Thursday, June 18, 2015

Oatmeal: The Endurance Weapon

A popular food among cyclists and athletes, oatmeal is likely to be found in most cupboards and hotel rooms across the racing scene. It’s a great choice for carbohydrates (one of the more economical quality choices available, in fact), with so many practical uses in the kitchen! I use oatmeal ground up in my meatballs, mixed with eggs for oatmeal pancakes, in my smoothies, and in homemade bars, banana breads, muffins, and granola, as well as of course a good old-fashioned breakfast with yogurt and berries. Some of my racers have been known to mix protein powder or eggs right into their oatmeal as a regular pre-race staple meal. Life on the road sometimes requires simple, practical solutions, and oatmeal can be a racer’s instant best friend: just add hot water.

Types of Oats

There are several types of oatmeal. Here’s an overview of each and how they are produced.

Oat groats

All oats start off as oat groats, which are hulled, toasted oat grains. The bran remains intact when the oat is hulled and retains all nutrients.

Steel-cut (Irish) oats

These are your least-processed type of oatmeal. Oh, the hardy Irish! The toasted oat groats are chopped into small pieces about the size of a piece of quinoa. These take about 45 minutes to cook before eating and have a nice chewy texture loved by many.

Stone-ground (Scottish) oats

Scottish oats are the same as steel-cut Irish oats except that they are ground into smaller pieces. These take about half the cooking time of Irish steel-cut oats because of the smaller size, but they still have a texture different from rolled oats.

Old-fashioned rolled oats

To create this popular oatmeal, the toasted groats are steamed and then run between rollers to create flakes. Rolled oats can be eaten raw or cooked into oatmeal. They take about 10 minutes to cook. Most of us likely know them best from the red, blue, and white Quaker packages.

Quick-cooking oats

These are the same as the old-fashioned rolled oats except they’re rolled thinner for quicker cooking times. Like the rolled, these can also be eaten uncooked. They take only five minutes to cook and are great for baking.

Instant oatmeal

This contains the most processed oats. The oat groats have been finely chopped, flattened, pre-cooked, and dehydrated. Many instant oatmeal products have sugars, flavors, and salt added, although you can get plain versions. I would steer clear of the sugar-added instant oatmeal, opting instead to throw in your own fresh fruit and maple syrup. Instant oatmeal takes only a few minutes to cook.

Oatmeal Nutrition

All oatmeal (with the exception of the ones with added sugars and flavorings) is a healthy carbohydrate choice. At first glance many assume that quick oats are not as nourishing, but in reality there isn’t much nutritional difference from the other types.

Oatmeal has many great nutrition properties. It’s a hardy grain that’s able to thrive in poor soil conditions in which most crops cannot survive. Oatmeal gets its nutty taste from the roasting process the groats go through after being harvested and cleaned. Even when hulled, oatmeal retains all of its bran and germ, leaving it full of nutrients and fiber.

Half a cup of rolled oats contains:
  • 150 calories
  • 27 grams carbohydrates
  • 5 grams protein
  • 3 grams fat
  • 1 gram sugar
  • 4 gram fiber (both soluble and insoluble)
A fourth cup of steel-cut oats contains:
  • 170 calories
  • 29 grams carbohydrates
  • 7 grams protein
  • 3 grams fat
  • 5 grams fiber
As you can see, steel-cut oats are a more calorically-dense option for the same-size serving. (Do note that the comparison above is half a cup of rolled oats to a fourth cup of steel-cut.)

More Than Just a Carbohydrate

Oatmeal boasts a specific type of fiber called beta glucan, which has been shown in study after study to reduce cholesterol levels; people with high cholesterol (over 220 mg/dl) consuming only 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (what you’d find in a bowl of oatmeal) typically lower their cholesterol by 8-23%.

Fiber is of course also great for healthy bowels. With all the food we cyclists have to consume, having healthy bowels is certainly a top priority for feeling energetic and reducing GI issues while riding and in everyday life.

Regardless of who you are, though, starting off your day with oatmeal as part of your breakfast will help you maintain steady blood sugar. By continuing to fuel throughout the day with some high fiber foods, lean proteins, and good fats, you can sustain energy all day rather than battle highs and lows from sugary, low-fiber breakfast options like juice and processed commercial muffins or bars.

Oats are also an excellent source of magnesium. Magnesium (like calcium, sodium, and potassium) is a macro mineral, needed in larger amounts in the body than trace minerals. There are too many functions of magnesium to cover here; just know that oatmeal is an excellent source for it. (Click here for more on magnesium.)

One last benefit of oatmeal is that it is a low-glycemic carbohydrate. Although many would assume that steel-cut oatmeal would have a lower glycemic load than rolled oats, the difference is minimal. The glycemic index of quick-cooking oats is higher than that of steel-cut and rolled oats; eaten alone, a bowl of quick-cooking oats may not keep you as satisfied for as long or keep your blood sugar as steady, though you can easily slow down digestion by adding some protein and fat to quick-cooking oatmeal. Protein and fats have slower gastric emptying rates than low-fat carbohydrates such as quick oats; eaten together the entire meal will digest more slowly. In some instances higher glycemic index foods could be a good thing, such as in a recovery meal after training.

However you like it, oatmeal is a cyclist’s best friend for so many reasons. Dig into your bowl and not your budget this season with oatmeal by your side!

Using Oatmeal

After years of playing around with oatmeal, I have come to really love its diversity in the kitchen, and even in the hotel room, where it can be cooked in that token coffee pot featured in every room.

I’d like to share with you my all-time favorite oatmeal recipe. Kids will love it too! You can make this recipe in mason jars (easy to transport to work or on short day travels), or you can put it in a small square pan and bake it as oatmeal squares. I like to make it in jars and then serve it warm with yogurt and fresh berries on top. Double the recipe to stock up on pre-made oat jars for days. Sometimes I swap out the apples for peaches or bananas when I get overly creative.

Recipe: Power Oat Jars

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup almond milk (or your preferred milk)
  • 1.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 apple, cubed or chopped into chunks (or try bananas or peaches)
  • Pinch of sea salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Remove the lids from six mini mason jars (or use a small square pan; just remember that baking time may differ in a pan).

2. In a large bowl mix the chia seeds, rolled oats, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking powder. Add the vanilla, maple syrup, and almond milk; stir well. Add the chopped apples and mix well.

3. Divide the mixture evenly among the mason jars and pour any leftover milk evenly into each jar. Give each jar a nice pat-down with your hands to condense the mixture a bit. There should be a good inch of empty space at the top of each jar.

4. Place the jars on a cookie sheet and carefully slide the cookie sheet into the preheated oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes. When done, the oats should be lightly browning on top and feel slightly dense when pushed down on. Remove from oven.

5. Let the jars cool for a good 30 minutes, then top with yogurt, berries, nut butter, or whatever deliciousness you like! Serve with a few soft-boiled eggs on the side for optimal protein, carbohydrate, and fat ratios.

These can be stored in the fridge for up to three days.

Nutrition Info
Entire recipe; divide based on the number of jars you use or how many servings if baked in a pan.

703 calories
127 grams carbohydrates
16 grams protein
15 grams fat


Delaney B, Nicolosi RJ, Wilson TA, et al. Beta-glucan fractions from barley and oats are similarly antiatherogenic in hypercholesterolemic Syrian golden hamsters. J Nutr; 2003 Feb 133(2):468-75. 2003.

Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle. New York: Ballantine Books; 2007.

Anne Guzman is a PCG nutritionist, a registered holistic nutritionist, and a sports nutrition consultant with a degree in kinesiology. Her passion lies in sports nutrition for endurance athletes, as well as general health and wellness. Anne raced full time on the women’s professional circuit in North America with some bouts in Europe from 2008 until 2011, and before cycling was a provincial and CIAU champion and national bronze medalist as a Varsity Freestyle Wrestler. Currently Anne works with athletes to help them reach their potential by combining their own training plans with her nutrition plans. Anne believes that many athletes undermine their intense detailed training regimes by not backing them with sound nutrition. Her personal experience as a cyclist and athlete is a great asset to her business as she understands the needs and nuances that come with the sport. Anne can be contacted through or at Read more nutrition advice on her blog.

Originally published by Pez Cycling News
Photo credits: and Anne Guzman/Pez Cycling News