You may have heard at some point that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Is it true? Well, not necessarily. All meals and snacks are important when it comes to meeting your energy needs and fueling performance. However, many athletes tend to skip breakfast for a variety of reasons, including catching up on sleep, low appetite in the morning, early morning workouts, and a perceived lack of time to include it. Unfortunately, skipping this meal can make it more likely for you to under-fuel the rest of the day since it shortens the window of time you have to meet your energy needs. By implementing some simple strategies, you can reap the benefits of incorporating a balanced breakfast into your daily routine, including increased concentration, energy levels, muscle maintenance, and more. Read on to learn about the importance of breakfast for athletes as well as key nutrients to prioritize!
Importance of Breakfast for Athletes
Your first meal of the day breaks an overnight fast. Without it, you are essentially running on empty after a night of sleep when your body is using any energy and nutrients available to help your active body repair and recover! Starting your day without putting in your fuel can impact energy levels later in the day, making it harder to maximize performance on the field and focus in the classroom.
While some may perceive that it’s best to head to practice on an empty stomach due to low appetite, evidence shows that fasted workouts can impede peak performance, which is your ultimate goal as a student athlete! By eating something soon after waking, you can effectively front load your day with energy so you are not trying to catch up later in the day.
Balancing your Breakfast
If you are an athlete who has two-a-day workouts with practice before classes, eating something upon waking is especially important. You want to make sure you are fueling adequately in the morning to avoid crashing before your second session. Check out our performance snacking e-book for more information and comprehensive ideas for quick, easy options to fuel morning training that aren’t too filling.
If you have more time in the morning to eat a full breakfast, here are the nutrients that you want to prioritize:
- Carbs. Carbs provide the bulk of your energy for activity and fuel your brain to focus in the classroom. Good sources include toast, oatmeal, fruit, breakfast potatoes, and whole grain toaster waffles.
- Protein. Not only is regular protein intake critical for muscle building and maintenance, but it also aids in making your breakfast filling. Eggs, turkey bacon/sausage, chicken sausage, yogurt, milk, cheese, tofu, nut butter, and seeds are common breakfast items that are rich in protein.
- Healthy fats. Fats are important for immune health, nutrient absorption, recovery, inflammation regulation and more. The amount of fat you include in your breakfast will depend on how soon you will be practicing or competing and how high your diet currently is in fat. Sources for breakfast for athletes include avocados, salmon, nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters and even the fat in egg yolks.
- Fiber. Fiber aids in satiety, keeps you regular, and supports your good gut bacteria. Like fats, fiber content of your breakfast will largely depend on when practice or competition is and how high your current diet is in fiber. Fiber only comes from plant foods and is higher when in their natural form. You’ll get it from whole grains, fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds at breakfast.
- Fluids. Remember that before eating breakfast, you are coming off a total fast and need to rehydrate! Water, milk, and 100% fruit juice are good sources. If you have heavy sweat rates, be sure your breakfast has a source of salt, too.
You want to AVOID anything high in saturated fat (think: fried and greasy foods, foods in cream sauces), as too much fat can cause GI discomfort during a training session. You also want to steer clear of anything high in sugar without also incorporating fiber, fat and protein; this may look like a sugary cereal with almond milk and juice, or choosing a donut and juice. These kinds of foods will not sustain you through a long day, and can make you feel lethargic before you need to move your body, as they may cause a sudden blood sugar spike and crash.
5 Simple Breakfast Ideas for Athletes
- Eggs, toast with avocado or nut butter, and fruit
- Whole grain waffles and yogurt with nuts and berries
- Oatmeal with honey/maple syrup, nut butter, fruit, and milk
- Homemade smoothie with granola
- Whole grain toast with nut butter, sliced banana, and a glass of milk
College athletes, here are more healthy and delicious breakfast recipes that you can make in your own dorm room to save time and money!
Tackling Obstacles to Breakfast for Athletes
Hopefully, you are now a little more convinced about the importance of breakfast for athletes, even if you are usually a breakfast skipper. However, we do understand that there are a few obstacles that may make it seemingly difficult to incorporate this meal into your regular routine. See some simple strategies below for combatting the most common breakfast obstacles.
Short on time? Remember- breakfast does not need to be fancy! Scope out places on campus that have grab-and-go options and offer to-go containers so you can take food or leftovers with you. Have ready-to-eat foods on hand in your dorm, such as whole food based bars, chocolate milk, and individual yogurts to grab before practice or class. Our free packaged performance snack guide has plenty of shelf stable on-the-go ideas.
You can also prep food ahead of time to avoid rushing in the morning. Overnight oats make a great portable option that delivers on carbs and protein- click here for some easy recipes!
Not hungry in the morning? Just like you train for your sport, you can train your GI system to start taking in small amounts of food if you are typically not a breakfast eater. Starting with liquids, like a smoothie, may be easier to tolerate and deliver on carbs, protein, and fluids. Check out this blog post by our founder at SAN for more tips on how to train your gut for performance.
Don’t like breakfast foods? Breakfast does not have to be limited to traditional breakfast foods! The goal of breakfast is to include the key components mentioned above, which you can do with a variety of different foods. Leftovers from last night’s dinner, sandwiches, quesadillas, and savory oats are all fair game.