The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend eating at least half of your grains as whole grains, and for good reasons. Whole grains or foods made from them (whole wheat flour, bread, pasta, etc.) contain all parts of the grain: the bran, the endosperm, and the germ.
Examples of whole grains include: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, millet, oats (including oatmeal), quinoa, rice (brown and colored), rye, sorghum, wheat, and wild rice. Refined grains (white flour, white bread, pasta, etc.) have been processed in a way that the bran and the germ are removed, leaving only the endosperm, ultimately stripping out all of the naturally-occurring nutrients.
Breakfast is a great time to eat whole grains, because they provide sustained energy to help get you through the morning. Before you go off stocking up on variety packs of flavored instant oatmeal, consider making them yourself at home.
One packet of packaged maple and brown sugar oatmeal can have about 160 calories and 12 grams of sugar. And who is even full after just one packet? Two is a must, bringing the total calorie and sugar content to 320 and 24 grams, respectively. Did I mention they also come with natural and artificial flavor, guar gum, and caramel color? P.S - that junk won't make you any faster!
Making your own version at home is easy and more nutritious. From the recipe below, each packet provides about 275 nutrient-dense calories, only 12 grams of sugar, and no fillers or artificial flavorings! Spend some time on a Sunday making as many of these as you want for the week.
If you are an athlete who needs more calories, add more rolled oats (also increasing the cooking liquid), dried fruit (also adds sugar), or nuts, or add in some unsweetened dried coconut flakes, ground flaxseeds, or chia seeds. After you have made this recipe a few times, change it up, swap chopped dried apricots for the raisins and unsweetened coconut flakes for the almonds and add a pinch of nutmeg—the variations are endless. I like to add a scoop of vanilla protein powder to mine, bumping the nutrition up even higher.
Homemade Oatmeal Packets (Serves 1)
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
1 tablespoon raisins
2 teaspoons of brown sugar (or less to taste)
¼ - ½ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of sea salt
Combine all ingredients in a storage container until ready to eat.
When ready to eat, dump contents into a large, deep microwave safe bowl.
Add ¾ - 1 cup water, dairy, or non-dairy milk and microwave for 2-3 minutes, stirring half way through. Keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn’t boil over.
Alternatively, you can dump the contents into a container and mix it with 6-8 ounces of yogurt the night before or right before eating for a chewy breakfast. This makes for a great no-cook breakfast you can grab and take with you to eat after a morning workout.
Lauren Larson is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a comprehensive private nutrition practice focused on sports nutrition-related diet and lifestyle modifications for active and athletic people. She is a passionate endurance athlete, avid trail runner, cyclist, and triathlete.