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Oats: The Unsung Hero of an Athlete’s Diet

Use this build-your-own-bowl guide to create your go-to meal before big races and workouts.

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Most of us have a tepid connection to oatmeal. Either it’s the bland and sticky substance from hotel hot-bars, or the cloyingly sweet and over-flavored flakes in instant pouches, both of which sound like a good idea when you’re hungry and short on time, but very seldom actually lead to the desired outcome of feeling strong, satisfied, and capable of that next big effort. Well, I’d like to help change that with a few minor tweaks to your oatmeal routine.

Of the hundreds of dishes I’ve made over the years, this is the one that is requested the most: A simple, warm, and comforting bowl of perfectly cooked oatmeal. The magic ingredient that builds flavor and makes it so craveable is a sprinkle of salt, which balances out the flavor and creates an incredibly versatile base to build on.

RELATED: Up Your Oatmeal’s Taste Game with These 4 Easy Recipes

For both pro athletes or those of us simply working on better eating routines, it is often less about the macros and more about timing the correct selection of food to match the effort ahead. 

The fiber content of your meals and snacks is of utmost importance when it comes to choosing your fuel for the day. Because our bodies do not fully digest the fiber in foods, if you have too much too close to an event, you will most likely end up searching for the nearest bathroom. Ensuring that your meals and snacks are balanced with protein and fat can help keep your blood sugar more stable and prevent energy spikes and drops during exercise (rebound hypoglycemia). Of course, no two of us are wired the same, so use the winter days and months ahead to find that perfect mix of flavors and timing for you!

However you choose to build your bowl, this classic from your grandma’s kitchen can still be the star of your modern diet and fuel all your adventures. 

  1. Always add a sprinkle of salt to gently boiling water, then add your dry oats (steel cut or rolled), and let cook on low heat until slightly thick. Add your favorite milk and mix to a pancake batter consistency. Turn off the heat, cover, and go read a book for 15 minutes while the oats set.  
  2. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon, a handful of chopped nuts and dried fruit, chopped bananas and peanut butter, or skip the fruit and keep it savory.
  3. You can 100% make it not sweet! Add all the savory toppings you love: ground cooked sausage, chopped bacon, avocado chunks, poached eggs, grated parmesan, olive oil, or a pat of butter. Whatever sounds good to you, oatmeal is the perfect base for whatever flavors you like.
  4. Try “dry-pan nuts.” This was something I made for myself simply to keep cravings at bay and have a quick topping always at hand. (You can also just use your favorite trail mix.) The recipe is simple: choose a few dried nuts and fruits, some coconut flakes, sprinkle in a bit of cinnamon and some coarse salt, and spread flat on baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Then, shake the pan, turn off the oven and let it sit for a few minutes longer before snacking.

Biju’s Oatmeal

Servings: 2
Time: 10-15 minutes

1 cup water
Dash of salt
1 cup “old-fashioned” rolled oats
1–2 cups milk, depending on desired thickness
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 banana, chopped
¼ cup raisins

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring water and salt to a low boil. Add oats and cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add milk and brown sugar, and return to a low boil. Add molasses, banana and raisins, continuing to stir until oatmeal reaches desired thickness. Remove pan from heat. Let rest for 10–15 minutes if you have the time.
  3. Finish with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon and a splash of milk.

TIP: Use any kind of milk—dairy, soy, almond (dairy will have the most protein). Start with 1 cup and add more to achieve your desired consistency.

Nutrition Data

PER SERVING: Energy: 490 cal • Fat: 6g • Sodium: 181mg • Carbs: 102g • Fiber: 10g • Protein: 19g

You can follow Biju Thomas on Instagram @bijuthechef.