Oatmeal Before A Workout: Are Oats The Ultimate Pre-Workout Snack?

Oatmeal has been one of the most popular go-to pre-workout foods, particularly for runners, cyclists, and other endurance athletes, for many years.

Eating oatmeal before a workout can provide your body with plenty of complex carbohydrates to fuel your workout, and most people find that oatmeal is fairly easy to digest and settles well in the stomach.

But is oatmeal good before a workout? Will eating oatmeal before a workout provide your body with the nutrition you need for optimal performance?

In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of eating oatmeal before a workout to help you decide if eating oatmeal pre-workout is the best choice for you.

We will cover: 

  • What Is Oatmeal?
  • Oats Nutrition Facts
  • Is Oatmeal Before A Workout A Good Option?

Let’s get started!

Three jars of overnight oats and fruit.

What Is Oatmeal?

Oatmeal, sometimes called porridge or hot cereal, is made from oats, which are whole grains with the scientific name Avena sativa.

Oatmeal is typically made by adding boiling water to oats or cooking oats in boiling water or milk. 

Additional ingredients may be added to improve the flavor profile and provide additional nutrients. Examples include cinnamon, honey, brown sugar, walnuts, almonds, flaxseeds, coconut flakes, apples, peaches, berries, and other fruits, among others.

Oatmeal may also be made by soaking the oats in milk or plant milk overnight in the refrigerator, typically in a mason jar, with or without added ingredients.

In this preparation, oatmeal is typically called “overnight oats.“

A spoonful of oats.

Oats Nutrition Facts

Oatmeal is a good source of complex carbohydrates and fiber. Much of the fiber in the oats is beta-glucan, which is a prebiotic fiber that feeds the bacteria in the gut.

Whole-grain oats also contain some protein. Although oatmeal isn’t necessarily a “high-protein” pre-workout breakfast, oatmeal made from rolled oats or steel-cut oats does contain a good balance of essential amino acids

Finally, oats are a good source of certain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

The specific nutrition facts of oatmeal will vary widely depending on the particular product you choose and how you prepare it.

For example, if you buy sweetened oatmeal, you will be getting a lot more refined sugar, and if you prepare oatmeal with milk, you will be adding a significant amount of protein versus oatmeal made with water.

Oatmeal made from quick oats will have less fiber and protein than oatmeal made from whole-grain oats.

Some people believe that there are benefits of eating overnight oats vs oatmeal because overnight oats include uncooked oats, which may help retain more of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals that may otherwise be destroyed in the cooking process.

A bowl of oatmeal with blueberries and nuts.

According to the USDA, one packet (42 grams) serving of Quaker Instant Oatmeal provides the following nutrition:

  • Calories: 150
  • Fat: 2.5 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 27.5 grams
  • Fiber: 4 grams
  • Sugar: 0.4 grams
  • Protein: 6.6 grams
  • Manganese: 63.91% of the daily value (DV)
  • Copper: 17.6% of the DV
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 15.5% of the DV
  • Zinc: 13.4% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 14% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 15% of the DV
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 9.07% of the DV
  • Iron: 11% of the DV
  • Folate: 3.24% of the DV
A table spread with bowls of oatmeal, fruits, chia seeds and nutes.

Oatmeal also provides a little bit of calcium, potassium, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), and vitamin B3 (niacin), and many commercial oatmeals are fortified with additional essential vitamins and minerals.

Oatmeal can be made from oats that are sold and packaged in different forms, which can markedly change the nutritional profile, texture, and potential health benefits of oatmeal pre-workout.

As with nearly all foods, oatmeal that is made from the most whole, unprocessed form of oats without lots of added sugar and other added fillers to the product will be the most nutritious oatmeal to eat.

Is Oatmeal Before a Workout A Good Option?

Eating either overnight oats or hot oatmeal before a workout is extremely common. Oatmeal provides complex carbohydrates and is easily digestible.

Looking at the nutrition facts and ingredients label when you buy prepared oatmeal is important to ensure that you are getting healthy pre-workout oatmeal.

A bowl of oatmeal, almonds and strawberries.

Rolled oats and steel-cut oats are less processed and contain more of the bran (and thus fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals of oats) versus quick oats oatmeal.

Oatmeal that has been made from crushed oats, instant oats, or quick oats is more heavily processed because the oats have been milled down to a finer flake size so that they cook quickly.

This processing reduces some of the fiber and creates a more mushy texture.

Therefore, if you want to make healthy pre-workout oatmeal, it is typically best to choose rolled oats or steel-cut oats and then doctor up the product yourself with the additional flavors that you want to add rather than buying packaged oatmeal.

One important thing to note is that processed foods are somewhat demonized in terms of including them in a healthy diet.

While it is true that whole-grain and minimally processed foods will retain more of the natural nutrients of the product, there can be times when eating oatmeal before a workout that is made from quick oats is actually better than having steel cut or another type of whole-grain oatmeal that provides more fiber than that found in quick oats.

A bowl of oatmeal and walnuts.

In addition to the temporal component and efficiency of having quick oats oatmeal pre-workout, one of the benefits of this type of more processed oatmeal before a workout is that it is lower in fiber. 

If you have a sensitive stomach and want a more rapidly digestible form of carbohydrates, choosing quick oats oatmeal pre-workout can be ideal.

The lower fiber content can reduce potential gastrointestinal distress and will allow the carbohydrates to be digested and absorbed more quickly to provide your muscles with glucose as soon as possible.

This can be ideal in situations when you are eating oatmeal before a workout that is either very high intensity, such as running a 5k or 10k race or if you do not have much time to digest your pre-workout oatmeal.

For example, if you have only 30 to 60 minutes after eating before you plan to exercise, having pre-workout oatmeal that is made from quick oats may be a better option than having steel cut or rolled oats oatmeal. 

Although oatmeal does contain some protein, one of the ways that you can make oatmeal a better pre-workout breakfast is to add additional protein. This will increase the satiety of the oatmeal and reduce the spike in blood sugar. 

Two cups of overnight oats with berries and nuts.

For example, studies have found that breakfasts that are high in protein are able to control appetite and support a feeling of fullness better than breakfast cereals or carbohydrate-rich breakfasts.

In cases where your workout is not going to be extremely vigorous, and you have enough time to digest your pre-workout oatmeal before you begin exercising, adding a scoop of protein powder or other protein-rich ingredients such as chia seeds, flax seeds, nuts, and milk will improve the nutritional profile of your pre-workout oatmeal breakfast.

Depending on the intensity and duration of the workout that you have planned, as well as how long you have to digest your oatmeal pre-workout, you can also add healthy fats such as a tablespoon of peanut butter or almond butter, walnuts or almonds, coconut flakes or coconut milk, or flaxseeds, hemp seeds, or chia seeds.

Healthy fats will again help the oatmeal digest more slowly and provide longer-lasting satiety and sustained energy for your workout.

However, if you only have a little bit of time to digest your oatmeal pre-workout, you may want to skip these sources of fat because the oatmeal will empty from your stomach more slowly. 

Two cups of overnight oats with berries and nuts.

This will prevent the glucose from hitting your bloodstream quickly enough to be used for the workout, and you may get cramps or other digestive issues if you start exercising intensely and the oatmeal is still sitting there in your stomach, jostling around undigested.

Finally, one of the potential exercise benefits of oatmeal before a workout is that oats contain an antioxidant known as avenanthramide (AVA). 

This antioxidant has been shown to reduce the oxidative stress induced by vigorous exercise, and some research has found that ABA may help potentially reduce inflammation and muscle damage after a workout by combating the inflammatory markers that would otherwise induce this damage.

So, is oatmeal good before a workout?

Overall, oatmeal can be a healthy pre-workout breakfast, but you may want to add additional protein and fat to provide a more well-rounded, satiating meal depending on the type of workout you have planned and how long you have to digest. 

For other high-fiber foods to add to your diet, check out our list here.

A bowl of oatmeal.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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