Building a Better Breakfast

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How many times have you heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? Although you may be tired of hearing it, it is especially true for athletes. Eating breakfast has many benefits for the mental and physical health of an athlete, but it typically loses the morning battle of Breakfast vs. Sleep. Before you hit snooze to skip breakfast and get a few more extra minutes of sleep, let’s talk about why breakfast is worth your while as an athlete, what you should eat, and how to make it happen!

For starters, here are a few practical reasons that breakfast can be beneficial to an athlete:

  • Boost energy and metabolism. When an athlete sleeps, their metabolism slows down to restore the body. Eating breakfast kick starts metabolism and fuels the body and brain-- especially if you have an early morning workout.

  • Food is fuel. After a night of sleep, an athlete’s gas tank is empty, which can cause the morning sluggish and tired feeling. Eating breakfast fills the tank with proper fuel to endure long practices, workouts, and games.

  • Get on a fueling schedule. Getting in the habit of starting your day with breakfast will most likely set you up for better success the rest of the day. If you can prep an on-the-go breakfast and grab to-go snacks while you’re at it, you’re setting a good foundation to build better fueling habits and perform better day in and day out.

  • Stay fueled and focused. An athlete’s brain needs food in order to function properly and think clearly. The brain uses 20% of the glucose/food supply to function normally. Therefore, it needs to be fueled like any other muscle so that it can do its job on the field (and in the classroom). 

Give Yourself a Plate-Check!

While breakfast is important in itself, what’s on your plate is even more important. Something is certainly better than nothing, but is that “something” fueling your performance as an athlete? Athletes need a breakfast balanced with protein, carbs, and healthy fats. Muffins and sugar cereals are very carb heavy but lack protein. A plate of eggs is packed with protein, but missing carbohydrate. In a fast-paced world where nutrition can seem too complicated (especially first thing when you wake up!), shift your mindset to keep breakfast simple and successful. Use this quick 1-2-3 “plate check” for building your athlete breakfast: Protein, Carb & Color. 

Protein: Eggs, milk, greek yogurt, turkey sausage, cheese, protein powders, nut butter

  • Protein provides building blocks to build and maintain muscle

Carbs: Whole grain breads/ waffles/ pancakes/ cereals, oats, potatoes, bagels

  • Energy boosting carbs sustain your blood sugar and provide fiber to keep you full

Color: Fruit, 100% juice, and maybe sneak in some veggies!

  • Colorful fruits & veggies provide essential nutrients for your body

Fine Tune with Healthy Fats

Once you build a plate with these three components, add some healthy fats and fluids. Healthy fats like avocado, nuts/seeds, nut/seed butters, chia/flaxseed can increase your energy intake and keep you full and focused throughout the day. Some people may need more than others but start by incorporating them as finishers to your plate to enhance your breakfast.

Don’t Forget the Fluids

Fluids are an essential yet often overlooked breakfast staple. In case you hadn’t made the connection, you are dehydrated when you first wake up (you’re breaking the fast, remember?). Grab a bottle of water first thing when you wake up to kick start your hydration and then add fluids to your breakfast. Smoothies, shakes, 100% fruit juice, yogurt and fruit are all hydrating foods and contribute to your daily fluid intake! This will keep you performing at your best all day long—and will get you in a better hydrating habit for the rest of the day!

Need Some Breakfast Inspo?

Here are some all-star athlete breakfast examples:

  • Oats cooked w/ Milk-add Apple Cinnamon Applesauce, Vanilla Protein Powder, Cinnamon, and Golden Raisins. Pair w/ Vanilla Greek Yogurt
  • Whole Grain Waffles w/ Peanut Butter & Honey, Topped with Greek Yogurt & Berries, Glass of Milk
  • Avocado Toast (mashed Avocado on Whole Grain Toast), Hard boiled Egg, Side of Fresh Pineapple
  • Egg Scrambled w/ leftover Veggies and leftover diced Baked Potato, English Muffin, Side of Grapes/ Orange Slices

Set Yourself Up for Breakfast Success

An easy way to plan out breakfast is by taking a few minutes the night before to plan or prep something to grab on the go. 

  • Hard-boil eggs and prep overnight oats for the next couple days
  • Make no-bake breakfast cookies or sheet pan protein pancakes for the week
  • Get creative with eggs- make egg muffins, freeze homemade breakfast sandwiches or wraps, or try microwave egg breakfast sandwiches 

My Sports Dietitian has a great eBook for athletes called Breakfast Made Simple: Quick and Easy Breakfast Recipes for Athletes, which provides 20 recipes for simple, healthy, balanced, and delicious breakfasts. Each recipe is well rounded with protein, healthy fats, and carbs to give any athlete energy. Shakes and Smoothies are another reliable (and hydrating) on-the-go balanced breakfast option- also check out the eBook Healthy Shake Recipes for Athletes for breakfasts or for recovery after morning workouts!

Resources and Links

Download Eat 2 Win Nutrition App