I love breakfast. There's something special about that first real meal of the day that helps to wake up my body and brain. I love starting my day with a happy and filled tummy. Plus, there's no denying that I love breakfast foods. Did someone say pancakes or French toast? Yum.
Although research doesn't clearly demonstrate that eating breakfast has a positive effect on weight maintenance or loss, there are still valid reasons why nutrition experts continue to highlight breakfast as the most important meal of the day.
Eating is all about personal preference but the timing of your meals may reflect your daily habits. Individuals who tend to skip breakfast are those who typically overeat in the evening or graze throughout the afternoon/evening. Additionally, if you didn't grow up eating breakfast, there's a good chance that as an adult you will not consider breakfast as an important or necessary meal.
While the debate continues on whether or not breakfast is the most important meal of the day, athletes should appreciate the many benefits of eating an early morning meal as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Your body works best when you give it early morning fuel.
Low energy, sugary cravings, moodiness, cognitive impairment, sleepiness and overeating, alongside lightheadedness, dizziness and poor concentration may occur when the body runs off little fuel throughout the morning hours. For overall productivity with your body, it's important to feed your body and brain throughout the day and this starts with a well-balanced, breakfast meal.
As a sport dietitian, I hear similar reasons for not eating breakfast, such as:
I don't feel hungry.
I don't have time to cook.
I don't have time to eat.
I don't like breakfast foods.
I am trying to lose weight.
When I eat breakfast, I feel hungry all morning.
I feel lighter when I don't eat first thing in the morning.
Although athletes may think that these are valid reasons to skip breakfast, I believe that these are excuses. A change in lifestyle requires effort and many athletes are hesitant to change their routine because it requires work. Most athletes would rather spend their time exercising than preparing (and sometimes eating) meals, but when you are very active and expect your body to perform in workouts, skipping breakfast may lead to overeating, digestive issues, trouble sleeping and feeling lethargic throughout the day.
Even if research doesn't show an association with eating breakfast and weight loss, skipping breakfast to save calories is a very unsuccessful approach to weight loss as you may notice overeating/indulging, sugar/carb cravings and low energy levels throughout the day. If anything, a substantial breakfast satisfies and controls appetite, helping you be more productive with your daily activities.
Breakfast options can be quick and consumed on the go and, for the athletes who have yet to appreciate breakfast foods, non-traditional breakfast meals can certainly replace typical morning food staples.
To create a balanced breakfast, aim for the following range of macronutrients:
Food choices should be fresh, wholesome and naturally produced as you prioritize food with natural ingredients. Combine your breakfast meal with a glass of water to help with digestion.
If you lack creative breakfast ideas, here are a few suggestions:
- Pita or wrap stuffed with scrambled eggs, veggies, leafy greens, salsa, guacamole and cheese. Serve with orange slices.
- French toast with yogurt, seeds and fruit.
- Hard shell tacos with beef, tofu or eggs, lettuce, tomato, onion, mushroom, guacamole, salsa, cheese and a dollop of sour cream. Served with fruit on the side.
- Oatmeal with nuts/seeds and berries and a glass of milk or yogurt.
- Banana or apple with spoonful of nut butter on a slice of toast. Served with yogurt or cottage cheese.
- Waffles with nut butter or butter, topped with yogurt and fruit and syrup.
- Rice or potato with lean meat and veggies.
- French bread, pita or wrap with marinara sauce + cheese and your choice of protein on top.
- Cottage cheese or yogurt with fruit, goji berries, cacao nibs, nuts and granola.
- Grilled tempeh + wrap/pita or bread + slice of cheese, lettuce. Fruit on the side.
- Yogurt topped with granola, honey, nuts, seeds and fruit.
- Lettuce wraps filled with lean protein, veggies, cheese and avocado. Served with a side of rice/whole grains.
- Smoothie made with protein powder, fruit, milk and spinach/kale. Served with bread or waffle and a spoonful of nut butter on top.
- Homemade muffin with butter on top and hardboiled eggs on the side.
- Bagel with egg, cheese, lettuce and veggies.
- Pita bread with hummus, veggies, lettuce and egg or lean meat. Served with fruit.
If you find yourself constantly saying "I know what I should do, but I just don't do it," consider that the food you eat is for fuel but it also benefits your overall health and reduces risk for disease and illness.
Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, LD/N is the owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition LLC and holds a Master of Science in exercise physiology, is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach and a 11-time IRONMAN finisher. She enjoys public speaking, writing, plant-strong cooking and traveling. Learn more at trimarnicoach.com.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.