Breakfast for Athletes [5 Reasons]

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Breakfast for Athletes:  5 Energy Boosts, Set up for sucess

Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?

YES. It really is.

We’ve heard this from moms, dads, coaches, teachers and everyone in between. 

Do athletes need to eat breakfast?

YES. Breakfast, for athletes (young or old), focused on performance, sets you up for success for the rest of the day. Skipping breakfast may be one of the biggest nutrition related mistakes an athlete makes. (1)

What is breakfast

Breakfast is the first meal of the day, eaten within 2 hours of waking up and before you start daily activities. It should contain about 25-35% of your daily calories needs.

There’s no specific “breakfast” food. Rather, you just need to eat something within 2 hours of waking up. Preferably, athletes choose one of the healthy choices we’ll discuss later. And check out this blog if you’re wondering what to eat before soccer practice in the morning. 

What’s the importance of breakfast for athletes 

Athletes who focus on performance need to maintain and replenish energy stores and nutrients consistently. Therefore, you need to develop a routine of eating well balanced meals and snacks throughout the day.

In fact, skipping breakfast reduces your endurance for an evening practice. This happens even if you eat a hearty lunch or squeeze in a snack. (3) Since your energy stores don’t get fully replenished, you’re more likely to be slower and tired.

And it’s harder to make up for that missed fuel. In fact, eating breakfast improves insulin sensitivity which helps your muscles store energy for activities throughout the day (and practice or games!) (4) This can continue supporting any recovery from intense bouts of exercise the day before.

Why breakfast for athletes

Importance of breakfast for athletes-nutrient needs, energy boost, attention and focus, build muscle
  • Helps you meet your nutrient needs. Athletes have an increased need for key nutrients to support energy use, muscle growth and overall health. Eating breakfast regularly tends to result in a nutrient profile rich in fiber, calcium, vitamins A and C, riboflavin, zinc, and iron. (5)
  • Provides an energy boost to improve performance. After many hours of sleep and “fasting” your muscle energy stores are depleted. Breakfast boosts your energy stores to get you through your morning routine. Additionally, you’ll get a jump on meeting your energy needs for the day, so that you are ready for your sports performance. 
  • Maintains attention and focus. Breakfast provides your brain with nutrients to maintain your focus. In children, an adequate breakfast improves attention, problem solving and memory performance. (6, 7). As you know, an athlete needs this for success  on the field and in the classroom. 
  • Builds and maintains muscles. Eating breakfast has been shown to help prevent muscle protein breakdown.(8) It helps to maintain your muscle mass. In fact eating protein at breakfast is associated with higher muscle strength. (9)
  • Creates satiety. Eating breakfast provides a feeling of fullness. This helps you eat steadily and balance your energy needs throughout the day. You’ll be less likely to overeat at later meals (10) and more likely to eat healthier since you won’t be starving and reaching for the first thing you can find. 

What if you’re not hungry?

Some athletes say they don’t eat breakfast in the morning because they don’t feel hungry. Mostly this happens because your body adapts to not being fed. Or perhaps extra snacking late at night causes you to feel full.

You don’t need to eat right when you wake up, but within a couple hours, you’ll want to have something. Start with smaller portions or perhaps a smoothie. 

What if there’s no time? 

Lack of time has been shown to be one of the biggest barriers to eating breakfast, both for parents and kids alike. (11) Also, check out this post on what athletes can eat before an early morning practice.Follow some of these tips and create a routine to give yourself time. 

Breakfast for athletes Infographic. What if there's no time for breakfast.

What makes the best balanced breakfast for athletes

A breakfast for athletes should contain about 25-35% of daily calories needs. And like every meal, should have a mix of high carbohydrate, moderate protein and low fat. Additionally, many of the “standard” breakfast foods provide a good source of fiber and may be enriched with iron, calcium and other vitamins and minerals important in overall health.

  • Carbohydrate serves as the primary fuel source for muscles and most important for energy and performance.
  • Protein provides the building blocks for muscles, ligaments and tendons. In addition, protein provides staying power to the meal because it takes longer to digest.
  • Fat provides fuel for prolonged activity. It takes longer to digest and helps with satiety. And fat has another important role of helping to better absorb some vitamins.

What are some good breakfast ideas

Consider pairing the following carbohydrate and protein recommendations to make a “breakfast of champions:”

Breakfast Basics

CARBOHYDRATES

  • Cold or hot cereal
  • Overnight oats
  • French toast
  • Pancakes or waffles
  • English muffin, bagel, toast
  • Pita bread
  • High fiber muffins
  • Fruit-berries, bananas, dried fruit
  • Baked potato/sweet potato

PROTEIN

  • Eggs
  • Turkey/chicken sausage
  • Plant based sausage
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Cheese
  • Falafel
  • Hummus
  • Hemp
  • Milk

FATS

  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Nut butters
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Cream cheese
  • Olive oil

Breakfast meal ideas

  • Leftovers-thick crust pizza, chinese food, burrito
  • Breakfast burrito and fruit
  • Smoothie with nut butter, fruit and kale
  • Waffles with fruit and nuts, topped with greek yogurt
  • Pita with hummus, falafel and veggies
  • Omelette stuffed with veggies and a side of lean or plant based sausage
  • Turkey sandwich with side of fruit
  • Toast with avocado and fried egg
  • Baked oatmeal with nuts, dried fruits and topped with greek yogurt
  • Burrito bowl with lean or plant based breakfast sausage, salsa, avocado

Final thoughts

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day especially for athletes. If you want to have higher performance, train more effectively and have sustained energy throughout an activity, eat breakfast.

If breakfast hasn’t been part of your routine because you haven’t had time or it’s not been your thing, don’t worry. Start taking small steps to build healthy habits and pay attention to how much better you feel.

Use the suggestions for carbohydrates, protein and fat to build a meal that will fill you up and provide the energy you need to perform.

Let us know in the comments what you like for breakfast.

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