Sporting Breakfasts. What should you eat first thing ?
The saying that ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ is often included in lists of eating myths, but having studied every well conducted study I can find and talked to many successful sports people, I continue to believe that particularly for children, adolescents and athletes, a good breakfast is very important. The NHS agrees (See 2014 NHS reply to Daily Mail article).
I believe the research definitively shows that eating first thing:-
- ensures a more even blood sugar distribution throughout the day resulting in better energy levels,
- decreases the chances of inappropriate snacking later in the day and lowers consumption of high fat high, high sugar junk foods
- leads to improved mental skills, mood and ability to work in a team
- increases training adaptation
- is linked to better sleep.
AND the importance of breakfast is further increased the greater the time since the last meal i.e. if you have eaten early evening rather than later on. This maybe particularly relevant in children who tend to eat earlier or if you have been playing sport.
What to eat for breakfast ?
Breakfast plays several nutritional roles and the perfect breakfast should include a variety of things.
- High-quality carbohydrates (whole grains, cereals, porridge, fruit, fruit yoghurt, flavoured milk) – to provide easily absorbed muscle and brain energy. Wholegrain complex carbohydrates are better than refined processed carbohydrates as they provide slower release energy and will not cause spikes in blood sugar.
- Protein (eggs, meat, fish, milk, yoghurt, nuts, nut butters, seeds, beans) – both make you feel full and help to build, and maintain muscle tissue (training adaptation)
- Fibre (whole grains, fruits, vegetables) soluble and insoluble fibre has huge benefits in the diet, making you feel full for longer and slowing and improving digestion. Fibre has been shown to improve both blood sugar and blood lipid levels and evens out the release of energy during the day.
- Fluids (water, milk, juice, smoothies, coffee, tea) rehydrating for the day.
Many athletes choose high carbohydrates meals like bagels, cereal, porridge, toast, pancakes, fruits and fruit juice for breakfast, as they are convenient and easy to buy, prepare and carry.
Many sports nutritionists recommend cereal with fruit and yoghurt or milk. In many ways this is a great choice including both carbohydrates and protein but care needs to be taken when choosing cereals as not all cereals are equal and the fibre / sugar content is very important. A rough rule of thumb is to aim for cereals with >4g protein, >5g of Fibre and <10g of Sugar per serving. If you look at a number of different brands you will find that the fibre level is what varies most and it is definitely worth choosing higher fibre brands.
Including protein in the diet is critical for maintaining lean body mass, and research has shown protein eaten at breakfast may increase total energy expenditure during the day. Good non cereal based breakfasts containing the recommended protein could be:-
- Two slices of whole wheat toast with two tablespoons of peanut butter, one banana,a low fat yoghurt, and a cup of hot chocolate.
- Greek yogurt with three tablespoons of sliced almonds, handful low-fat granola, and handful of fresh berries or other fruit.
- A two-egg omelet with tablespoon of low-fat cheese and chopped ham with whole grain tortilla (toast or bagel) and a glass of 100% fruit juice.
- A smoothie made of of Greek yogurt, frozen cherries and apple juice, along with a mini whole wheat bagel and peanut butter.
- Boiled eggs and soldiers, with fruit juice.
The list of foods to avoid ?
Needless to say a bag of crisps and a can of coke is not good and in general, nor are any high fat fried foods or those with a lot of processed added sugar. Care should be taken when eating heavily sweetened cereals or granolas and check juice drinks as well.
Any food can be a breakfast food, there is no need to stick to the conventional stuff. However, what you eat should contain high quality unrefined carbohydrate, at least 20g of protein and fibre. I am a big fan of eggs (see my post Eggs for Performance).
The rule in my house is that breakfast should really be eaten before 8am if you have sports fixtures later in the day.