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Is Oatmeal Good for Runners?

Is oatmeal good for runners? Should you be eating it before or after a run? This post will walk you through everything you need to know about eating oatmeal around a workout.

oatmeal with fruit

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As a long-time runner and Registered Dietitian, oatmeal is one of my favorite breakfasts, personally, and one that I often recommend to runners.

It can be prepared in so many different ways and cater to your favorite flavors or textures. Whether you’re pairing it with fruit, dairy, nuts/seeds, pumpkin puree, egg whites or anything else, it’s a nutritious canvas for flavors.

When you’re looking for what to eat before a morning track meet or 10k, oatmeal is it!

Is Oatmeal Good for Runners?

Yes! Oatmeal is a good option for runners at any time of day.

Oatmeal is one of the most versatile meals and ingredients out there and learning how to meal prep oatmeal can be a game changer for those with busy schedules!

Microwaved oatmeal is ready in minutes, which is a major plus for runners looking to eat something quick before a run or after a run.

Here are some other great facts about oatmeal.

  • Easy to meal prep in advance – Whether you prefer a hot bowl of oatmeal, overnight oats, baked oatmeal, oatmeal muffins or anything else, you can prep most of these options in advance so they are ready to eat when you need them.
  • High in carbohydrates – Oatmeal is a great source of whole grains and carbohydrates, which is the primary energy needed for running. Oatmeal does have complex carbohydrates, which are slower to digest, making it great to eat before longer efforts as well. You can also top your oatmeal with quick sources of carbohydrate energy, like fruit.
  • Versatile – Whether you’re short on time, not sure what to eat for breakfast, or need a post-workout option, these oatmeal prep techniques will improve your breakfast game.
  • Fits into nearly any dietary pattern – Mediterranean, vegan, vegetarian, low in processed foods, gluten-free (oatmeal is a gluten-free carb, but look for certified “gluten free” oats since they can be contaminated), diabetic-friendly, heart health friendly. We love featuring oatmeal in our sample meal plan for vegan ultra runner.
oatmeal with fruit, nuts, chia seeds

Nutrition Benefits of Oatmeal

Here are some of oatmeal’s nutritional components and benefits.

  • Complex Carbohydrates – Since it is rich in carbohydrates, it can provide energy before a workout as well as replenishment for after a workout. A 1/2 cup provides 27 grams of carbohydrates, which is a good starting amount for breakfast for runners or for quick energy before a run. For comparison, a running energy gel usually has between 22-25 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Fiber – Most Americans don’t get enough fiber. Fiber has several health benefits, such as helping with satiety, digestion, gut health, insulin sensitivity, reducing serum cholesterol and more. A 1/2 cup serving provides 4 grams of fiber, half of that being soluble fiber.
  • Moderate protein – A 1/2 cup serving of oats provides 5 grams of protein, which isn’t very high, but a good starting point for getting 25 grams of protein at breakfast. It’s also moderate enough that it shouldn’t cause too much GI distress if eating oatmeal before a workout. For higher protein, you could add in collagen or protein powder.
  • Iron – A 1/2 cup of oats provides 1.5 mg of iron, which is just under 10% of the daily recommended amount. It could be a great way to increase non-heme iron in athletes.
  • Other micronutrients – Oatmeal is also a source of other micronutrients, like magnesium and B Vitamins. Pair it with a banana for extra potassium, berries for antioxidants, flax seeds or chia seeds for healthy fats to reduce inflammation.
bowl of oatmeal with sliced bananas

Should You Have Oatmeal Before a Workout?

Deciding when to eat oatmeal around a workout depends on the timing of your exercise and your personal preferences.

There is no one “best meal before a workout.” Because as we know, it will depend on yourself, your preferences, what time of day it is, how much your stomach can handle, how long/intense your workout is, etc.

That being said, if you’re looking for what to eat before a long run, oatmeal is usually a safe bet for people! It’s moderate in protein but high in carbohydrates that help provide energy for your workout.

It works well for eating before a 10k or 5k too!

man running on green grass

Oatmeal is generally easy to digest and it’s nearly 30 grams of carbs in a 1/2 cup serving translates to quick energy for your workout.

Oatmeal is also a great carb loading food. You can pile on a few servings into a bowl or baked oatmeal piece, or snack on oatmeal bites throughout the day.

Is Oatmeal Good After a Workout?

Oatmeal is one of those unique foods that is good after a workout as well as before!

Since our bodies also need carbohydrates after a workout to replenish glycogen stores, oatmeal is a great way to do that.

After a long run or workout, we also need protein to repair broken down muscle tissues. Specifically, the amino acid leucine, a building block of protein, is great for recovery and muscle building.

Oatmeal is not a major source of protein, but can easily be paired with leucine-rich proteins, such as eggs, poultry, meat, or protein powders.

guy and girl high fiving on track

You can increase the protein in a bowl of oatmeal by adding dairy or soy milk, protein powder, eggs or egg whites, collagen, greek yogurt, or nuts/seeds.

You should ideally aim to eat oatmeal within 30-60 minutes of finishing your run or workout.

Best Oatmeal for Runners

There are many different brands and varieties of oatmeal available for consumers to choose from, from rolled to old-fashioned to steel cut.

So, while the best oatmeal for runners may be dependent on what you personally enjoy and have available to you, we’ve shared some of our favorites below.

boxes of different oatmeals

Here are some of our favorites.

  • Purely Elizabeth Oatmeal – With a bunch of flavors to choose from, Purely Elizabeth oatmeal is among the tastiest you’ll find! I also love that these have flax seeds and chia seeds in them for extra fiber and healthy fats.
  • Kodiak Cakes Protein Oatmeal – If you want the protein already added to your oatmeal, Kodiak Cakes does it with whey protein and it’s tasty and portable. Don’t worry too much about the added sugars – that’s energy that will benefit your run.
  • MUSH overnight oats or Oats Overnight – I love these oats since they are so convenient and no prep is required. Just take them out of the fridge and enjoy. They also aren’t super high in protein so would be a great example of oatmeal before a workout. After a workout, you could pair it with other protein-rich foods or toppings.
  • Bob’s Red Mill – The Bob’s Red Mill brand is a classic one and they are consistent with their high quality, whole-grain products. You can’t go wrong with these organic oats.
  • One Degree Sprouted Oats – If you like sprouted products and organic, this is a good bet!
  • Quaker Oats – I love that you can buy these in bulk on amazon or costco. Easy for microwaves or baking oats.

In summary, while oatmeal is good for runners, and can be a nutritious and easy choice for runners and athletes as it provides ample nutrition, remember that there is no one food to overhaul your diet.

It’s essential to have a well-balanced overall nutrition plan that meets individual needs and goals, where you are eating consistently and adequately throughout the day.

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