Oat Cuisine

As porridge sales rocket and flapjacks fly off shelves, we find out why oats are the perfect cycling food…

Team GB are big fans of it; Nigel Mitchell, the nutritionist for the British cycling team, ensures it’s included in the athletes’ diets during training and competitions; and marathon runner Paula Radcliffe, rugby player Matt Dawson and even effing Gordon Ramsay endorse it as part of their marathon training diet.

Porridge, once defined by Samuel Johnson as “Eaten by people in Scotland, but fit only for horses in England” is enjoying a resurgence. According to recent figures, the UK now gets through 47m gallons of porridge every year; it’s all down to the power of oats

The lowdown

As a wholegrain – and therefore unprocessed – food, oats are low in saturated fat, high in fibre and rich in traditional nutrients like vitamins and minerals, as well as containing numerous phytochemicals, which act as antioxidants to prevent cell damage.

Oats also provide a source of insoluble and soluble fibre. The insoluble fibre helps you to maintain a healthy digestive system, while the soluble fibre – or beta glucan – has been demonstrated to lower cholesterol by acting like a sponge during digestion, soaking up and removing cholesterol from the body. Soluble fibre also helps the body to release energy slowly, keeping you feeling fuller for longer, as Eleanor Jones, senior sport scientist at the University of Birmingham and a holder of an IOC Diploma in Sports Nutrition, explains.

“Higher fibre food, such as oats and porridge, have a lower glycaemic index (GI). This means they provide a sustained release of energy from the carbohydrates they contain, which is potentially advantageous when consumed in the hour or so prior to a longer ride, as there’ll be energy released throughout. GI food results in a blood sugar spike followed by a subsequent insulin spike, which is generally better for more immediate refuelling, such as straight after exercise.”

But while all oats provide the same amount of nutrients, including fibre, there are a number of different types to choose from. Rolled oats are one of the most popular ways of eating oats, unless you’re a porridge purist, in which case only medium-ground oatmeal will do.

Then there are pinhead (or ‘steel-cut’) oats and oatmeal oats, which are made by grinding oats to produce flour of various grades, from coarse – which is used in porridge – to super fine oatmeal – used in oatcakes. As Therese Coleman, consultant nutritionist for the All About Oats campaign, says, “Oats are usually steamed and flattened to produce rolled oats, sold as regular oats, quick oats, and instant oats. “The more oats are flattened and steamed, the quicker they cook – and the softer they become. If you prefer a chewier, nuttier texture, consider steel-cut oats. These consist of the entire oat kernel, sliced once or twice into smaller pieces to help water penetrate and cook the grain.”

In action

Jones, who races for Halesowen Athletic and Cycling Club, says she eats porridge before a ‘quality’ long midday ride, which may include intervals. “I want to be well fuelled and it’s more like a meal than any other breakfast item I usually have in. I also eat it around 40 minutes after a long ride in the morning when I’ve trained without breakfast – typically around a two hour easy-steady ride without any fuel, apart from water.”

She’s a fan of Quaker’s Oatso Simple, made from rolled oats, because it’s in ready-to-go portions, and she adds dried fruit such as sultanas or cranberries. “I also use raw porridge oats in baking (crumbles, flapjacks, smoothies) for post-exercise recovery snacks, particularly in the hot summer months.”

Not just porridge…

But cyclists aren’t just limited to porridge if they want to take advantage of oats – they’re hugely versatile. Muesli or granola works well in warmer summer months, while mid-morning oat-based snacks can include oatcakes, for example, while lunch can feature oat bread sandwiches with lean chicken and salad, to tick all the boxes of a healthy meal. Pre-training oat-based snacks can also include flapjacks or oat based biscuits.

As training and competing increases daily energy expenditure, porridge and oats provide a quick and flexible way to carb load and refuel on the go. As if that wasn’t enough, oats are low in fat and, as Jones says, “excellent for power to weight ratio”. One porridge maker, Rude Health, has even launched a brand called Morning Glory in the belief that the inclusion of organic oats can boost libido.

Discover more great features on every aspect of cycling and get ahead of the pack with a subscription to Cycling Plus magazine. Prudential RideLondon participants can click here for an exclusive offer.