To know Ted King as a professional cyclist is to know that he’s a hungry guy; pulling the World Tour peloton and slingshotting his Cannondale-Garmin teammates to stage wins is not something that comes without power, prowess, and a fire in the belly.

But to spend any time with Ted King is to know that he understands a thing or two about how to fuel that hunger with delicious, real food.

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No matter where in the world one bumps into the Untapped Maple co-founder, he’s always primed to gush about a delicious dish he’s recently eaten, a fabulous or unexpected restaurant he’s discovered, or an adventurous recipe he’s dying to try. As a chef who considers herself to be rather in the know, I’m always impressed with his picks and interests. But I have to admit I was surprised to learn that his refined palate also has the utmost appreciation for what many would consider to be the most beige food out there: oatmeal.  

Oatmeal is a frequently misunderstood, blank slate of tasty, wholesome goodness.

says King, who has long been a fan of oatmeal in the morning. “I’ve also been known to eat {oatmeal} pre-ride in the afternoon to forego another round of pasta.” he reports. And in a moment where athletes, and busy active folks in general are searching for quick solutions for how to fuel themselves with whole, healthy foods, King might say that oats are a logical pantry staple. On preparing a bowl of oatmeal, King says “The reality is that very little prep goes into the creation of a virtually endless array of flavor that’s packed with nutrients and sustenance to power you through the day.”

Correct on both accounts! A bowl of whole-grain oatmeal contains soluble and insoluble fibers that help lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and prevent heart disease. But for active, runners and cyclists, oatmeal is a great option for breakfast (or pre-workout) because it’s high in complex carbohydrates (read: what your body needs for sustained energy to pull a peloton or just yourself) and has a low glycemic index (which provides a sustained release of energy into the bloodstream and keeps you going stronger on the bike or the run, for longer.)

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But there was no conversation on these (admittedly) boring health or performance benefits when we caught up over a bike ride in Colorado recently. Instead, we found ourselves talking about this blank slate, the heartwarming bowl that is oatmeal. “I spent four years with a very Italian cycling team. Italian cycling culture is plainly traditional so you ride to eat and eat to ride — food is fuel, pure and simple.” says King.  “Italian food culture is traditional too,” he went on. “My teammates, and more so the staff, would stare at me as if I had two heads when I mixed oats with hot water at the breakfast table during team camps and races. Look, I love pasta and a mountain of Parmesan cheese as much as the next guy, but for breakfast? No thanks. My bowl of oatmeal wasn’t just for the pre-ride nutrition; half a world away from home, this was savoring a taste of Americana.”

The more we’ve talked about little-old-oatmeal, the more excited we got about how many ways there are to transform the image of what King calls “the notion of long overcooked oats in a gray, muddy mass” into something truly delectable, just by adding different ingredients, and maybe trying a few simple, straight forward cooking techniques. We sent a few emails back and forth, compared a few pictures of our breakfasts, and before we knew it, we had an impressive list of what we’ve come to laugh at as the “50 Shades of Oatmeal.” Here are our best tips, tricks and favorite recipes:

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Build a good bowl: add something with a little protein, a little fat, and a lot of flavor to get the most out of your breakfast (or pre-ride!) bowl.

These favorite recipes: are just suggestions, add as much or as little of each ingredient as you like and to your preference.

Add an egg: Ted likes to mix the egg into his oatmeal as he’s cooking it. I like to make poached eggs or even fried eggs and then put them over the top, mixing them into the oatmeal as I eat it.

Add fruits and veggies: we suggest always using fresh, in season fruits but sometimes frozen is the only option. Be sure to thaw and drain your fruits before adding them to your warm oatmeal!

Add spices: try everything you’ve got your hands on! Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, curry, cumin…the possibilities are endless. Just add a tiny pinch at a time to find the flavor that fits you.

Go beyond the bowl: don’t forget that oatmeal cookies open a whole new door to the romance of whole grain oats. A healthy oatmeal cookie for breakfast? We won’t judge!

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50 Shades of Oatmeal:

1. New Englander: add fresh blueberries, a healthy drizzle of maple syrup + an egg

2. Cappuccin’Oatmeal: a sprinkle of cardamom, a shot of espresso, cacao nibs and a spoonful of yogurt

3. Pumpkin Swirl: a scoop of warm pumpkin puree, a sprinkle of cinnamon, a drizzle of maple syrup, raisins and an egg

4. Ama-sian: sauteed mushrooms, diced chives and a splash of soy sauce

5. Island Oatmeal: a sprinkle of cinnamon, a handful of toasted coconut + dried papaya, a banana and chopped almonds or macadamia nuts

6. Cacao-Banana: sliced banana, chopped dates, a sprinkle of cinnamon, handful of cacao nibs and a big scoop of almond butter, drizzle of maple

7. Great Pumpkin: a scoop of warm pumpkin puree, chopped apple, raisins, a sprinkle of cinnamon and walnuts, drizzle of maple

8. Cacao Buzz: cocoa nibs, a shot of espresso, toasted coconut, and a scoop of almond or peanut butter

9. You-So-Miso: chopped arugula, toasted walnuts, diced green onions, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a spoonful of white miso mixed in.

10. Eggs + Bacon: diced crispy bacon, your favorite egg, salt + pepper to taste and maybe a sprinkle of cheddar cheese and a drizzle of maple

11. Late for Work: diced banana, sprinkle of cinnamon and a scoop of peanut butter and a drizzle of maple syrup

12. Strawberry Fields: diced strawberries, sprinkle of cinnamon, a scoop of yogurt, toasted sunflower seeds or hemp seeds, drizzle of honey

13. Easy Avocado: diced avocado, a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, a sprinkle of parmesan or feta cheese

14. Gourmet Camp Oats: a shot of espresso, a spoonful of peanut or almond butter, and a sprinkle of salt to taste, drizzle of maple (if it’s on hand!)

15. Not Yo Mama’s: a sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt, and cardamom, a spoonful of coconut butter, drizzle of maple syrup, chopped dates + golden raisins

16. Super Green: healthy drizzles of soy, honey, and lemon juice, chopped sauteed kale, toasted sunflower seeds and your favorite egg.

17. Pomegranate Punch: scoop of warm pumpkin puree, a handful of pomegranate seeds, toasted almonds, sprinkles of cinnamon and nutmeg, drizzle of maple syrup

18. Totally Nuts: scoop of almond butter, toasted coconut, toasted almonds, drizzle of maple syrup

19. The Crazy Italian: healthy serving of shredded parmesan cheese, drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and your favorite egg

20. Coconut Buzz: a shot of espresso, scoop of coconut butter, toasted coconut, toasted almonds, chopped dates and a drizzle of maple syrup

21-25: Add fruits! Try peaches, cherries, raspberries, figs, pears!

26-30: Add spices! Try anything you can get your hands on. Nutmeg, cinnamon, seasoned salts, lemon zest, or black pepper for savory!

31-35: Add crunch! Stir in a handful of your favorite granola, toasted cashews, pecans, almonds or sunflower seeds!

36-40: Stir in protein + some fat: Try mixing in a scoop peanut butter, almond butter, coconut butter, or yogurt!

41-45: Add liquid: Stirring in almond milk, coconut milk, whole milk, cream, buttermilk, even a splash of coffee will add flavor and improve the texture of your oatmeal bowls. You can add them after the oats are cooked, or cook the oats in these liquids.

46-50: Sweeten the deal: Maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, maple sugar and fruits all sweeten your oatmeal and lend different flavors to your breakfast bowl. Trying a different simple sugar will take your oatmeal to the next level.

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Photos from Kevin Scott Batchelor.