Thursday, March 4, 2010

Please Sir, May I Have Some More?

When I hear the word porridge, the first thing that comes to mind is that scene in the movie Oliver. You know, the one where Oliver holds up his bowl and asks for more of the nasty looking, lumpy, liquid stuff the children are being served (right before the entire cast of kids break into song).

Jump out of the land of Dickens and into the 21st century and porridge is still around and can actually be a runner's best friend. Basically porridge is a dish made by boiling legumes or grain (usually oats that have been rolled, crushed, or cut) in water or milk. The modern version of porridge are those instant oatmeal packets you probably buy.
Oatmeal is a great grain. It's packed with nutrients and has as much protein as wheat, but with a higher fat content (the good kind) that helps keep you feeling fuller longer. It also contains almost no gluten which more and more people are having trouble digesting. Another big difference between oats and wheat is that oats retain their bran and germ during processing while wheat does not. You've all seen the Cheerios commercials lauding how they lower your cholesterol. That's because Cheerios are made of oats which are high in soluble fiber which has been shown to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol.

Another benefit of oats is that they have a low G.I. (Glycemic Index). The glycemic index ranks carbohydrates according to their effect on blood glucose levels. Having a diet low in G.I. carbs (the ones that don't spike your blood glucose and insulin levels) has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Foods with a G.I. of 55 or lower are considered low G.I. Ones with a G.I. of 56-69 are considered medium G.I. Ones with a G.I. of 70 or higher are considered high G.I. (White bread is at the top with a G.I. of 100.)

Most oatmeal has a G.I. around 40-55. Be careful, though. The G.I. can increase to over 70 with some instant oatmeal packets after all the sugar has been added. It's best to stick to rolled oats, quick-cooking rolled oats, or steel-cut oats. When using these varieties, you're in control the of the "extras" that are added.

Instant oatmeal is the variety found in those convenient packets to which you add milk or water and heat in the microwave for a minute or so. Instant oats have been precooked and are usually only eaten as cereal. There's nothing wrong with instant oatmeal, but like I mentioned earlier, some brands can contain a lot of extra sugar (and sodium), so be sure to check the label. Quick-cooking rolled oats are a better choice, because you can control the "extras." Quick-cooking oats get their name because they are rolled into thinner flakes that only take about 5 minutes to cook. Rolled Oats (G.I. = ~50) are created by a process invented by Quaker Mill way back in 1877. This process steams the groats (the hulled grain) which are then flattened by rollers to create the oat flakes. These take about 15 minutes to cook. And finally there's steel-cut oats (G.I. = ~42). A steel-cut oat is basically a whole oat grain cut in half. In this process the groats are sliced in half by steel blades. These take the longest to cook (about 30 minutes), but you should give them a try. They have a nice chewy, nutty flavor.

Because oatmeal has a low G.I., the carbohydrate is released into your bloodstream slowly. That's good because it will keep your energy levels consistent and help keep you from having cravings later in the morning. Low G.I. foods can help prolong physical endurance too.

As a runner, that consistent energy means you're less likely to crash during your run. Ever eat something like a Poptart before a run? If it was a short run, you were probably fine, but if it was a longer run, did you run out of steam? That loss of steam is due (in part) to not providing your body with a good fuel source that will last for the long haul.

Note: High G.I. carbs do have a place in your training. They help re-fuel carbohydrate stores after exercise. A good 4:1 ration of simple carbs and protein within 30 minutes after your workout will help refuel your carb stores. Why is that important? Replenishing your carb stores and your protein will help with quicker and more complete muscle repair and recovery (you won't be as sore the next day).

So whether it's the quick variety or the longer-cooking kind, oats are a great food for runners. If you have a sensitive tummy on runs, you may want to use water or skim milk instead of 2% milk. My favorite way to eat oatmeal before a run is with a handful of chopped almonds or walnuts and a drizzle of honey on top. For a post run recovery snack, sometimes I'll add a heaping spoonful of Greek yogurt to help create that 4:1 (carbs/protein) ratio needed for quick muscle recovery.

So, if you haven't had them in a while, pick yourself up some oatmeal. Experiment with the various varieties and see which one end's up your favorite. BON APPETIT!


gene said...

i looove me some good oatmeal. steel cut. Bob's Red Mill sells some really tasty ones at our local grocery. i like to mix them (uncooked) with fat free plain yogurt and banana, and leave it in the fridge overnight for a deeelicious breakfast.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Gene! I'm gonna have to google Bob's Red Mill! Also gonna have to try your concoction. Sounds good!

Kathy said...

while you're at it, check coach's oats. i think they're the whole oat - not cut at all. they're great!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Kathy! Awesome!I've not seen those! I'll definitely check it out!