Gluten-Free for The Rest of Us
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!