Up until last year, I was blessed with a body that only felt pain in my muscles and joints. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I began to experience intense, crippling, stomach pain. I figured it was some type of muscle pain and, as runners do, I tried to muscle through it. It wasn’t until I had to miss a race because of the pain that I realized I needed to see a doctor.

In early January, I was diagnosed with celiac disease.

The Celiac Disease Foundation defines celiac disease on their website as “a serious autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide. Two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications.”

It took a while, and about a million texts to my lifeline sister, who also has celiac disease, but I eventually got the hang of eating gluten free meals and avoiding cross-contamination in my everyday life.

However, then March hit, and so did the beginning of marathon training season. I began to research and experiment with different types of gluten free fueling. Not only did I need products that were gluten-free, they had to be made in facilities that were certified gluten-free, as any cross-contamination sent my stomach into knots, a feeling I never want to experience again.

After some trial and error, I found three different products that both helps my performance and fit all the dietary restrictions for celiac disease.

1. GU Stroopwafels

This is my go-to, pre-workout fuel. I absolutely love the wild berry flavor and even find myself keeping a spare in my purse in case there are no gluten free options at the local lunch joint. This is a safe meal for me before my longer training runs and races because it does not weigh me down and does not create any mid-run, digestive issues. Because I am a morning runner, I find it necessary to fuel before heading out to train. The Stroopwafel is the first fuel to hit my body and normally keeps me satisfied for the first half of my run.

GU offers three celiac-friendly energy Stroopwafel flavors: Coconut, Salted Chocolate, and Wild Berries. The Stroopwafels are blended with organic flour, derived from gluten-free sources (tapioca, rice, potato) that tastes delicious and holds up on-the-go.

“Our goal at GU Energy Labs is to make products for athletes that deliver the right ingredients, at the right time, in a form that’s easy to carry and digest,” says Roxanne Vogel, MS, EP-C, CSCS*D, CISSN, GU Energy Labs Sports Nutritionist. “For athletes with a gluten intolerance, this means creating gluten-free options that don’t sacrifice great taste or nutritional performance. Our Energy Gels and drink mixes are also gluten-free along with many of our other products.”

GU was one of the first companies I relied on for safe, good, fuel, and it hasn’t let me down. In fact, I’ve found many food companies do not take steps to ensure their products are safe for individuals with celiac to consume; having a production facility that safely produces gluten free foods is expensive and does not always provide a financial benefit to the company. However, there is a great source of comfort that I, as a newer celiac, find if having a label that explicitly states gluten-free, with no disclaimer that the product was also made on a plant with wheat.

2. Jelly Belly Sport Beans

These beans pack a powerful sugar punch that I found most helpful at the mid-point of my longer runs. I felt the energy kick in almost immediately, plus they taste great. There is a slight difference in taste from the traditional Jelly Belly jelly bean, as the electrolytes and vitamins have been added to assist in performance and recovery, but there’s nothing like a piece of candy at mile 13 to push you through to mile 18.

In a study conducted by the University of California, Davis School of Medicine Sports Program, Sport Beans were proven just as effective as popular sport drinks and gels in maintaining blood sugar levels and improving exercise performance in competitive endurance athletes.

“Sport Beans were specially formulated with sports performance in mind,” stated Jana Perry, Jelly Belly Communications Manager. “They are a source of easily digestible carbohydrate for fuel, along with electrolytes and vitamins. We take pride in our flavors, drawing from our experience with Jelly Belly jelly beans to create a tasty sports performance product.”

3. Honey Stinger Chews

I have come to rely on the caffeinated varieties of these bad boys to push me from miles 20-24 of the marathon distance. The sweet chew is a nice texture change from the small crunchy jelly bean I had been relying on for the middle miles, and the caffeine gives me a much needed mental boost to power through the last few miles that always seem to feel longer.

 

“At Honey Stinger, we are passionate about using wholesome, organic, non-GMO ingredients and are proud to offer fuel options for our athletes in the gluten-free community,” stated Jordan Edwards, Honey Stinger Marketing Manager. “Our Energy Chews, sweetened with organic honey and tapioca syrup, provide a sustainable source of energy for everything from your next half marathon to ultra-marathon and every distance in between.”

Honey Stinger also offers organic gluten-free flavored waffles, for athletes looking for a sweeter, more breakfast-y option to fuel their runs. Not only do these products provide the fuel and mental stimulation to get through longer training runs and performance races, but they also keep my body safe and pain free. I no longer have to worry about eating foods that tear up my intestinal track, or send me into malnutrition by blocking absorption of nutrients and vitamins; knowing they are prepared in a way that is safe and sensitive to the celiac community, where even a crumb of gluten can negatively affect our bodies, allows me to focus on my runs rather than my stomach.

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