Toolbox: 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 this season. A great choice for carbohydrates and one of the more economical quality carbohydrate choices available, and with so many practical uses in the kitchen!
Oatmeal is an incredibly useful ingredient. I use oatmeal ground up in my meatballs, mixed with eggs for oatmeal pancakes, in my smoothies, in homemade bars, banana breads, muffins, homemade granola and of course as a good old fashion 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 makes a racers best friend by just adding hot water.
The question I often get is, “Can I eat steel cut oats instead of quick oats? What’s the difference?”
There are several types of oatmeal. Let’s provide an overview and how they are produced:
1. Oat Groats: All oats start off as oat groats, which are hulled, toasted oat grains. The bran remains intact when they are hulled, retaining all nutrients.
2. Steel cut (Irish) oats: This would be 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.
3. Stone ground (Scottish) oats: Scottish oats are the same as Steel cut Irish oats, except they are ground into smaller pieces. These take about half the time of Irish steel cut oats, based on their smaller size. They still have a different texture than rolled oats.
4. Old Fashioned Rolled Oats: The toasted groats are steamed to create this popular oatmeal. After steaming, the groats are run between rollers to create flakes. Rolled oats can be eaten raw or cooked into oatmeal. These take about 10 minutes tops to cook and we likely know them from the red, blue and white “Quaker” package.
5. Quick Cooking Oatmeal: This oatmeal is the same as the old fashioned rolled oats except they are rolled thinner for quicker cooking times. They can also be eaten uncooked. These take only 5 minutes to cook and are great for baking!
6. Instant Oatmeal: These are the most processed oats. The oat groats have been finely chopped, flattened, pre-cooked and dehydrated. Many instant oatmeal products will have added sugars, flavors and salt although you can get the plain versions. I would steer clear of the sugar added versions, opting to add your own fresh fruit and maple syrup instead. These take only a few minutes to cook.
All oatmeal, with exception to the ones with added sugars and flavorings, are a healthy carbohydrate choice. At a quick glance many will assume that the quick oats are not as nourishing, but in reality there isn’t much nutritional difference.
Oatmeal has many great nutrition properties. It is a hardy grain that is able to thrive in poor soil conditions that most crops cannot survive in. Oatmeal gets its nutty taste from the roasting process the groats go through after being harvested and cleaned. Oatmeal retains all of its bran and germ, even though it is hulled, leaving it full of nutrients and fiber.
One 1/2 cup of Rolled Oats has 150 calories, 27 g carbohydrates, 5 g of protein, 3 g fat, 1 g sugar and 4 g fiber. Oatmeal has both soluble and insoluble fiber.
One 1/4 cup of Steel Cut Oats has 170 calories, 29 g carbohydrates, 7 g protein, 3 g fat, 5 g fiber.
Steel cut oats then are a more calorically dense option for the same size serving. Note that the comparison above is ½ cup to ¼ cup.
More Than Just a Carbohydrate
Oatmeal has a specific type of fiber balled 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 g of soluble oat fiber per day (what you would find in a typical bowl of oatmeal), typically lowers cholesterol by 8-23%.
Fiber of course is also great for healthy bowels. With all the food cyclists have to consume, having healthy bowels is certainly a top priority to feeling energetic and reducing GI issues while riding and in everyday life.
Regardless of who you are, starting off your day with oatmeal as part of your breakfast will help you to maintain steady blood sugar. By continuing to fuel with some high fiber foods, lean proteins and good fats throughout the day, you can have sustained energy all day, rather than highs and lows from sugary low fiber breakfast options such as juice and processed commercial muffins or bars.
Oats are an excellent source of magnesium. Magnesium – like calcium, sodium, and potassium – is a macro mineral, needed in larger amounts in the body then trace minerals. There are too many functions to cover regarding magnesium, so we will save it for a future article. But the take-home is that oatmeal is an excellent source.
Lastly oatmeal 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. By adding some protein and fat to quick cooking oatmeal you can easily slow down the digestion of the meal. 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. There are instances where higher glycemic index could be a good thing, such as after training as a recovery meal.
After years of playing around with oatmeal, I have come to really love its diversity in the kitchen, or in the hotel room where it can be cooked in that token coffee pot that every room has.
Below I have shared with you my all-time favorite oatmeal recipe. It’s a keeper! You can make this recipe in mason jars or in a small square pan and make these as baked oatmeal squares. I like to make it in the jars and then serve it warm with yogurt and fresh berries on top. Double the recipe and have pre made oat jars for days. Sometimes I swap out the apples for peaches or bananas when I get overly creative. Kids will love this one too.
However you like it, oatmeal is a cyclist’s best friend for so many reasons. Dig into your bowl and not into your budget this season with oatmeal by your side!
Power Oat Jars
1 cup rolled oats
2 tbsp. chia seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup almond milk
1.5 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp. pure maple syrup
1 apple chopped into chunks or cubes
A pinch of sea salt
• Pre heat the oven to 35°C. Take the lids off of 6 mini mason jars (or use a small square pan, baking time may differ in a pan).
• In a large bowl mix the chia seeds, rolled oats, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and baking powder.
• Next add in the vanilla, maple syrup and almond milk (you can use another type of milk here) and stir.
• Next add in the chopped apples (you can use banana or peaches as well, I love this with apples). Mix well.
• Divide the mixture evenly between the mason jars and pour any leftover milk evenly into each jar.
• Give each jar a nice pat down with your hands, to make the mixture a bit more condensed. There should be a good inch left empty at the top of each jar.
• Bake the oat jars at 350 for 20-25 minutes. I like to put the jars on a cookie sheet so I can carefully take them all out at once. The jars make these easy to transport for work or short day travels.
• The oat jars should be lightly browning on top and feel slightly dense to push down on when ready.
• Let the jars cool for a good 30 minutes. Top with yogurt, berries, nut butter or whatever you like!
• Store in the fridge for the next couple of days. I find these keep well for up to 3 days.
Nutrition Info: Entire recipe has; 703 calories, 127 g carbohydrates, 16 g protein, 15 g fat. Divide based on how many jars you use or how you cut up your servings if cooking this in a pan.
Serve with a few soft boiled eggs on the side for optimal protein, carbohydrate and fat ratios!
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 C. The Magnesium Miracle. New York: Ballantine Books; 2007.
Anne Guzman is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and 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 previous to cycling was a Provincial and CIAU Champion and National Bronze medalist as a Varsity Freestyle Wrestler. Currently Anne works with athletes helping 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. Currently Anne works with Peaks Coaching Group as well as her own business Nutrition Solutions Anne Guzman. You can follow Anne on twitter or her facebook page.