Overnight Oats: Not The Best Way to Start the Day, After All

What’s the hype about overnight oats? It seems I’ve been seeing a lot of recipes, blog posts and newsletters indicating they’re a great way to start the day. So what, exactly, are overnight oats? Just that! Oats that have soaked overnight in any liquid, from water, to nut milk to dairy milk and more. Sometimes prepared the night before purely as a time-saver for the morning rush the next day and other times as a means to integrate more flavor and texture from whatever the soaking liquid might be, overnight oats may seem like the way to go in terms of starting the day with a natural, healthy option on the go. While it’s common sense (hopefully) that a donut or a sugary breakfast cereal isn’t the way to go, oatmeal can definitely falls into the gray area category. Why? Mainly, because they’re still whopping high in carbohydrates, and they’re also quite inflammatory. 1 cooked cup of oats has 27 grams of carbs but only 3.2 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein in its tiny 158 calorie content (1). For many years, many people, myself included, focused largely not only on not eating too many calories, but not eating too much fat, which further perpetuated the idea that a bowl of good, old-fashioned oats were the way to go. Add to that the fact that for so long, we were all so fixated on counting calories that a breakfast of oats, skim milk and berries seemed like an ideal model of the perfect breakfast. Granted, it takes a while to emotionally get past the concept of eating more fat (wouldn’t that make us fat?) but the thing to remember is the recommendation is not to add fat, but to increase the amount of calories you’re getting from this valuable micronutrient, reduce those which are coming from carbohydrate, and keep protein in the moderate range. This will vary from person to person, and many factors will determine how far one might go on their keto-adaptation journey, but understanding the basics of what it is and what it is not is the starting point for all of us. if we review some fundamental concepts (check out this post from renewed triathlon coach Joe Friel) , and then have the courage to try something new when what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working (as in – eating a low fat approach is not facilitating better energy levels, increased focus or a lean body weight), we can set the stage to achieve health / fitness goals above and beyond what we might have thought possible. If we start the day with a bout of activity in a fasted state, without eating anything, we allow our body the opportunity begin to tap into stored fat as it’s fuel (2) rather than the carbohydrate it would have used in the event we’d eaten a banana, a bagel… or a bowl of oats prior to that workout. If we then keep hydrated and rather than forcing a carb-heavy meal before our bodies tell us they’re hungry, we further support our body’s ability to avoid deviating back onto the sugar-burning pathway. And when we are hungry, then, what do we eat? Veggies, fat and protein.    How much?  Start with a template of a plate of fresh, local, in-season veggies, roughly a palm sized amount of wild protein and ample fat. If you’re someone, like me, who likes to geek out a little bit, try tracking what you’re doing on MyFitnessPal and see what a day of 80% fat actually looks like- it may surprise you. Know that it’s not as straightforward as eating X grams of carb / kg bodyweight indefinitely, and that for fellow athletes out there, that the number and percentage will vary. Also be mindful that while feeling a bit different than you normally feel is to be expected during a brief transitional phase (just like what you may have experienced when you began a real Paleo diet), but feeling starving or ill is not.   Both can indicate you’re either not eating enough fat or not eating enough period. If you’re doing this properly, you should begin to feel better balanced energy levels, better digestion and regular elimination (at least once per day if not more), better sleep, recovery from training and weight loss if not already at your lean goal weight. And let’s not forget one more thing- oats are a grain, and grains are inflammatory (2). Oats contain anti nutrients which contribute to leaky gut,  inflammation, weaken our immune systems, and can exacerbate autoimmune conditions. Goodbye oats and hello eggs over easy in coconut oil with garlic spinach and some avocado.   And some uncured bacon, too! That, in my opinion is a far better way to start the day!   (1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oatmeal (2) VanProeyen, K., K. Szlufcik, H. Nielens, M. Ramaekers, P.L. Hespel. 2010. Beneficial metabolic adaptations due to endurance exercise training in the fasted state. J Appl Physiol [epub]. (3) OriginalPaleoDiet. “Treating Crohn’s Disease with Anti-Inflammatory Food Choices.” The Paleo Diet. N.p., 13 July 2016. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.