Eating oats before or after exercise has many benefits for athletes. They’re among the best energy sources, as they’re a good source of high-quality gluten-free carbs. Also, protein and fiber in oats, as well as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants play a key role in sports performance because they support muscle growth, recovery, and strength.
10 reasons why eating oats before exercise is good for muscle growth & recovery!
Oats are much more than a quality energy source. They’re packed with compounds that an athlete requires in high amounts before strenuous exercise.
1. Oats give you energy for hours
Oats are mainly carbs. A cup of regular oats cooked with water has about 28 grams of carbs.
Oats have a low to medium glycemic index, depending on the processing and cooking method. In most cases, the glycemic index of quick oats is about 66. It means that oats don’t spike blood sugar levels. On the contrary, they provide steady energy levels of glucose to the working muscles.
Despite being high in carbs, oats have a medium glycemic index because they’re mainly starch, which takes time to be metabolized to glucose. Also, protein, fiber, and many micronutrients in oats prevent blood sugar spikes.
A great tip for preparing your pre-workout snack with oats is to sprinkle some cinnamon on it. Cinnamon regulates blood glucose responses. Also, it’s packed with antioxidant compounds that protect athletes who perform exhaustive workouts from exercise-induced oxidative damage!
Hence, cinnamon helps athletes exercise harder and for longer. Also, it promotes muscle recovery and protects the good health of athletes.
2. Benefits of gluten-free carbohydrate sources
Oats are among the best carbohydrate sources an athlete can consume. Especially athletes, fitness enthusiasts, or active people with gluten intolerance can depend on oats for fueling the body! Oats are gluten-free!
However, only uncontaminated oats are actually gluten-free. Check the nutrition facts label just to be sure. Oats without a gluten-free label aren’t considered suitable for people with celiac disease.
But, even athletes with no celiac disease may benefit from a gluten-free diet.
A diet low in gluten may reduce inflammation and improve gut functions. Endurance athletes may benefit the most from a gluten-free diet.
Certainly, eating oats for energy reduces the amount of consumed gluten.
3. Benefits of beta-glucan for athletes
In addition, eating oats a couple of hours before a workout may support physical performance because oats are among the richest foods in beta-glucan.
According to studies, a diet high in beta-glucan may improve muscle strength as well as aerobic endurance in athletes.
Furthermore, beta-glucose can reduce the absorption of cholesterol and fat. This is important for people who consume high amounts of animal-derived foods for increased protein intake, like most athletes do.
Also, beta-glucan appears to reduce cell damage in muscle tissue! Additionally, it fights fatigue, as it’s involved in the metabolism of lactic acid and creatine. Moreover, beta-glucan reduces muscle recovery time. It enhances the antioxidant defenses of the body.[5,6]
Last, but not least, beta-glucose supports a lean body because it controls appetite!
4. Eat oats before a workout for faster recovery
In fact, according to studies, the consumption of oatmeal before high-intensity interval training (HIIT) may mitigate exercise-induced free radical production. Effective neutralization of free radicals is vital for delaying fatigue and faster muscle recovery after strenuous exercise.
Moreover, oats are among the richest common foods in manganese. A serving provides 59% of the Daily Value!
Manganese is an essential cofactor for many enzymes, which are involved in protein and glucose metabolism. Also, some of these enzymes protect the working muscles of an athlete from exercise-induced oxidative stress!
Additionally, manganese protects athletes from fractures. It plays a key role in bone formation!
A cup of cooked oats also provides 25% of the Daily Value of phosphorus. Oatmeal is the richest common vegan food in phosphorus, second only to beans!
According to research, athletes have increased daily needs for phosphorus as compared to the general population. Especially during periods of extreme physical training, such as competition season.
Oats are great dietary sources of selenium as well. A bowl of oatmeal provides 23% of the DV.
Selenium is a key cofactor of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. This is one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body! Hence, selenium is crucial for muscle recovery and eventually for improved athletic performance.
Athletes who follow high-intensity and high-volume training are more likely to be deficient in selenium! This can lead to fatigue and impaired physical performance.
Also, selenium helps athletes maintain a lean body because it supports weight loss.
Oats are an excellent plant-based source of zinc as well. A serving provides 21% of the DV. It’s crucial for athletes to get adequate amounts of zinc. It’s important for muscle gain and strength, as well as stamina. Among other benefits for athletes, zinc is involved in protein synthesis, oxygen delivery, and the development of type I muscle fiber!
Eating oats before exercise is good for athletes because it skyrockets copper status. A serving provides 19% of the DV. Many enzymes that produce energy, promote iron absorption, produce collagen, and build connective tissue require high amounts of copper.
10. Other vitamins & minerals
Oats are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. They have dozens of health-promoting compounds. Additionally, they have decent amounts of:
- magnesium (15% DV), which decreases lactate production, and regulates blood glucose levels.
- thiamine (15% DV). Strenuous exercise depletes thiamine.
- pantothenic acid (15% DV), which it’s necessary for energy production and absorption of iron.
- iron (12% DV), which it’s crucial for energy metabolism and oxygen transport to the muscles.
Also, oats contribute to the daily requirements of many other vitamins and minerals:
- potassium (5% DV)
- fluoride (5% DV)
- folate (3.5% DV)
- niacin (3% DV)
- choline (3% DV)
- riboflavin (3% DV)
How long before exercise can I eat oatmeal?
The worst time of the day to eat oats is right before exercise, though.
Oats are high in fiber. Athletes should avoid consuming foods with fiber right before exercise. Endurance athletes should be very mindful of pre-workout fiber intake in particular.
Fiber may cause stomach discomfort, bloating, abdominal cramps, or many other gastrointestinal problems. Hence, a snack high in fiber right before exercise can impair athletic performance.
As a rule of thumb, athletes of bodybuilding should consume oats at least a couple of hours before a workout.
Endurance athletes should limit fiber intake even a couple of days before a big race!
Why do I get tired after eating oats?
It’s a common mistake to prepare oatmeal or other oat recipes with too many ingredients. In this case, the body requires too much energy for its digestion.
If you feel lethargic after eating oats, you should consume smaller portion sizes or add fewer ingredients.
The pre-workout meal should be light and poor in fiber.
How many oats can I eat before a workout?
As a rule of thumb, athletes of bodybuilding or other athletes who perform resistance training for muscle gain or strength could eat a cup of instant oats a couple of hours before exercise.
On the other hand, endurance athletes could eat half a cup of cooked oats 2–3 hours before a race.
Above all, you shouldn’t add too many ingredients to your oatmeal. Also, avoid adding seeds, nuts or other hard-to-digest foods to your pre-workout meal. Even whole fruits before exercise aren’t good for athletic performance.
Prefer adding a tablespoon of honey, sugar, or cinnamon to your pre-workout oatmeal.
Why should athletes eat oats after a workout?
Eating oats after strenuous exercise is beneficial for recovery. Especially for athletes who work out daily.
1. Eating oats after a workout supports weight loss
Firstly, oatmeal is a great post-workout meal because it promotes the feeling of fullness with only a few calories. It prevents cravings for fattening food, which makes you fat.
Hence, oats support a lean body.
Adding foods high in fiber, like fruits, or a scoop of protein powder to your oatmeal can substantially increase its satiety effect.
Beta-glucan of oats in particular has a positive effect on satiety.
2. Protein in oats supports muscle gain
Oats are a great vegan protein source. Dry oats have more than 13 grams of protein per 100g!
But, they aren’t a complete protein. They lack two essential amino acids: methionine and tryptophan. Therefore, we have to combine them with animal-derived foods or vegan foods rich in these two amino acids (e.g. seeds, nuts) in order to get all essential amino acids.
Eating post-workout meals with complete protein is essential for muscle hypertrophy!
So, oats as a post-workout snack are good for muscle building, only when combined with other high-quality protein sources, such as cow’s milk, kefir, eggs, or whey protein powder.
For instance, you can prepare an egg omelet with 1–2 tablespoons of oats. This is a great post-workout meal that supports weight loss, muscle gain, and recovery!
However, even people who follow a plant-based diet can get decent amounts of high-quality protein from an oat-based meal if oats are combined with sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, or any high-quality vegan protein powder!
In fact, oat protein may alleviate the negative effects of eccentric exercise and facilitate recovery from exhaustive exercise.
Furthermore, we should eat oats after a workout because they contain a group of phenolic compounds, called avenanthramides (AVAs), which have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They fight exercise-induced free radicals, supporting muscle recovery!
4. Oats for bulking
Oats are an ideal post-workout snack for athletes of bodybuilding in the bulking phase or endurance athletes that have high energy needs.
In this case, an athlete can eat more than a cup of cooked oats per day. Also, an athlete could add seeds and nuts for extra calories. They’re packed with healthy fats, fiber, protein, and minerals!
How much time after a workout should I eat a bowl of oatmeal?
Although oats are rich in carbs, they shouldn’t be the first post-workout snack. You should prefer eating a carbohydrate-rich snack that spikes insulin levels right after strenuous exercise. This process is essential for quick replenishment of muscle glycogen stores!
Hence, athletes after exhaustive exercise could eat a sugar-rich snack. In fact, the best time of the day to eat white bread, jam, fruit juice (e.g. tart cherry juice), or your favorite candy, is right after strenuous exercise! Even Coke could be beneficial for athletic performance!
About 15–30 minutes after consuming your first sugar-rich post-workout snack, you can enjoy oatmeal, oat bars, or any other oat-based recipe!
Certainly, this is a tip for elite athletes who perform demanding exercises daily. Amateur athletes can eat oats right after exercise. It won’t make a difference in muscle recovery and physical performance!
Can I eat oatmeal after a workout at night?
Athletes could also eat oats at dinner. They help sleep better at night because they contain decent amounts of melatonin; a hormone that supports a good night’s sleep.
Other foods high in melatonin that taste great with oatmeal and other oat recipes are strawberries, cranberries, tart cherries, and bananas!
In addition, melatonin supports sports performance, as it speeds up recovery, improves glycogen use during strenuous exercise, delays fatigue, and many more!
So, if you work out in the evening, you should definitely consider eating oats after exercise!
What’s the best serving size of oats after exercise?
A cup of cooked oats after exercise is more than enough for most athletes who work out for a lean body. Especially if you add other healthy ingredients, such as berries, seeds, or nuts.
So, should I eat oats before or after workout?
Athletes should eat oats around exercise or at breakfast. It doesn’t matter eating them before or after a workout. It’s a matter of preference.
Muesli is another great food for athletes. It can be prepared with oats or any other grain. But as it’s harder to digest as compared to oatmeal, athletes should prefer consuming it as a post-workout snack.
Which oats are best for the gym?
There are several types of oats. Steel-cut oats, rolled oats and oat bran are richer in fiber and require cooking. So, they’re preferable for consumption after exercise.
On the other hand, instant oats are processed oats that are more easily digested and can be eaten right away, without cooking. They’re great for athletes both before and after exercise!
How to eat oats before exercise?
Your pre-workout meal should be easily digested. Hence, it should be low in fiber. Honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, berry jam, or cinnamon are great ingredients for oatmeal before exercise.
Instead of oats, you could eat corn flakes. They’re an easily digested pre-workout snack that can have beneficial effects on physical performance.
Post-workout recipes with oats
On the other hand, you can add a wide variety of foods to your post-workout oatmeal. Whole fruits, berries, seeds, nuts, nut butter, and protein powder are excellent ingredients for oatmeal.
- certain seeds, walnuts, and avocado are high in omega-3s. Omega-3s are important for preventing inflammation and promoting muscle gain.
- berries (e.g. raspberries) support quick muscle recovery. They’re among the few foods containing resveratrol; a powerful antioxidant compound.
- pineapple is the only food containing bromelain; an enzyme that protects joints.
- strawberries, papaya, mango, kiwi are particularly rich in vitamin C, which is crucial for muscle recovery.
- protein powder is key for muscle growth. You can find vegan/whey protein powders at unbeatable prices on iHerb.
- almonds and sunflower seeds are the richest common foods in vitamin E, which is a key antioxidant.