By Ali Lopez
MRG Contributor

Oatmeal. What? A whole post on oatmeal? Yes. Stay with me here.

Sure, oatmeal is cheap, convenient and filling. And of course it is a great staple for a runner’s diet. It’s full of good carbs, good nutrients and is relatively easy to digest.

It is also so much fun to dress it up!

Here are some perks of this superfood for runners:

Balancing blood sugar: Oatmeal is a great source of dietary fiber and slows down digestion because soluble fiber takes longer to process in the body. And since it is a low glycemic food, it helps regulate your blood sugar by slowing the absorption of sugar— so that you are not hungry an hour after eating it.

Good Carbs: One cup of cooked oatmeal gives you about 30 grams of carbohydrates, helping you to fuel up for your run — or refuel after.

Nutrition powerhouse: Oatmeal is loaded with B vitamins, plus vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and zinc.

Versatile: It is inexpensive and so adaptable and not just for breakfast! It tastes good with both savory and sweet additions, and good any time of the day.

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Don’t settle for boring oats. Check out some of the awesome ways you can add more awesomeness to your oatmeal with these sweet or savory toppings for a tasty nutritional boost. And try some of my awesome combinations listed at the end!

Add some protein. Try adding a serving of your favorite nuts and seeds, which add protein as well as healthy fats. (Sliced almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, ground flax seed.) Nut butter also works here. Top the oatmeal with greek yogurt or cottage cheese when it’s done. Or how about this … add an egg to it — fried on top or whisked in as you cook it.

Speaking of healthy fats… Adding healthy fat to breakfast is so important and really helps keep you satisfied so you aren’t reaching for a snack an hour later. Nuts, seeds or nut butters work here as well. Avocado is also great to add if you like something savory in the morning.

Don’t forget about fruits or vegetables. A great way to make oatmeal taste good without adding any sugar is to add a ripe mashed banana to the bowl before adding the oats and milk. And of course adding berries, apples or pears to oatmeal gives a natural sweetness as well as added nutrients. You can also add some shredded carrot and shredded spinach or other chopped cooked veggies if you like a savory breakfast. (sauteed onions and mushrooms or tomato and basil are yummy!)

Add some fun spices. Some favorites include cinnamon, cardamom and pumpkin pie spice. If you like savory flavors, curry powder, chili powder, basil, miso paste or soy sauce all make a nice change.

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Here is my fun idea for Savory Vegetable Oatmeal

1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup water or vegetable stock
sea salt
 and pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped veggies of your choice (red peppers, spinach, broccoli
, kale, carrots)
1/4 of an avocado, diced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large egg
 (optional, but so good!)

Combine oats, milk, salt, pepper and veggies in a small pot over medium-high heat. Stir everything together and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the oats are cooked and the mixture is thick. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-low heat. Crack the egg into the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the whites are set but the yolk is still runny, 3 to 4 minutes. Put on top of oatmeal along with the diced avocado. Add salt and pepper to taste.

How about changing up your oatmeal game?

Instead of traditional rolled oats, try Steel-Cut Oats (also called Irish Oatmeal). These are my personal favorite! They are less processed than rolled oats, so they have a lower glycemic index, which keeps blood sugar (and energy) at a steadier level. And they have a yummy nuttier and chewier texture than rolled oats. Bonus is that you can make a big pot of them and then reheat them in the morning. Can’t do that with rolled oats! Lots of people shy away from steel cut because they think they take so long to cook. But they don’t have to. My quick-and-easy method is:

1 cup steel-cut oats
3 cups water
Pinch of salt

Place the oats, water, and salt in a medium saucepan. Over high heat, bring the water to a boil, then turn off the heat. Cover and let the oats soak unrefrigerated overnight. In the morning, put the saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the oats are creamy. Serve with your desired toppings and mix-ins.

How else can you up your oatmeal game?

Thanks to Overnight Oats, there is no excuse for not having time to have oatmeal for breakfast. The basic recipe is simple: half a cup of oats plus half a cup of milk mixed together, then left covered in the refrigerator to sit overnight. By morning, you’ve got a fiber- and protein-rich meal waiting for you. And because plain oats are just so boring, we suggest mixing in or topping with your favorite healthy additions. Overnight oats are eaten cold. They are a mixture of milk, yogurt, oats and whatever else you want to add in. You make them the night before, stick them in the fridge and the mixture thickens and the oats soften overnight. I also sometimes make them the morning I’m going to eat them. I find that if I leave them to soak for about 30 minutes, it comes out the same as the overnight method. I know it sounds kind of icky, but trust me – overnight oats are the best way to enjoy oats during the hot summer months.

Chef Ali’s Overnight Oats

Pour your oats and liquid of choice into a bowl or jar. Your oats-to-liquid ratio should be 1:1 — I use a 1/2 cup of rolled oats and a 1/2 cup of milk as the base for my overnight oats, which I put into an 8-ounce mason jar with all the tasty mix-ins. You can use any type of liquid you want; water, dairy milk, non dairy milk, coconut water.

Next, stir in your favorite mix-ins! I’ve listed several of my favorite mix in combos below, just in case you need some ideas — but let your imagination go wild! Just like with traditional oatmeal, you can add banana for sweetness. Dried fruit or raisins are a great add-in. And something crunchy, too, like almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, or toasted coconut.

Then just cover and let it sit overnight in the fridge. In the morning, top with more fresh fruit, yogurt, more milk, a spoonful of nut butter (or all of the above!) And the bonus of the mason jar method is you can toss it in your bag and take it with you!

Some ideas for overnight oats (or regular oatmeal, of course):

Nutty Banana: almond butter + sliced banana

PB and J: peanut butter + sliced strawberries

Apple Pie: cinnamon + raisins + chopped apples + walnuts

Blueberry Crunch: blueberries + cashews + sunflower seeds

Carrot cake: shredded carrot + unsweetened shredded coconut + walnuts + cinnamon

Cherry Almond: pitted cherries (fresh or frozen or dried) + sliced almonds

Nutty Date: chopped dates + banana + coconut + nuts

Pumpkin Pie: pumpkin puree + pumpkin pie spice + pumpkin seeds

Tropical Vacation: pineapple or mango + shredded coconut + sunflower seeds

Thanksgiving leftovers: dried cranberries + cooked sweet potato+ walnuts + maple syrup

Have a fueling question for Ali? Post it below in the comments section or email MRG with your healthy-eating questions at michiganrunnergirl [at] gmail [dot] com 

Ali will answer your questions in upcoming columns here on MRG. You can read her post about the Power of Smoothies, here »  She’s also written about superfoods and shares a great recipe for kale salad here »

Ali

Ali

Ali Lopez is a northern Michigan runner, chef and health coach. You can learn more about her at her web site Healthy Chef Ali. She’s also on Facebook here »

You can listen to a conversation about running and eating between Ali and Heather on a recent MRG podcast episode here »

Ali will be sharing her culinary expertise at the Michigan Runner Girl Weekend April 22-24 at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. Learn more about this awesome weekend up north and get registered by clicking here »

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