Part of the assessment that we do with the student-athletes here at the George School is ask about eating breakfast.
When I ask if they ate breakfast that day, usually less than half answer yes. For some reason, consistently fitting breakfast into their morning routine is a real challenge for athletes. Since eating breakfast is known to jump start metabolism, fuel morning workouts, and enhance energy levels throughout the day, we need to find realistic and attractive ways.
Athletes say they can’t eat breakfast because they don’t want to wake up any earlier, but a healthy breakfast doesn’t have to take a long time to prepare. Elaborate breakfasts like pancakes, omelets, and fresh-squeezed orange juice are unnecessary. (Save them for weekends!) In fact, breakfast doesn’t even need to be “breakfast” foods at all. Trail mix and 100 percent fruit juice, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread with low-fat milk, or even leftover spaghetti and meatballs can be excellent options, and these take less than five minutes to prepare. I’ve had teams compete in peanut butter and jelly-making relay races to show just how quickly a good breakfast can be prepared.
Cereal can be another quick, energizing breakfast. However, it’s easy to make poor choices in the cereal aisle. Sugary, low fiber cereals are extremely popular, but they are the nutritional equivalent of a king size candy bar in terms of sugar and fat content (and have little likelihood of being energizing). Fortunately, whole grain, fortified, high-fiber cereals are becoming tastier and more available all the time.
Whatever foods the athlete chooses, the most important guidelines are to eat breakfast within an hour of waking up, include a little protein such as lean meats, eggs, nuts, or low-fat dairy, and include some healthful carbohydrates.
Athletes who work out first thing in the morning face the added challenge of not wanting to exercise on a full stomach, but it’s still important for them to eat breakfast. They should aim for a minimum of 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate. For ease of digestion, plain, non-acidic foods like bagels, oatmeal, and graham crackers often work well. As a last alternative “drink your breakfast,” using fruit juice or a sports drink to get the recommended 30 to 60 grams of carbs.
Simple strategies for athletes:
- Pre-pour bowls of whole grain cereal into a sealed container in the evenings and leave on the kitchen table for the next morning.
- Stock your backpack, car, or coat pocket with trail mix, energy bars, and/or dry cereal for breakfast on the run.
- Make breakfasts on the weekends to eat during the week. For example, boil eggs or make muffin pan omelettes!