The Benefits of Bulgur for Athletes

August 23rd, 2016, by Dylan Thomas
When most amatuer athletes think about carbohydrate choices, oats are usually the only selection on their menu. But if you’ve not considered bulgur wheat or have never heard of it, you may want to give this alternative a try.

Bulgur is a whole grain which can offer a number of benefits over other readily available grains.

Don’t get me wrong, I love oats as much as the next hungry, exhausted trainer after a workout. But I will also admit that I prefer my porridge with a bit of variety. And there’s no better way of doing so than experimenting with different grains to make your breakfast or post workout meal more interesting.

So, what is bulgur, what are its advantages over other grain choices, and how can you incorporate it into your diet?

What Is Bulgur?

Bulgur is a type of wheat derived cereal which is commonly consumed in Turkey.

bulgur wheat ready for preparationBulgur in it’s natural form
Bulgur is made by steaming and then drying the wheat grains. The partially cooked wheat kernels are then cracked to form bulgur. Because it’s partially cooked, it can be prepared by just leaving it for a couple of minutes to soak in hot water.

It’s available from most health stores, supermarkets and even the occasional take away will have bulgur on their menu. You will usually see it served in place of rice or couscous, but it can be used as a substitute for most grains in a variety of uses.

The Advantages Of Bulgur Wheat?

One of the things that tends to hold people back when experimenting with other grain types is the long cooking time that they often require. Oats are commonly available in ‘quick cook’ varieties that are much easier to prepare in a microwave. Some do not even require cooking as such. Just adding boiling water and leaving it to stand will produce a cardboard cup of what looks like (with a bit of a stretch of the imagination) porridge.

But, did you realise that these quick cook varieties have a higher Glycemic Index than traditional rolled oats? The difference can turn it from a low GI food to that verging on high GI. (source SFGate - Oatmeal vs Quick Cook Oats)?

So, by going for the quick fix instant oats you may not be getting all the benefits you thought...

Just like instant oatmeal, bulgur is also prepared by soaking it in hot water. This is possible due to it being already partially cooked using the steaming process described above.

But, unlike instant oats it still retains its low glycemic index of around 47. Lower even than rice, quinoa or couscous (source Harvard Medical School). This means it will provide you with a sustained energy release and keep you feeling satisfied for longer.

Bulgur is also a good source of vitamin B3 and the minerals iron and zinc, which all aid during the recovery process following your workout. It also contains potassium, an important electrolyte which will help you rehydrate.

Cooking With Bulgur

As mentioned above, bulgur makes a great low GI substitute for grains in savoury dishes as a healthy carbohydrate choice.

bulgur porridgeBulgur makes a great side to many dishes
For a side, just pour boiling water over the dried bulgur and leave to stand for about 10 minutes. Add some stock, herbs and spices to flavour, then drain and fluff it up a bit with a fork. You can also stir in some olive oil at this point to give it a richer taste.

You can also add some bulgur to casseroles, stews and soups to produce a more hearty meal. You don’t even need to pre-prepare it, just add some while heating and it will absorb some of the fluid and flavours of your dish. You may need to add some extra fluid if you want to retain the same consistency of your soup.

Making Porridge With Bulgur

Bulgur also makes a great form of porridge, and is much quicker to prepare than other grains. The only drawback it has is that it doesn’t bind as well as oats, so is better used in a multi grain type porridge. Try combining an equal measure of bulgur with your oats, or try something even more adventurous by combining several different grain types.

bulgur porridgeA multi grain bulgur porridge
If you use bulgur alone for a porridge recipe, it works better to add some sort of binding ingredient. I find egg whites are perfect for this as they do not spoil the flavour and add an easy digestible protein. If you’re vegan you could use a little guar gum or xanthan gum instead, both work equally well.

For some delicious porridges using bulgur, try our 3 Grain Protein Porridge or the Five Grain Coconut Protein Porridge.

Nutritional Analysis

The below nutritional information is for both dry and average cooked bulgur. The nutritional content of cooked bulgur will vary depending on the amount of fluid it absorbs, which is the same for all grains.

So, if you’re watching your macros you should measure or weigh the bulgur before preparing it, to get an accurate estimation of calories.
100g raw100g cooked
Energy374 kcals89 kcals

Nutritional analysis of raw bulgur.


Bulgur is a great grain choice for use as a side dish, in main courses or as a breakfast in the form of sweet or savoury porridge.

  • It is inexpensive,
  • it has one of the lowest GI scores of all grains,
  • it is a good source of micronutrients during the recovery process
  • and it is very easy to prepare.

If you have not tried it yet, you should definitely give it a go as part of a healthy and nutritious diet.

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