Gluten Free Carbs to Fuel Athletes


Whether you’re an athlete with celiac disease, have a gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy or are following a gluten free diet, knowing the best sources for gluten free carbs will ensure that you are fueling your body for peak performance. 

Not only do gluten free carbs provide an excellent source of energy, these complex carbohydrates are nutrient rich and fiber dense. Additionally, they contain many of the vitamins and minerals athletes need to stay healthy and boost energy.

Read on to learn more about gluten free carb options for athletes. 

gluten free carbs for fueling athlete performance

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates or carbs are one of our six essential nutrients. Since your brain and muscles rely on them as an important sources of energy, you want to make sure you eat enough carbs. 

Additionally carbohydrates have an important role in digestion by improving the microbiome, aiding digestion and helping to keep bowel movements regular. (1

gluten free carbs for fueling

Why do athletes need carbohydrates?

Around 45-60% of athlete’s diet should come from carbohydrates, depending on activity level, duration and other individualized factors. Carbs provide energy to fuel your performance and we need them in significant amounts since our bodies have limited storage capacity. 

Consuming carbs before, during and after your training or competition helps to keep your energy stores high, leading to improved performance and a faster recovery. (2)

Carbs also help to stabilize your blood sugar levels during exercise. However, without sufficient carbs, your blood sugar levels could drop leading to fatigue, dizziness and lack of focus.

Check out our posts on game day nutrition, what to eat before a game and what to eat for recovery for more information about the importance of carbs.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. Some products made from these grains, such as bread, pasta, cereals, and baked goods, contain significant amounts of gluten. 

Sometimes gluten is found in processed foods like sauces, gravies and salad dressings as a thickener or stabilizer. So, you’ll want to read food labels to make sure you make a gluten free choice.

Any food that is by nature gluten free does not have to be labeled as gluten free.

FDA regulation defines “gluten-free” but does not require a gluten free food to be labeled as gluten free. 

You may see a certified gluten free symbol letting you know that it’s a certified gluten free product.

Best gluten free carb sources

The best sources of gluten free carbs can be found in many types of foods from grains, starches, fruits, veggies and simple sugars. 

All of these foods break down into sugar (glucose), the primary source of fuel for your body during practice, games and competitions. Also, your body stores sugar in the muscles and liver as glycogen.

Generally, these are the categories of gluten free carbs for athletes:

  • Gluten free grains and seeds
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Legumes and beans
  • Fruits, fresh and dried
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Gluten free breads
  • Gluten free pastas

Gluten free grains and seeds

  • Quinoa: This superfood is a great source of protein, fiber, and essential nutrients like iron and magnesium.
  • Brown rice: Brown rice is a nutrient-rich, high fiber carb source. It makes a solid pre game meal when paired with your favorite veggie and lean protein.
  • Buckwheat: Despite its name, buckwheat is actually gluten-free and a great source of protein and fiber.
  • Corn: Corn is a versatile carb source used in many dishes, from polenta to tortillas. Combined with a starchy legume like black beans, you can make a hearty snack.
  • Oats: Although oats are naturally gluten-free, they can be contaminated during processing. Look for certified gluten-free oats to be safe.
  • Millet: This gluten-free grain is a good source of fiber, protein, and minerals.
  • Amaranth: This ancient grain is high in protein and fiber and has a slightly nutty flavor.
glute free carbs-gluten free grain options

Starchy vegetables

Starchy vegetables are a good source of naturally gluten free carbohydrates. Generally a 1/2 cup serving of legumes provides 15 grams of carbs. Here are some examples of gluten-free starchy vegetables:

  • Potatoes: Potatoes are a versatile vegetable that can be cooked different ways. They are a good source of carbohydrates, potassium, and vitamin C. Potatoes can be an excellent quick carb to eat closer to game time. One medium-sized potato contains around 30 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes are a nutrient-dense vegetable that are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. One medium-sized sweet potato contains around 27 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Yams: Yams are similar to sweet potatoes and are a good source of carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamin C. One medium-sized yam contains around 37 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Winter squash: Winter squash, such as butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash, are nutrient-dense vegetables and good source of carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamin A. One cup of cubed butternut squash contains around 25 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Corn: Corn is a good source of carbohydrates, fiber, and some important nutrients like vitamin C, thiamin, and folate. A 1/2 cup of corn provides about 15 g of carbs.


Legumes are a good source of carbohydrates. Also, they contain protein, fiber, and many important nutrients like iron, folate, and potassium. Peas in particular are a good source of vitamin C and vitamin K.

Try these different varieties in soups, burritos or wraps, blend to make a dip for veggies or roast and toss on salads:

  • Chickpeas
  • Black beans
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Split peas


Fruits provide an excellent source of naturally gluten free carbohydrate, essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. Try blending fruits with your favorite low fat greek yogurt to make a smoothie.

Generally one 1/2 cup serving of fresh fruit provides about 15 grams of carbs. Larger pieces of whole fruits provide around 30 grams of carbs. Also, one 1/4 cup serving of dried fruit provides 15 grams of carbs.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Berries: Berries, including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are a great source of antioxidants and fiber. Add them to a smoothie, top on your yogurt, cereal or oatmeal.
  • Apples: Apples are high in fiber and vitamins, making them a great option for a quick and healthy snack.
  • Bananas: Bananas make a good pre-, post and halftime snack since they are a good source of carbs, potassium, and vitamin C.
  • Citrus fruits: Oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes are high in vitamin C and orange slices make a great half time snack.
  • Pineapple: Pineapple is a tropical fruit that is high in vitamin C and bromelain, an enzyme that aids in digestion and recovery after exercise.
  • Mango: Mango is a sweet and juicy fruit that is high in vitamin C and fiber.
  • Grapes: Grapes are a good source of carbs and antioxidants, making them a great option for a halftime snack.
  • Pears: Pears are a good source of fiber and vitamin C, and make a hearty snack when dipped in almond butter.
  • Dried fruits: From dried blueberries, tart cherries, satsumas, pineapple, dates and more you’ll find a favorite that you can use as a snack, in a trail mix or top on your favorite yogurt.
  • Tart cherry juice: Tart cherry juice provides an excellent source of carbohydrate. In addition, it has anti-inflammatory effects as well as aids in sleep. Add this to your smoothie or drink 8 oz post exercise.

Milk and yogurt

Milk and yogurt are another good source of gluten free carbs. Typically a 1 cup serving of milk has around 12 grams of carbs.

Yogurt provides around 8-12 grams of carbs per 8 ounce serving. However some yogurts have additional added sugars and sweeteners that increase the amount of carbs per serving.

Rather than selecting the high sugar options, you can add your own fresh or dried fruit to make it sweeter.

Gluten free carb foods

Today you can find many foods that have typically been gluten-containing on grocery store shelves.

From chickpea, lentil and brown rice pastas to granola bars, breads, and tortillas, you’ll find options to create a well rounded athlete pre game, snack and post game meal.

Final thoughts

Every athlete relies on carbs for energy to fuel your muscles. Even if you’re following a strict celiac disease diet, you have many options for gluten free carbs that will provide you more than enough energy to sustain your performance.

Check out our post on performance nutrition for more information.

What are your favorite gluten free carbs?

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