

Generation UCAN: Gluten Free Sports Supplement: Part 2


In my previous post I rambled a little bit about Generation UCAN, both the product and the company.

This post will discuss a bit more in depth about athletes and reactive hypoglycemia, and my personal experiences with reactive hypoglycemia and with UCAN products so far.  The next post will be after I have had a chance to complete additional testing with the UCAN product line.  UCAN has been very kind to supply the product for testing free of charge.  My opinions were and are not influenced by anything or anyone.


Reactive hypoglycemia is not fun.  In a nutshell, it’s when your blood sugar drops after ingesting carbohydrate.  When you are hypoglycemic, you can feel dizzy, clammy, break out in cold sweats, get confused, and potentially more fun stuff.  Really not fun at all if you happen to be moving at the time, particularly if you are out on your bike.

Interestingly, reactive hypoglycemia appears to happen in up to 30% of endurance athletes (or more).  (Granted, these were small sample sizes to be sure, but interesting nonetheless.)  Additional reviews show that some athletes have the feelings of hypoglycemic episodes without actual hypoglycemia by definition (blood glucose levels < 70 mg/dl with symptoms of hypoglycemia that are alleviated by ingestion of food.)


I have had episodes of feeling hypoglycemic (“bonking” in the cycling world) as has my husband.  I also have had an oral glucose tolerance test (for which the importance of when diagnosing reactive hypoglycemia has been questioned) and during this test my blood sugar (after drinking a sickly sweet orange flavored nasty drink-on an empty stomach) went from 80 fasted, to 113 30 minutes after drinking the gross stuff, then dropped to 57 mg/dl at an hour after drinking the nasty orange drink like substance and was still at 54 mg/dl 2 hours post drink.

Yuckers.  Thankfully I was only sitting in a crappy plastic chair at the lab and didn’t have to pedal or avoid obstacles.

Sports drinks and sugars

So, obviously something is up and the potential to feel crappy after ingesting a bunch of sugar is there.  Fortunately, given that I believe in the easiest way to eat a healthy gluten free diet, I don’t eat a bunch of sugar on a regular basis.  But, many sports drinks on the market are essentially simple sugars.  And when you have the potential to see a blood sugar drop like that, simple sugar is something you generally want to be very cautious about.  Even when you are out for a long bike ride or other endurance event.

Since I generally ride for 3-4 hours on weekend mornings, and get in 7-10 hours a week on the bike, having other options is important.  I always have a mix of protein, carb, and fat for “real” meals.  When riding, I stick to fruits and nuts to provide a slower digesting source of sugars, and look for drink products that supply electrolytes without carbohydrate.  (Then I got stuck out on a ride, ran out of food/fluid, and bought a Gatorade G2, figuring that was the least of the evils.  I promptly had a stomachache from the osmolality and barely made it home.  Good times.)


Which made the idea of Generation UCAN and SuperStarch even more appealing to me personally.  SuperStarch provides carbohydrate without simple sugar and the reactive hypoglycemia that can go along with it.  As some of you may know, I dislocated my left elbow the day after Thanksgiving, which took me off the bike for a while.  I did some testing of Gen UCAN with my lifting activity and cardio (intervals) in the gym while I was off the bike.

I’ve informally compiled a combination of how I felt along with some glucometer readings, just for grins.  This is in no way truly scientific, but gives a pretty good snapshot of how my body reacts, anyhow.

On mornings when I went to the gym and lifted weights, pre workout I drank half a packet of UCAN protein enhanced sport drink, which is a blend of whey protein and SuperStarch.   The chocolate was quite good, the vanilla…not so much.  Vanilla is very chalky.  You expect UCAN to taste somewhat chalky considering the SuperStarch, but the vanilla was VERY chalky.

This is something they are working on reformulating strictly for taste.  (Just to recap from my previous post, UCAN’s products have been independently tested and found to be free from gluten.  They are also pursuing gluten free certification.)

An improvement in blood glucose level

Subjectively, I felt “good” and had energy to get through my workout without feeling over sugared and jittery.  As an example, my fasting blood glucose level was 88 mg/dl.  I had my drink, went to the gym and lifted for 45 minutes followed by 15 minutes of high intensity intervals on the elliptical.  An hour after my 2nd half of UCAN (with another .5 scoop of protein added in) my glucose reading was 84.  Those numbers held in that same region for all exercise of that nature.

As a reference, I experimented by eating a lot of simple carbohydrate one day after lifting (to the tune of over 100 grams of carb from kettle corn and Chex) and an hour later my glucose reading was 123 mg/dl.  That’s the highest I’ve ever seen it.  I’ve not yet tried the same amount of carb from SuperStarch to see the difference in blood glucose levels, (honestly, it’s just not as much fun but I will do it in the name of science) and plan on trying it sometime in the next couple of weeks.

This past weekend I went out for a 2 hour bike ride.  Fasting blood glucose level was 88.  Drank UCAN and protein, went for my ride, (only drank water while out) and after the ride blood sugar was 87.  Pretty darn stable.  Had I ridden any longer I would have had some additional nutrition.  Definitely no sense of bonking while I was out.  This was a steady endurance/tempo ride, so low-moderate intensity.  For higher intensity riding I would likely have needed additional calories sooner.  This is just my experience, so remember that your mileage may vary.

We are all biochemical snowflakes, and what is working for me may not work for you.  The best thing to do is try to track your intake as well as your response as best you can so you can see what is or is not working and make changes accordingly.

Yes you can.

Next post about Gen UCAN will be after I do some more testing.   Until then, and ss always, if you need more info on living a healthier Gluten Free and Fit life, there’s lots of resources on Gluten Free and Fit 101 that can help.  Have at it.