Oatmeal gets a bad rep: It's bland. It's boring. It's only good for the toppings.

But we think it's time oatmeal emerged from the breakfast backwaters. After all, it isn't just an inexpensive, damn-near-foolproof-to-make "good carb" filled with fiber, protein, metabolism-boosting folate, and muscle-friendly phosphorous—it's also an immune-system booster and cancer fighter, studies show.

It's also the perfect pre-workout meal. "Made right, oatmeal keeps you full and gives you the carbs you need to support a long, strong workout," says Saskia Kleinert, a nutritionist who works with athletes. "If you do any big workout, you need carbs on board or you'll tank, and oatmeal is by far the most convenient, healthiest way to get them."

Just add the right protein and fat, Kleinhert says: "Those are the two things that really slow down the transfer of glucose, which is why I always tell clients to cook oatmeal in milk instead of water, and make nuts and flax seeds your main toppings.

Consider this your road map for exlporing oatmeal's endless possibilities.

To max out your oats, follow these steps: