Newsflash: Skipping oatmeal before a workout could actually lead to better performance.
Oatmeal has developed a reputation as the holy grail of pre-workout and pre-race meals. And for good reason — it’s a familiar, fortified whole grain that’s comforting, easy to prep, convenient to travel with, can be purchased at any grocery store and is relatively inexpensive. All of these benefits make oatmeal a morning no-brainer, but those aren’t necessarily good reasons to power a workout with it.
Of course, not many of us eat plain oatmeal, and once you add milk, nut butter, fruit, honey, etc., the meal practically becomes a dessert. Many popular oat bowls displayed on Instagram are packed with more than 700 calories. Depending on your individual training session and nutrient needs, that could really be overdoing things. Besides the caloric load, these indulgent bowls contain high amounts of fat and protein, which the body doesn’t utilize as well as simple carbohydrates for the fast energy production required by a workout. This could leave you struggling to hold high speeds or complete intense intervals.
THE DOWNSIDE OF FIBER
One cup of plain oatmeal (cooked in water) supplies only 166 calories, which is pretty low. Even a simple dish of plain oatmeal can be very filling due to its high-fiber content, which slows the digestive process. This slow-burn effect is great for general health and when you want to feel satisfied for hours, but it’s not ideal before a training session. Instead of eating an hour before your workout, you may need to eat 3–4 hours prior to your race or workout to properly digest a bowl of oatmeal.
For those with early morning races, this might not be worth sacrificing sleep. Without proper time to digest, the bulk left can lead to sluggishness due to blood flow competing between the stomach for digestion and supplying working muscles. This can also lead to undesirable gastrointestinal issues, which can leave you running to the restroom mid workout, especially athletes with sensitive guts.
PRE-TRAINING OATMEAL ALTERNATIVES
Swapping your bowl of oats for an easier-to-digest meal that is higher in simple carbohydrates could give you an energy boost to perform better.
Try one of these options:
- Half a plain bagel with a light smear of nut butter and honey
- Hummus on toast
- Avocado toast
- Plain yogurt with fruit
- Cream of Wheat
- Fruit pouches or apple sauce
- A pancake with maple syrup
- Rice cereal with nut milk
- A banana and a sports drink
- PBJ sandwich
- Roasted butternut squash with maple syrup
- Fruit smoothie
As a sports dietitian and professional athlete, I understand the importance of choosing a pre-workout meal that is effective. Before races, I opt for a bowl of rice pudding with banana slices. It’s easy to make ahead of time, naturally gluten-free, low in fiber, loaded with energy-supplying simple carbohydrates and can be tailored to individual palates by changing the spices and flavorings.
1 cup (240 ml) basmati rice
1 can low-fat coconut milk
1 1/4 cups (302 ml) unsweetened almond milk
1/4 cup (60 ml) maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Cover and let simmer for roughly 25 minutes, until the rice is tender. Top with sliced banana and enjoy!
Serves: 4 | Serving Size: 1/4 recipe
Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 232; Total Fat: 2g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Monounsaturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 259mg; Carbohydrate: 52g; Dietary Fiber: 3g; Sugar: 13g; Protein: 4g