Breakfast Of Champions
By Nancy Clark, MS, RD - author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook
Without question, breakfast is the meal that
makes champions. Unfortunately, many active people follow a lifestyle that
eliminates breakfast or includes foods that are far from champion-builders.
I commonly counsel athletes who skip
breakfast, grab only a light lunch, train on fumes, gorge at dinner and snack
on "junk" until bedtime. They not only rob their bodies of the nutrients needed
for health, but also lack energy for high-quality workouts.
Breakfast: The Most
Important Meal of an Athlete's Day
satisfying breakfast tends to invest in better health than does a
grab-anything-in-sight dinner. Sarah, a collegiate athlete, learned that
fueling her body's engine at the start of her day helps her feel more energetic
and also able to choose better quality lunch and dinner foods.
That is, when she has granola, banana and
juice in the morning, as well as a sandwich and yogurt for lunch, she stops
devouring brownies after dinner.
Excuses to skip breakfast are abundant: "No
time," "I'm not hungry in the morning" and "I don't like breakfast foods."
Weight-conscious athletes pipe up, "My diet starts at breakfast."
These excuses are just that, excuses; they
sabotage your sports performance.
Here's a look at the benefits of eating
breakfast. I hope to convince you that breakfast is the most important meal of
your sports diet.
Breakfast for dieters
If you want to lose weight, you should start
your diet at dinner, not at breakfast! For example, do not eat a meager bowl of
Special K for your "diet breakfast." You'll get too hungry later in the day and
A bigger breakfast (cereal + toast + peanut
butter) can prevent afternoon or evening cookie-binges. An adequate (500 - 700
calorie) breakfast provides enough energy for you to enjoy your exercise, as
opposed to dragging yourself through an afternoon workout that feels like
If you are trying to lose weight, you should
target at least 500 to 700 calories for breakfast; this should leave you
feeling adequately fed.
To prove the benefits of eating such a big
breakfast, try this experiment:
1. Using food labels to calculate
calories, boost your standard breakfast to at least 500 calories. For example,
add to your english muffin (150 calories): 1 tablespoon peanut butter (100
cal.), 8 oz. orange juice (100 cal.) and a yogurt (150 cal). Total: 500
2. Observe what happens to your day's
food intake when you eat a full breakfast vs. a skimpy "diet breakfast." The
500+ calorie breakfast allows you to successfully eat less at night and create
the calorie deficit needed to lose weight.
Remember: Your job as a dieter is to fuel by
day and lose weight by night. Successful dieters lose weight while they are
sleeping; they wake up ready for another nice breakfast that fuels them for
another high-energy day.
Breakfast for the morning
If you exercise first thing in the morning,
you may not want a big pre-exercise breakfast; too much food can feel heavy and
uncomfortable. However, you can likely tolerate half a breakfast, such as half
a bagel, a slice of toast, or a banana before your workout.
Just 100 to 300 calories can put a little
carbohydrate into your system, boost your blood sugar so that you are running
on fuel, not fumes, and enhance your performance.
You'll likely discover this small
pre-exercise meal adds endurance and enthusiasm to your workout. In a research
study, athletes who ate breakfast were able to exercise for 137 minutes as
compared to only 109 minutes when they skipped this pre-exercise fuel.
After his morning workout, Jim, a banker,
felt rushed and was more concerned about getting to work on time than eating
breakfast. Using the excuse "No time," he overlooked the importance of
refueling his muscles.
I reminded him: Muscles are most receptive
to replacing depleted glycogen stores within the first two hours after the
workout, regardless of whether or not the athlete feels hungry. I encouraged
Jim to be responsible! Just as he chose to make time for exercise, he could
also choose to make time for breakfast.
One simple post-exercise breakfast is
fluids. Liquid breakfasts take minimal time to prepare and very little time to
drink, yet they can supply the calories, water, carbohydrates, protein,
vitamins and minerals you need all in a travel mug. (You can always get
coffee at the office.)
Because Jim felt thirsty after his morning
workout, he found he could easily drink 16 ounces of juice or lowfat milk.
Sometimes, he'd make a refreshing fruit smoothie with milk, banana and berries.
Later on mid-morning, when his appetite
returned, Jim enjoyed the rest of his breakfast: (instant) oatmeal, multi-grain
bagel with peanut butter, yogurt with granola, a banana or any other
carbohydrate-rich foods that conveniently fit into his schedule.
This nutritious "second breakfast" refueled
his muscles, abated hunger and curbed his lunchtime cookie cravings.
Breakfast for the noon-time, afternoon
and evening exerciser
A hearty breakfast is important for people
who exercise later in the day. It not only tames hunger but also provides the
fuel needed for hard workouts.
Research has shown that athletes who ate
breakfast, then four hours later enjoyed an energy bar five minutes before a
noontime workout were able to exercise 20% harder at the end of the hourlong
exercise test compared to when they ate no breakfast and no pre-exercise snack.
(They worked 10% harder with only the snack.)
Breakfast works! Breakfast + a pre-exercise
snack works even better!
What's for breakfast?
From my perspective as a sports
nutritionist, one of the simplest breakfasts of champions is a wholesome cereal
with lowfat milk, banana and orange juice. This provides not only carbohydrates
to fuel the muscles, but also protein (from the milk) to build strong muscles,
and numerous other vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium, vitamin C,
iron (if you choose enriched breakfast cereals) and fiber (if you choose bran
Equally important is the fact that cereal is
quick and easy, requires no cooking, no preparation, no refrigeration. You can
keep cereal at the office, bring milk to work and eat breakfast at the office.
Breakfast is a good investment in a productive morning.
The bottom line
Breakfast works wonders for improving the
quality of your diet. That is, eating breakfast results in less "junk food"
later in the day. Breakfast also enhances weight control, sports performance,
daily energy levels and future health.
Breakfast is indeed the meal of champions.
Make it a habit no excuses!
Sample grab-and-go sports
- Bran muffin plus a vanilla
- Two slices of last night's
left-over thick-crust pizza
- Peanut butter-banana-honey
- Pita with 1 to 2 slices of lowfat
cheese plus a large apple
- Baggie of lowfat granola with a
handful of raisins (preceded by 8 oz. lowfat milk before you dash out the
- Cinnamon raisin bagel (one large
or two small) plus a can of vegetable juice
Copyright: Nancy Clark 2002
Nancy Clark, MS, RD, nutritionist at SportsMedicine Associates
(617-739-2003) in Brookline MA.