There are countless bulking foods to choose from, especially for those that struggle to gain weight or muscle mass. One particular food that you’ll find in any bulking diet though is oats.
Oats are versatile, high in carbs, easy to digest, and a relatively likable food. Just because so many people have them though, you might be wondering, are oats good for bulking, or are they just overhyped by bodybuilders?
Well, I’m personally a big fan of oats for bulking and hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll see the benefits of them too!
What are Oats?
Oatmeal is a cereal grain harvested for its primary purpose of consumption. Oats are most recognized for their complex carbohydrates content.
But what many are not aware of, is that oats contain a moderate amount of protein, fat, dietary fiber, and vital micronutrients, that all contribute toward a bulking phase, as covered later in the article.
For most people, oats are considered to be a great bulking food due to their ease of digestion and high carb content but we’ll cover these benefits shortly. First, let’s look at the nutritional value of oats.
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Nutritional Value Of Oats
The nutritional value per 100g of oats is the following:
|Carbohydrate (g)||68 (25%)|
|Dietary Fibre (g)||10g (36%)|
|Protein (g)||13 (26%)|
|Fat (g)||6.5 (8%)|
|Saturated fat (g)||1.1g (6%)|
|Calcium (mg)||52 (4%)|
|Iron (mg)||2.3 (24%)|
|Potassium (mg)||362 (8%)|
The table above illustrates that oats are high in carbohydrates and dietary fiber, with a moderate amount of protein, fat, and three vital micronutrients. Yet, it is low in sugars and saturates, hence why oats are considered ‘healthy’.
Are Oats Good for Bulking?
As far as bulking foods go, oats are one of the best options you can have. I have included 3 of the main benefits of consuming oats during a bulking phase.
#1 Oats To Aid The Caloric Surplus
In my opinion, oats are a great food source for bulking as they offer a large number of calories to help drive a caloric surplus.
A caloric surplus is achieved whilst observing a daily food intake that exceeds the number of calories needed to sustain current body weight (1). In other words, where ‘calories in’ are higher than ‘calories out’ (1).
For example, If an exercising 167lb male needs 2500kcal to maintain body mass, consuming 3000kcal per day will provide a daily caloric surplus of 500kcal (1).
Over a period of a week, the caloric surplus would accumulate to 3500kcal, which would likely promote a 1lb weight gain (3500kcal =1lb weight) (1).
This weight gain may be predominantly lean mass if protein synthesis (muscle building) is maximized through a high dietary protein intake, and frequent resistance training sessions (1,2).
Energy balance is largely influenced by bodyweight, where a heavier individual would need more calories to bulk up (1).
Taking this theory into account, slowly adding calories into the diet, in relation to weight gain may be necessary during a bulking phase (1). How about a larger serving of oats? Or an extra Oat bar?
#2 Oats To Promote Glycogen Synthesis And Mass Gain
Note, that one of the main components of bulking up is resistance training, as it helps to build lean skeletal muscle tissue in the long term (2).
After the ingestion of oats, the carbohydrates are digested, converted into glycogen, and then stored in the muscles, liver, and brain (3).
Glycogen being the primary energy source in humans, sufficient stores may optimize resistance training sessions, aiding the overall ‘bulking’ process (2,3).
Furthermore, muscles that have been saturated with glycogen, are generally larger and bulkier in appearance (3).
How to Eat Oats When Bulking (5 strategies)
When it comes to consuming oats on a bulk, there are a number of ways you can get them into your diet. This is one of the key benefits of eating oats as they are so versatile, there’s a way for most people to easily and effortlessly include them on a daily basis.
#1 Larger Serving Sizes
As mentioned, 100g of oats yield 379kcal, which contributes to total daily caloric intake.
However, a ‘serving’ does not have to be limited to 100g, one can opt to eat a larger amount of oats, while attempting to drive a caloric surplus and bulk up.
By simply pouring an additional 50g of oats into your morning oats, you can easily increase caloric intake by 190kcals.
#2 Multiple Daily Servings
A bowl of oats is generally associated with breakfast, but let’s be honest, when bulking you want to get as many easily digestible carbs as you can throughout the day.
For a post-workout meal, you’ll get an extra 300-500kcals into the diet, depending on the size of the serving. This will be utilized primarily to refill muscle glycogen and won’t fill you up so much that you can’t have your next meal after a shorter period of time.
#3 Adding Condiments And Food Sources
Many of us struggle to get that bland bowl of morning oats down. The key benefit of oats though is that it mixes easily with other high-calorie, macro-dense foods. Honey, peanut butter, whey protein, berries, banana, and other foods will only further support a bulk.
Not only does this enrich the flavor of the oats, but also boosts caloric intake. When you think about it, by just mixing 2 tablespoons of honey into the oats, you are yielding an additional 120-160kcals.
#4 Oat-Based Snacks
There are many commercially available products like; Oat-based bread, bars, and cookies that could boost calorie intake.
Many of these are store-bought but they are also incredibly easy to make yourself. No-bake bars and balls use oats as a key ingredient and help to create a great bulking snack or dessert.
Check out the recipes here and here.
#5 Adding Oats Into Shakes
Oats can be a key ingredient in a weight gain or a meal replacement shake. You could simply grind a serving of oats with a couple of scoops of whey protein powder, or a serving of your favorite mass gainer, mixed with a cup or 2 of whole milk.
This is by far the best hack I have for getting in extra calories when bulking. It works best for people with a high daily calorie surplus and I also have a very simple recipe for people bulking with a small appetite.
This strategy can quite easily accumulate a massive amount of calories into the diet, and maximize the acute response of muscle protein synthesis(4).
Oat Alternatives for Bulking
Now I do not want you to read this article and think that oats are the end all be all to bulking up. There are many other oat alternatives with similar nutrition compositions that favor a bulking phase.
Firstly, you could opt for some multi-grain cereal that has a similar macronutrient profile to oats, and a reasonable amount of fiber.
Cereal will have an identical effect in promoting a caloric surplus and in my opinion, is much easier to eat when you have a low appetite. A ‘go-to’ cereal is multi-grain Cheerios or Rice Krispies which are both easy to digest and high in carbs.
Another option is wholemeal bread. While not quite as versatile as oats (you can’t add it to shakes), you’ll still be getting a staple food that can be combined with other high calorie foods.
Sandwiches (with a meat/fish filling) or toast with spread are great ways to easily up your calorie intake.
Finally, cream of rice is probably the best alternative to oats that can also be consumed during a bodybuilding ‘bulking’ phase. Unlike oat bran, cream of rice is much lower in fiber and higher in sugars, which may cause an insulin spike.
Nevertheless, it can be consumed in moderation, as long as fiber requirements are met from the rest of the diet. Personally, I like to add high fibrous berries to blunt the response of insulin.
Oats are a great source of complex carbohydrates and fiber, with a moderate amount of the other macronutrients and micronutrients.
Oats can be incorporated into a diet to promote a caloric surplus, glycogen synthesis, and overall mass gain.
There are many strategies that can be used to eat oats for the purpose of bulking, such as; larger serving sizes, multiple servings per day, eating extra oat-based snacks, mixing other foods with oats, and adding oats into protein and/or weight gainer shakes.
If you do not like eating oats, there are many carbohydrate/calorie-dense alternatives, some examples being; multigrain cereals, wholemeal bread, and rice pudding.
- Meyer, L.D.E., Krason, R.K., Meyer, M. ‘Weight Gain Recommendations for Athletes and Military Personnel: a Critical Review of the Evidence’ Current Nutrition Reports;2022, (Published ahead of print):1-15 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35233712/
- Smith, R.W., Hartley, P.S., Stratton, M.T., et al. ‘Predicting adaptations to resistance training plus overfeeding using Bayesian regression: a preliminary investigation’ Journal of functional morphology and kinesiology. 2021;6(2):1-18
- Craven, J., Desbrow, B., Sabaphaphy, S., et al. ‘The effect of consuming carbohydrate with and without protein on the rate of muscle glycogen re-synthesis during short-term post-exercise recovery: A systematic review and meta-analyses’ Sports Medicine-open; 2021,7(1): 1-15
- Hartono, F.A., Arrowsmith, P.W., Peeters, W.M., et al. The Effects of Dietary Protein Supplementation on Acute Changes in Muscle Protein Synthesis and Longer-Term Changes in Muscle Mass, Strength, and Aerobic Capacity in Response to Concurrent Resistance and Endurance Exercise in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review’ Sports Medicine, 2022; (Published ahead of print): 1-34