If you ask anyone who knows a little about nutrition what macronutrient is needed to build muscle, their answer would most likely be protein. While protein is definitely the most important, carbohydrates and fats also play a role in the muscle building process. In fact, unless you are cutting, a good portion of your calories should be coming from carbs. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and should not be forgotten when designing a meal plan.
Without getting too lengthy in my explanation about why carbs are important, let me quickly go over a couple of the main reasons you need carbs. The main function of carbohydrates is to give the body energy so it is important to get enough of them so you can have an intense workout. The other reason you want to have enough carbs is so that the body will use the carbs for energy like it is supposed to, instead of breaking down the protein from your foods or in your body.
In most cases the best carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates that have a lot of fiber and burn very slowly in your body. The food next in the Muscle Building Foods series fits that bill perfectly. Oatmeal is a great source of energy and is a complex, slow-burning carb. While oatmeal may not be the most glamorous food to eat or write about it still remains one of the best go-to carbohydrate sources out there.
So let’s get into the breakdown really quick. 1 cup of dry oatmeal has 307 calories, 5 grams of fat, 11 grams of protein and 56 grams of carbohydrates. If you measure oatmeal cooked it roughly doubles in volume so a cup of cooked oatmeal has about 166 calories, 32 carbs and 6 grams of protein. So this is definitely a food you need to measure out if you are restricting your calories.
Give a little boost of protein
As previously mentioned, oatmeal has 11 grams of protein per cup (dry.) While this is great since having a little extra protein helps get the total up, the protein is incomplete and must be supplemented. So far, all the foods I have written about have been complete proteins so I haven’t went into this too much, but most non-animal sources of proteins are incomplete proteins and must be combined with other food sources to make a complete the amino acid profile. The limiting amino acid for oatmeal (as well as other cereals and whole grains) is lysine. To complete the amino acid profile for muscle building, lysine must be obtained from other sources. Good sources of lysine are animal proteins as well as beans and lentils.
Muscle building nutrients
In addition to having good complex carbs and protein, oatmeal also contains nutrients that the body uses for building muscle. One cup of dry oatmeal contains 3.4 mg of iron and 0.9 mg of niacin (vitamin B3.) Iron helps to transport oxygen into the bloodstream and into the muscles and the B- vitamins help to convert carbohydrates into energy and to properly utilize protein.
Good Source of Fiber
Oatmeal is a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber. While not directly related to building muscle, this is very beneficial for your health. Soluble fiber has been shown to reduce bad LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) without lowering HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol.) It does this by forming a sticky gel in your digestive tract that grabs the cholesterol in your body. Insoluble fiber helps aid the body with digestion.
Other Vitamins and Minerals
Oatmeal is also a good source of vitamins and minerals like thiamin, folic acid biotin and vitamin E. These all have a positive effect on the immune system and can speed you body’s reaction to infection and can help your body heal faster from illness. This is more of an indirect benefit to building muscle since it’s really hard to train and get results when you are sick.
Steel Cut, Whole Rolled or Quick Oats
Whole Rolled oats are probably what people think of when you say oatmeal, but there are a few options when choosing which oatmeal is best. Whole oats are, just as the name implies, whole oats that are rolled flat. They are usually steamed a little bit to make them cook quicker. Quick oats are pretty much the same thing but are ground up a little bit to make them cook even faster.
Steel cut oats are the raw oats that have been cut up into small chunks. While nutritionally all are very similar, the big difference between these types of oats comes with the glycemic index of the two. Whole rolled oats have a glycemic index of about 50 and steel cut oats are around 42. Technically they are both low on the glycemic index because they are under 55 but the glycemic index does vary based on many factors and they both can go above the threshold if they are cooked too long.
The other differences are mainly secondary. Both have slightly different tastes, cook times and costs.
The taste is a personal preference. I like steel cut the best since they are a little grainier and have a more nutty flavor but taste is an individual preference.
As far as cook time, the rolled oats are a lot quicker to prepare. I tend to eat whole rolled oats a lot more because they are so much easier to make.
Steel cut oats are also a bit more expensive than whole rolled or quick oats but cost is not an issue for some people. If it is not a factor for you, this is definitely the way I would go.
Don’t go instant
Instant oats are basically quick oats cut up into small pieces with some additives.The cutting up of the oats makes it cook quicker but gives it a much higher glycemic index. Quick oats is a high glycemic food with a index of around 83.
While instant oatmeal is still better than a lot of other breakfast options, it usually has a lot of added sodium and sugar which reduces some of the benefits of the oatmeal. Sodium causes excess fluid to remain in your body which can lead to high blood pressure and weight gain.
The added sugars are a simple carb which causes the body to spike glucose levels which raises insulin. This can cause the GI to jump even higher. This can be a good thing at certain times but can also lead to fat gain.
What I do
Like I said I go with whole rolled oats most of the time because it’s quick. I don’t follow the instructions on the label because of speed and I don’t want the oats cooked too long because the longer it’s cooked the higher it rises on the glycemic index. I usually add some water, some natural peanut butter for fat and add some protein powder to increase the protein. Then I pop it in the microwave for a minute only. That’s’ it.
So there is my breakdown of this common breakfast food. It has a very good nutrient profile and there are a few options to go with to as far as eating it and just because most people eat this at breakfast doesn’t mean it needs to be limited to the morning. Oatmeal can be an alternative to your carbs at other times of the day as well. Leave a comment below if you want to share how you utilize this great carb in your meal plan.