Each morning, after I run and shower, I dig into a warm, creamy, and satisfying bowl of oatmeal. Of course every runner is different in terms of fueling and metabolism, but I have found that oats provide an optimal breakfast for runners. The problem is, however, that plain oats can taste bland. But with the right cooking method and additional ingredients, you can build a better bowl of oatmeal – both in terms of flavor and nutrition.
Nutritional Benefits of Oatmeal for Runners
One ½ cup serving of old fashioned oats contains 28 grams of carbohydrate. Unlike processed cereals or white breads, the carbohydrates in oats are complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are slower to digest, which prevents a sugar crash, and they contain more fiber and nutrients than simple (oftentimes processed carbohydrates).
Regardless of whether you eat your bowl of oatmeal before or after your run, this complex carbohydrate powerhouse of a meal will directly benefit your running. How? According to sports nutritionist and running coach Matt Fitzgerald:
“In training, eating enough carbohydrates every day will allow you to train harder, better absorb the stress of your training, and perform better in important workouts than you would without adequate carbohydrate intake” (New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition, page 14).
We all hear that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that a nutritious breakfast will set you up for a day of healthy eating. So why not take the same approach to breakfast for sports nutrition, and start with a carbohydrate rich breakfast?
Oatmeal Before a Run/Race
Many runners opt for oatmeal as a pre run or pre race breakfast because of its high carbohydrate content and ease of digestibility. Even though oats contain fiber, they are gentle on most stomachs, especially if you make them with water instead of milk. If you eat oatmeal on a regular basis, then the sense of familiarity will benefit your stomach as well on race day. With a banana and some honey, a bowl of oatmeal is the perfect meal to fuel your miles without running to the bathroom mid workout.
As a complex carbohydrate, oatmeal releases a steady stream of energy rather than spiking your blood sugar and then crashing. Steady energy release and easy digestibility are the desirable characteristics of a pre run meal but they don’t always go hand in hand, which is why oatmeal is such an exceptional option for runners.
Oatmeal as a Post Run Breakfast
It’s not just what you eat in the few days leading up to your marathon that will impact your race. Your nutrition throughout your entire training cycle will impact your athletic performance. One of the best practices you can adopt in terms of sports nutrition is to eat a high-carbohydrate meal within 60 minutes (the sooner the better) of your run.
Why carbohydrates immediately after a run? You use glycogen (stored carbohydrates) as the primary energy source on a run, especially if you do not consume any carbs during the run. So after the run, you need to replenish those stores so you can have energy for your next run. Your glycogen stores are primed to receive carbs to store after a workout.
Oatmeal offers a perfect post run meal for morning runners. First off, the mild flavor and soft texture is easy on the stomach, which is ideal because exercise can decrease your appetite. Oatmeal provides the amount of carbohydrates you need to replenish your glycogen stores and will be satisfying enough to keep runger at bay.
Numerous nutritional studies find that the ideal carbohydrate to protein ratio after endurance exercise is 4:1 or 3:1. A bowl of oatmeal with an egg whisked in (or served on the side, but whisked in renders an incredibly creamy bowl of oats) and topped with a banana, raisins, or an apple will provide you with approximately a 4:1 ration (44-57 grams of carbs, depending on the fruit, and 11 grams of protein).
For even more protein plus a boost of healthy fats, add nuts or seeds. Chia seeds are an outstanding option for athletes because they contain 2.5 grams of omega 3 fatty acids – which nearly meets the daily recommendation of 3000 mg of omega 3 fatty acids for athletes.
Here’s my build a better bowl of oatmeal base recipe. You can prepare this in less than 15 minutes, which means there’s no excuse to skip your morning meal!
- 1 cup water or milk of choice
- ½ cup old fashioned oats
- 1 egg
- 2-3 tablespoons natural unsweetened applesauce
- Pinch of salt
- Combine the water/milk and oats in a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and then reduce to a simmer over low heat.
- Stir frequently and cook until the water is almost completely absorbed.
- Crack in the egg and whisk for 30-60 seconds until it is cooked and incorporated into the oats.
- Stir in the applesauce, season with salt and any other desired spices, and top with any desired fruits, nuts, etc.
- This recipe is easily doubled, tripled, etc.
- Peanut or almond butter and banana
- Pureed winter squash (acorn, kabocha, butternut) and pumpkin seeds
- Diced apple and cinnamon
- Kefir/Greek yogurt
- Berries and almonds
- Cashews and craisins
- Shredded carrots, raisins, and pecans (like carrot cake)
Even better, enjoy your post run bowl of oatmeal with a cup of coffee or tea. A 2008 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that drinking coffee with your post workout meal increased the rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis.
A quick note on type of oats: you want to choose steel cut or old fashioned/rolled oats over quick oats. I prefer old fashioned because they take less time to cook than steel cut oats. PopSugar examined the nutritional aspects of steel cut vs old fashioned oat and found that they were identical nutritionally, with the exception of more calcium in steel cut.
Linking up for Foodie Friday!
Who else loves oatmeal for breakfast?
What do you add to your morning bowl of oats?
What are your weekend plans?
Receive Weekly Running Tips & Motivation
Subscribe for my weekly newsletter and receive a free download of injury prevention exercises for runners.