Oatmeal: Super Food for Athletes #3

by Dietitian Ellen

OatsI know what you might be thinking: “Oatmeal? How boring. How the *heck* (yes, “heck,” I gave up swearing for Lent) is she going to write more than three sentences about oatmeal?” Read on, I will show you just how un-boring oatmeal can be!

If your typical oatmeal experience is anything like this…

Open packet
Dump in bowl
Add water

…we need to talk. There is more to life, I promise!

There are so many flavorful combinations to explore with oatmeal, but let’s first discuss why oatmeal made the list of super foods for athletes in the first place.

Oatmeal is a heart-healthy whole grain containing soluble fiber which soaks up unwanted fat and cholesterol in the body. It is also a great source of long lasting carbohydrate, which is important for long workouts and races, as carbohydrate is the athlete’s primary source of energy. It is also packed with B vitamins, which help to increase energy stores and also help to use the energy you take in from other sources.

If all of those benefits are not enough to convince you that oatmeal’s got it going on, then let me say one more thing: OATMEAL.IS.CHEAP! And if you are spending thousands of dollars on endurance sports needs, an inexpensive and nutritious option is welcome.

There are several varieties available. Steel cut, old fashioned, quick, and instant oats each provide nutritious benefits with various amounts of processing involved with each selection. Remember, the less processing, the better. Typically, less processing means more nutritious.

Steel Cut Oats

Steel cut oats (also known as Irish oats) are the least processed form of oats and come from the original whole oat, called the groat, being chopped into two or three pieces. Steel cut oats are by far the chewiest form of oats and require the most time to prepare. In addition, the body breaks them down more slowly than rolled oats, which prevents blood sugar spikes and keeps you full longer.

One of my favorite ways to prepare steel cut oats is in the crockpot. This recipe prepares itself overnight and provides a week’s worth of nutritious breakfast meals or snacks. It is so easy to portion out a week’s worth and add different mix-ins (see below) each day, making oatmeal NOT boring.

Give it a try: Crockpot Oatmeal

Rolled Oats

Old fashioned, quick, and instant oats are all considered “rolled” oats, because they are all processed, steamed, and rolled to varying thicknesses.

Rolled vs Steel Cut Oats Old fashioned rolled oats on the left, steel cut oats on the right.

Old fashioned are the thickest of the three rolled oats and require a longer cooking time than quick or instant oats. Of the rolled oat options, I personally prefer old fashioned oats any day! I love the slightly chewy texture and don’t mind the extra minute or two to prepare them.

Quick oats are similar to old fashioned oats, but are rolled thinner, are cut into smaller pieces, and do not require as much cooking time.

Oatmeal for AthletesInstant oats, most often found in packets, are the thinnest of the rolled oats. Instant oats are pre-cooked and dried, making it possible to simply add hot water and enjoy. Sugars and sodium are often added to instant oatmeal packets, making them a not-so-healthy option. If you are looking for an instant option, without the added sugar and sodium, try the Bob’s Red Mill Instant Rolled Oats.

This is my go-to old fashioned oats recipe:

Peanut Butter Chocolate Old Fashioned Oats

½ cup dry oats
½ cup Blue Diamond Almond Breeze unsweetened vanilla almond milk
Pour into a bowl and microwave for two minutes.

Add the following:
½ scoop chocolate milk flavored Healthy 100% Whey protein powder
1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
1 tablespoon chia seeds

Mix together and enjoy! (It *almost* tastes like a Reese’s peanut butter cup.)

Here is another recipe for overnight oats. This uses old fashioned oats instead of steel cut oats and does not require any cooking whatsoever.

Dark Chocolate Almond Overnight Oats

1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup + a little extra Dark Chocolate Almond or Soy Milk (I use Almond Breeze)
1 tbsp. chopped dark chocolate
1 tbsp. chopped raw almonds

Mix all ingredients in a container that can be covered and sealed (I recommend a mason jar or Tupperware). Let chill in refrigerator overnight. Oats should be softened by morning and ready to eat! Serves 1.

Oatmeal Additions

I definitely suggest purchasing plain oatmeal, of any variety, and adding your favorite add-ins. There are plenty of flavor combinations to be made. Here are a few of my favorite options:

  • PB2Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Chia seed
  • PB2 powdered peanut butter (or chocolate PB2) – Provides a fraction of the calories of regular peanut butter!
  • Natural nut butters
  • No-sugar-added jelly
  • Greek yogurt
  • Frozen fruit
  • Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, apricots, bananas, strawberries, blueberries)
  • Healthy WheyHealthy 100% Whey protein powder (chocolate peanut butter, cinnamon bun, chocolate milk, or caramel vanilla swirl flavors found at Hy-Vee)
  • Cinnamon
  • Honey
  • Puréed pumpkin


More than Just Breakfast

Oats are not just good for your typical hot and hearty breakfast meal. Try adding oats to recipes like these.

Strawberry Oatmeal Smoothie: By adding oatmeal to a smoothie, you boost the fiber and protein content of your smoothie without altering the taste. The texture may be a little thicker, but if you blend it well, you may not notice the difference.

Strawberry Oatmeal Smoothie

Triple Berry Oatmeal Pancakes: Perfect for a snowy day or as a reward after a long workout!

Triple Berry Oatmeal Pancakes

There are endless ways to use oatmeal. Consider this super food for your next breakfast or pre-workout fuel choice.

What are some of your favorite ways to use oatmeal? Feel free to share your comments!

Ellen Ries, RD, LD

Read Dietitian Ellen’s introduction to this series: Super Foods for Athletes. Watch our blog every Friday for additional articles!

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Katherine is our Content Champion. She has done triathlons in the past, and now focuses on mountain biking and long-distance gravel riding. She still has a soft spot in her heart for weird multi-sport events like indoor triathlon and aquabike. She also teaches indoor cycling.

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