by: Alexandra Black – MPH, RD, LD/N
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Everyone’s heard it at least once, if not 100 times. It is the mantra of parents, teachers, and Frost Mini
Wheats ads alike. But it’s true, and research continues to show that eating breakfast is beneficial to your health both in the short and long-term. Here are a few of the reasons breakfast is so important:
Every body needs a certain amount of fuel to perform the most basic functions, such as breathing, circulating blood and oxygen through the body, adjusting hormone levels, and growing or repairing tissues. The more you ask of your body (as in, the more training you do), the more fuel it needs. During sleep, your body performs all of these functions as it repairs and rejuvenates your body. And depending on when you last ate and when you wake up, you can go anywhere from 8-15 hours without eating. If you skip breakfast and wait until lunch to eat, you could go over 16 hours without food! This can lead to lower energy stores, which is especially important if you work out in the morning.
Research dating all the way back to the 1950’s shows that eating breakfast is associated with better concentration, memory, and school achievement in kids
and adolescents compared to skipping breakfast. The brain is fueled primarily by glucose, the simple sugar also used as the body’s most readily available source of energy and found in most complex carbohydrates. Without an adequate supply of glucose, the brain does not function optimally, and skills like memory, alertness, and understanding of new information are negatively affected. So not only can skipping breakfast make it harder to focus on school, it could impact your ability to learn and remember plays or develop complex movements.
Eating breakfast habitually has been shown to reduce risk of overweight and chronic disease in children, adolescents, and adults. One study showed that people who skipped breakfast were 20% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and people who ate breakfast had lower rates of heart failure later in life. In addition, people who eat a nutritious breakfast are more likely to make healthier food choices throughout the day.
As an athlete you need breakfast to help you maintain a balanced energy intake and fuel your brain and body for a day of training and school. Breakfast is especially important if you have morning workouts, as exercising after over 8 hours of fasting will result in lower energy levels, decreased performance, and poorer concentration. Basically, you won’t be able to go as hard, move as quickly, or focus as well as you would if you had some fuel in your body.
HOW CAN YOU FIT IN BREAKFAST?
Eating before a morning workout can be the most challenging, but if you had a recovery snack and good dinner the night before, your glycogen levels (the body’s stored form carbohydrates) will be topped off, so even a small amount of food will make a difference. A lot of times people wake up as late as possible and are short on time, so the key is finding something that provides enough energy, is portable, and that you tolerate well. Your daily breakfast should contain carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and fat, but an early morning, pre-workout breakfast should be lower in fiber and fat because these two can cause stomach discomfort if eaten right before exercise.
Some good options include:
– A banana and a few almonds
– Apple and a few slices of deli meat
– Trail mix with dried fruit and nuts
– Fruit smoothie with protein powder
– A granola or energy bar
If you don’t workout in the morning, a few good breakfast ideas are:
– Whole wheat toast with banana and peanut butter (or almond or sunflower seed butter if you have an allergy)
– Oatmeal with berries and nuts
– Scrambled eggs, fruit, and whole wheat toast or English muffin
“IF YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING BEFORE BREAKFAST, JUST MAKE SURE YOU EAT BREAKFAST FIRST”
Don’t love any of those suggestions? That’s OK, you can eat anything for breakfast! Don’t feel limited to “breakfast foods”; if you want last night’s leftovers or a turkey sandwich at 7 am, go for it! The important thing is to put energy into your body so you can focus and perform well in school and at practice.
Alexandra Black is a registered dietitian specializing in public health and sports nutrition in Boston, MA. She completed her undergraduate degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition while competing on the University of Florida track and field team, and her Masters in Public Health from Boston University. She currently works on health promotion and wellness initiatives at the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) and is the owner and founder of Wicked Good Nutrition, where she provides counseling and nutrition planning to competitive and recreational athletes. Follow her blog on www.wickedgoodnutrition.com/blog, and/or twitter www.twitter.com/AlexB_RD.