We’ve all caught word of the gluten-free craze. First the Atkins’ diet, and now this, right? Not so fast! Eating a gluten-free diet might be news to us, but gluten-free foods have been eaten the world over for centuries and they fill much larger nutritional shoes than many of their gluten-rich, carbohydrate dense counterparts. Not to mention, they can be a delicious way to mix up your training fuel sources, and take your weeknight meals from same-old to super.
We athletes know our carbs, and the un-prepared, un-recovered, bonked out pile of mess that we become without them. Most often, this means eating some form of wheat – wheat flour, wheat bran, and rye, all prevalent in our favorite breads, and farina, bulgur, couscous, semolina and durum found in pastas and quick processed meals. All of these contain gluten, the protein-packed portion of grain that give bread its elasticity. Gluten pops up in processed foods as well as a “thickener,” “filler,” and “hydrolyzed vegetable protein.” Read your labels and you’ll find that gluten appears all over an athlete’s training diet. What ever happened to too much of a good thing?
While research has yet to confirm that there are dietary detriments, or a direct link to gluten-intolerance, everyone agrees that variety is the spice of life, and nothing could be more boring than the same old strands of wheat pasta, whole-grain wheat breads, and bowls of oatmeal. Enter gluten-free grains, so much more than their pretty faces, interesting international histories, and exotic names would suggest. Quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, teff, millet, sorghum, and rice – all nutritional powerhouses that are excellent sources of carbohydrates and protein, as well as vital trace minerals making them perfect staples in the diet of endurance athletes, and all without the aid of gluten.
Quinoa, dubbed the “mother grain” for its nearly perfectly complete nutritional profile, is one of the only plant foods that is a complete protein, containing all of the amino acids in a healthy balance. It has a higher ratio of protein to carbohydrates, is high in potassium, and comes in over 120 varieties, each with its own distinct flavor profile. Millet is a staple grain used in India and China, contains high amounts of fiber, protein and mineral value, specifically iron and magnesium. Its also an alkaline food, making it easy to digest and optimal fuel for athletes and others. Teff, a type of millet grown most frequently in Africa, has over twice the iron of other grains and three times the calcium.
The best way to reap the benefits of these super-foods is to cook and bake from scratch – but this doesn’t mean taking hours to prepare a meal or to bake a pan of after-ride brownies. Your local grocers’ bulk section is a great place to start, one ingredient at a time. Most of gluten-free grains take only minutes to cook in boiling water – quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat are great tossed into salads, or mixed with veggies and beans for fast and portable lunch. Gluten-free flours made of teff and buckwheat, and grains such as millet can be added to baked goods without any preparation, filling in for traditional flour with taste, texture, and making that pan of brownies guilt-free (and even a better choice than your favorite nutrition bar!)
Below are a few recipes to dip your toes into the world of gluten-free grains. Fuel up and ride on!
For more information about gluten-free grains, their nutritional value, and recipes to incorporate them seamlessly into your repertoire visit:
Gluten-Free Mighty Granola
This vegan recipe has replaced my old favorite that was laden with oats, sugar and oil. The protein, power, and lack of sweetner in this recipe make it uber-versatile; I like to enjoy it as a hearty breakfast with yogurt or soy milk and fruit, or as a snack in mid-day.
(adapted from “Elana’s Pantry” recipe for Gluten Free Granola)
2 c almonds
1 c millet
1 c pumpkin seeds
1 c raisins
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 c goji berries (or your other favorite dried fruit)
1 c shredded coconut
1. Place the almonds, millet, and pumpkin seeds in an appropriate bowl and just cover with water. Soak overnight
2. Place the raisins in water (about 1 cup) and soak overnight.
3. Once the raisins are hydrated, place them and their water in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until pureed.
4. .In a fine mesh sieve, or strainer, drain the millet mixture of its water. Add to the raisin puree in the food processor and pulse till the texture of granola. Mix in the coconut and goji berries.
5. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and transfer the mixture to the sheets. You want to be sure that the granola is not in a pile or else it will not dehydrate properly. Try to place the cereal in a single layer that can be stirred easily. Otherwise, bake in batches.
For “live” granola, bake the granola overnight in the oven until dehydrated. For baked granola, dehydrate for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The granola is done when it is slightly crisp, but not burned. Depending on your oven, this might mean an hour etc. If this is the case, its ok to bump up the temperature a bit, just don’t burn!
Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
This recipe is a special favorite – hiding fruit puree, coconut oil (known for its aid in digestion, antibacterial and anti-inflamatory properties) and packing the punch of Omega-3 fatty acids from flax, and zero refined sugars and the protein of garbanzo, fava, and sorghum the flour mixture in a convenient chocolate studded snack. These occasionally come along as a mid-ride treat.
1 cup coconut oil, in solid state
6 tbsp ripe banana
1 1/4 Tbsp soy, rice, or almond milk
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp vanilla extract
11/4 cups evaporated cane juice
2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Mix
1/4 cup flax meal
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 cup vegan white chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 325F degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In the bowl of an stand mixer, or in a bowl large enough to accommodate an electric hand mixer, combine the oil, banana milk, salt and evaporated cane juice and mix until as smooth as possible. (Small lumps are ok, but pretend you are creaming the oil with the sugar…you want homogenous!)
3. In another medium sized bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, flax, baking soda and xanthan gum.
4. Carefully add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing until a grainy dough is formed. Then, mix in the white chocolate chips.
5. With a melon baller, or ice cream scoop, portion out the cookie dough onto the prepared pans, about 1 inch apart. Press the cookies lightly with your palm to help them spread.
6. Bake the cookies on the center rack of the oven for 15 minutes, rotating the pan after 7 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when the edges brown nicely. Let the cookies stand on the sheets for 10 minutes before using a spatula to remove them. Store in an airtight container at room temp for up to three days!
Lentine Zahler has been training, racing and gobbling up endurance triathlon under the watchful eye of D3 Coach Mark Sunderland for the past three years, and doesn't plan to stop anytime soon. When she's not busy sweating or pushing the envelope, she works as a freelance writer, yoga instructor, and recipe consultant, using her powers as a classically trained chef to turn traditional recipes into super-natural training fuel in Portland, Oregon. Lentine credits her past and present successes as an Ironman World Championship Qualifier & Finisher, consistent Age Group contender, and Boston Marathon qualifier to her love of yoga, and smart training (thank you D3,) but also delicious, high quality food. You can check out her adventures and recipes at http://www.lentinealexis.com