When I first started training nine years ago, Oatmeal was a daily breakfast that I would always consume ahead of my training sessions. All the bodybuilding magazines and popular internet fitness professionals at the time recommended it. I was also young, naïve, and felt an obligation to live my life like a bodybuilder.
I wanted to improve my physique, so I turned to Bodybuilders to learn everything I could to do so. Looking back now, I remember thinking that If i just committed to a few years of hard training and eating correctly, I’d look just like them. How silly. Perhaps the most ironic part of it all, was that I weighed around 150 pounds, had limited muscle development and was 17 years old…
I remember Oatmeal being a staple of my “Bulking Phase”, a huge bowl of Oats, accompanied with 2 Scoops of Peanut Butter, Dates and Whey Protein mixed in. The Peaunut Butter and Dates were there for additional food reward – helping me to eat more and provide my body with the calories required for growth. And let’s be honest – to improve the taste.
I continued to eat this powerfully tasty concoction over the course of a few months.
Looking back at that period of time, I can only see a positive trend: I was progressing in all my lifts, I was beginning to make the gains in which I sought, my limited bank balance was grateful, and my….. too much information.
Oats would forever be a staple… or so I thought.
As the years went by, and as my training and research into nutrition progressed and developed, Oats was one of the first things to be displaced from my diet and from my meal plan. Throughout my research, and through listening and exploring the various nutrition trends and recommendations, Oatmeal rarely featured . In fact, Oats as a foodstuff often scrutinized.
The ever-growing Keto Advocates hated its high-carbohydrate content,
The Paleo and Primal Camp loathed everything Oats were – and it was a Grain (and “Grains cause Inflammation”).
And then looking at the make-up of Oats: there was the anti-nutrients, the Lectins, the imbalance in Phosphorous and Calcium.
It could cause “Fat Gain”, it caused Bloating. Eventually eating Oatmeal would lead one to having a Leaky Gut. I could go on.
I jumped in and believed these claims, instantly.
My pursuit of a “clean nutrient dense diet” developed- there would be no place for Oats.
So I dropped my Oatmeal, in a flash.
Instead, I started to train fasted. Well, with a cup or two (or three) of strong Filtered Coffee. Initially, I managed, utilizing an entire hormonal cascade of Stress Hormones (Adrenaline and Cortisol to be quite specific) to push me through my workouts. But as my brain down regulated from the constant Caffeine Exposure, and the need for more energy to fuel my ever demanding training, my workouts started to deteriorate. Coincidentally so did my health.
I learnt the hard way, mainly through hormonal dysregulation, that hard exercise required Fuelling. Appropriate and adequate fuelling. Even more importantly, this fuel has to be in place directly before the workout. Not the night before, not after. Before.
Since this realisation, over the years I have since tried a range of different Breakfasts to prevent having to rely upon my bodies stress response. To give me the consistent energy that is required to improve all the facets of my training: my strength, my endurance and my work capacity.
Fruits and their Juices, Eggs, Coconut Oil, Greek Yogurt, White/Brown Rice; they all digested well, but the energy was always short lived. I began to wave and flag once I hit the 5th rep; and my muscles ached for an energy that was just not being provided.
Potatoes, other grains, pure fats; these just didn’t digest well; not giving me the clean energy desired or filling my stomach in such a way that made me feel sick when training.
I spontaneously signed up for a Nuclear Race (If you’re American, this is like a Spartan Race) – a 12 km course of intense 60+ Obstacles. I knew that my training, minus the cardio, was suitably appropriate for the challenge. Pulls-Ups, Chin-Ups, Deadlifts, Squats; these were all the movements that appropriately develop strength for these kinds of obstacles.
And when I compete, I want to compete. I want to win – it’s an inherent part of my nature. So I knew that fuelling and resting would give me the best chance to obtain a time that I could be proud of and would challenge the other competitors. Besides, it was my first race and I was not sure what to expect.
It got to the morning of the race, and I decided to do something I hadn’t done in years…. I ate a bowl of Oatmeal.
It was a decision in which I would not regret. I ran the race, completed every single obstacle, and even walked home from the event for 5 miles after. All on a single bowl of Oatmeal.
My energy seemed everlasting, and what I initially thought would be a laborious challenge, turned into a rather pleasurable experience. My time was impressive, I felt energized, and I had a lot more to give.
This has sparked a renewed interest in Oats for me. Being a Historian, I know that by looking at History we are given clues; and Oats are a historical Grain. They’ve enabled civilizations to develop, they’ve saved many from famine.
Further, I am of European Descent – my ancestors were sure to have eaten it. At least at some time in my Ancestry. It would make sense logically, that I could consume it without ill health effects.
This is not to say that diets should be designed purely based off the diet of our ancestors, for which we can’t even be certain (the biggest fallacy of the Paleo Movement), but it was something to consider. And consider I have.
Taking the plunge, against my previously held beliefs, Oatmeal has become a regular breakfast for me once more. Minus the Peanut Butter (unsaturated vegetable oils) and Dates (too calorie dense).
There seems to be too much going in their favour; it seems to be favourable for my physiology. Ive tried and tested, and can only conclude. It works for me:
“Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person’s ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me.”
– Carl Rogers
My training has instantly improved. The benefits of eating oatmeal are that my: Strength, Endurance, Workout Capacity and my Recovery has improved. This, whilst keeping every other contributing and training factor constant; sleep time and length, training time, rest of the diet, calorie/macro intake etc.
My energy seems more even, my blood sugar more stable. My hunger, more controlled. My joints feel great, I dont feel “inflammed”.
I could sit here and hypothesize as to why Oatmeal gives me this effect – why there seems to be direct Oatmeal Benefits. Is it the Fibre? Perhaps, but Potatoes do not seem to give me the same effect.
Ultimately, I’m beyond caring as to why it works, it just works. Sometimes we don’t need to analyse everything to the nth degree. Something I am always far too guilty of.
There is a reason why Oatmeal is a Bodybuilding Staple. There is a reason in why it is recommended in all Bodybuilding Diet Plans, and why they consistently and routinely eat it. Day after day. Year after year.
There is a reason in why older people often fill their baskets with steel-cut rolled oats.
There is a reason why I ate it ahead of the Nuclear Race.
Oatmeal is now the only ‘supplement’ I take. I will continue to eat it until I feel otherwise.
So, if you’re currently not eating Oatmeal based on some nutrition recommendation, and you digest it perfectly well (no bloating, distension, lethargy), why not start including it in your diet again.
Besides, Oats are Delicious, Convenient and Cheap.