Oats: The Perfect Run Fuel

Porridge by Winter; Muesli by Spring


Oats are one of my favorite foods to eat, period.  But they are also one of my favorite foods to eat before I run.  Oats – Avena sativa – are known to provide numerous health benefits, including improved digestive health, reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, and anti-cancer effects[1].

In winter, when it’s cold outside and in, I want my morning meal to be warm and invigorating.  Oats are a perfect fix.

In spring and summer, when it starts to get hot outside…and even so hot at night that sometimes I can’t sleep…I want my morning meal to be cool, relaxing, and refreshing.  Oats are the perfect treat.

In winter, I often opt for the steel-cut variety of oats.  Minimally processed, steel-cut oats provide a high dose of fiber, protein, fat, antioxidants, and B vitamins.  I usually have to cook these the night before (or at least soak them the night before) because they can take up to 45 minutes to cook!  I add spices like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg for the additional antioxidant kick (and flavor).  I also add a variety of other whole grains to keep the texture varied and the tastes unique: millet, quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat are key!

Post-Run Breakfast.jpg
A meal of eggs, veggies, avocado, walnuts, and a side of oatmeal for a post-long-run breakfast!

In spring and summer I turn to rolled oats and make my own muesli.  Muesli is essentially a whole-food cold cereal.  Serve with your favorite fresh, full-fat milk.  Rolled oats are still minimally processed, but do lose a bit of fiber compared to steel-cut oats.  I mix the rolled oats with a variety of nuts and seeds so that my final concoction is about 75% nuts/seeds, and 25% oats!  I love cashews, walnuts, coconut, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, and sunflower seeds.  Recently our local cooperative grocery store – Abundance – has been stocking some delicious unsweetened dried cherries.  I add these and dried currants for a refreshing tartness.

Muesli with shredded apple and a side of grapefruit

For athletes across the board, but runners in particular, oats are a dream.  These are very easy on the stomach, making them perfect for a pre-run meal, and even ideal for an on-the-run snack during those very-long training runs.

Before my long training runs and races (usually a weekend morning), I will have a bowl of oatmeal or muesli about one hour before I set out to run.  If you aren’t used to eating before you run, you may want to allow yourself at least two hours to digest a bowl of oats before you head out.  I opt for plant-based milk if I’m eating before my run.  I find nut milks – like almond, macadamia, or coconut – to be easier on my stomach compared to cow’s milk.  During the week, when I don’t run as long, and thus don’t need as much food (fuel) in my body before my workout, I save the oatmeal or muesli to have as a component of my post-run meal.

If you’re interested in trying muesli to fuel your next long run, I recommend Bob’s Red Mill and imported brands like Familia.  Or, best of all, try making your own!  You can check out my favorite homemade muesli recipe here.

Share with us below how and what you like to eat before your long training runs, rides, or swims!

Thanks ya’ll, and happy trails 🙂

-Natalie (@haveahappybelly)



  1. Rasane P, Jha A, Sabikhi L, Kumar A, Unnikrishnan VS. Nutritional advantages of oats and opportunities for its processing as value added foods – a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology. 2015;52(2):662-675. doi:10.1007/s13197-013-1072-1.

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