The Ultimate Healthy Breakfast for Athletes

The Ultimate Healthy Breakfast for Athletes

As a competitor, chances are that you are fully aware of the importance of starting the morning off with a solid breakfast. However, many have no idea what a healthy breakfast for athletes truly means. It is commonly our culture to slam down a glass of juice and run out the door with toast or a danish in our hand.

I understand juices and breads are convenient choices, and often the only option in hotels. I appreciate any effort made to eat something in the A.M., but I have to be honest and say that slamming sugar filled, processed foods in the morning will likely do more harm than good. So, I’m going to explain the importance of a breakfast that helps keep your blood sugar steady and provide perfect examples of how you can incorporate it into your daily routine.

What’s So Bad About Cereals, Bagels, Juice, and Danishes?

Unfortunately, many traditional breakfast foods such as cereals or danishes are some of the most processed, sugar-laden foods on the market. When we consume foods consisting only of refined ingredients- AKA ingredients lacking fiber, protein, and quality fat, our body will experience a surge in blood sugar.  This later follows with our blood sugar crashing down shortly after that.

When blood sugar suddenly drops we become tired, moody, and often ravenous. Our body “panics” when the crash occurs, and it sends our brain a signal that says “QUICK! I NEED SOMETHING SWEET TO STAY AWAKE AND ALIVE.” Then, we find ourselves reaching for a sugary granola bar, cookie, or a glass of soda, etc. And the cycle continues. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself! Have a glass of juice and a plain bagel or danish one morning. Make a note of how you feel and what you crave or don’t crave 30, 60, and 90 minutes, as well as 2-3 hours after consumption. How would you grade your cognition? How are your concentration, focus, and energy levels? How soon does your stomach start grumbling with hunger pangs?

The day after having breakfast with juice and a bagel or danish, enjoy this convenient but balanced breakfast: (to be varied by athlete size and sport) 1-3 hard boiled or scrambled eggs, 1/4-1 full avocado sliced on top or on the side, and a handful of berries. Again, take notes on craving, cognition, concentration, focus, energy, and stomach grumbling at the same time intervals. Do you feel satisfied? Is your energy the same or different? What about your mood? I think you will be pleasantly surprised. Just remember, whatever you put in your mouth first thing in the morning is likely what you will desire the rest of the day.

Make it count!

What Does an Amazingly Healthy Breakfast for Athletes Consist of?

To enjoy a perfectly balanced breakfast, your meal should contain a portion of the following four components.

1) Fiber

We all know that fiber keeps us regular, feeling full longer, and is a crucial nutrient great for heart health. But what does that really mean? Think of fiber as a sticky sponge that removes “gunk” from inside the body. Every day we are exposed to so many toxins in this world such as poor quality air and water, processed, chemical-laden food, VOC’s in paint, exhaust from cars, etc. A build-up of these exposures over time often leads to chronic illness and sluggishness in human beings.

Since fiber is not digested and absorbed by our bodies, it rolls down the intestinal shoot like an intact ball of sticky glue, grabbing all the “gunk” it can and taking it along for a ride out our back door. Not only does this keep us full for longer but it prevents toxic waste from building up inside our bodies! This is critical for an athlete as toxic build-up can lead to inflammation.   Inflammation then leads to slower recovery and poor performance. The best examples of foods which are excellent sources of fiber include chia seeds, flax seeds, fruit, veggies, and legumes. Whole grains typically contain a moderate amount of fiber also. Don’t forget to eat your potato skin as well!

2) Protein

Protein serves as the primary building block in our body. It is used to construct skin, bone, blood muscle, and cartilage,  Our body also uses protein to make enzymes, hormones, and to build or repair tissue. In terms of athletic performance, quality protein is critical for the maintenance of lean muscle mass. The best examples include farm fresh eggs, chicken, turkey, organic tofu or tempeh, plant-based protein powder, and legumes.

High-quality whey protein powder can also be a great source of protein. However, it is essential for the athlete to be in tune with their body as dairy intolerance is more common than once thought.  Adding whey protein if you have even the slightest bit of dairy intolerance may be counter productive.  While its quite easy to go overboard with dairy consumption, high-quality whey such as Garden of Life SPORT Certified Grass Fed Whey could be beneficial in moderation.  Nuts and seeds can also count in this category.

3) Plant Based Fat

Contrary to popular belief, good quality fat is critical for human health. Fat helps to protect our organs, produces hormones, and helps our body absorb certain vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins A, D, E and K. After moderate intensity exercise for approximately 30 minutes, our body switches from primarily burning carbohydrates for energy to calories mostly from fat. Hence why it is critical for an athlete to ensure adequate intake from all macronutrient groups! The best examples include avocados/avocado oil, olives/olive oil, coconut oil/coconut butter, nuts/nut butters, seeds/seed butters, and ghee.

4) Carbohydrate

Carbohydrates have the potential to be an athlete’s best friend as well as his or her worst enemy. The key is to choose carbohydrates that came from a plant (fruit, potatoes, brown rice)  and avoid the ones manufactured in a plant (bread, crackers, packaged desserts)!

Carbohydrate is our body’s primary source of fuel. After we eat carbohydrate-rich foods, our body takes this byproduct to our bloodstream where our brain and muscles then collect these molecules of energy (glucose) out of the bloodstream. Carbohydrates provide our body with quick energy, promotes optimal digestion and is very heart friendly. The best sources include fruit, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, all starchy vegetables such as sweet and purple potatoes, and legumes.

Best Breakfasts Options on a Time Crunch

Ah yes, the million dollar question! What is the best breakfast to eat in the morning, especially when you are extremely limited on time? Below are the best examples of balanced breakfasts for the busy athlete.

Overnight Oats

Before bed, take a large bowl and throw in:
1 cup oats
1 cup unsweetened nut or seed milk
1 TBSP chia seeds
2 TBSP of your favorite nut butter
1 TBSP organic strawberry or raspberry preserves
20-25g (protein) scoop of your favorite protein powder (We recommend Garden of Life SPORT Certified Grass Fed Whey )

Mix together and let sit overnight in the fridge. Wake up, stir, and enjoy!

This makes two servings and can last three days in the fridge so feel free to double the recipe.  If you’re looking for more details on this recipe or are interested in a steel cut oats version, check out our post on Tasty Basic Overnight Oats.

Breakfast Burrito

Make your burrito using a simple recipe like Paleo Cassave Flour Tortillas or check out the brand Siete on Amazon or at your local specialty grocery store.
Scramble 2 eggs
Add 1-2 TBSP salsa
1/4 cup cooked black beans
A spoonful of guac
Wrap and roll in your burrito shell listed above and you are good to go!

Egg Muffin Cups

Set oven to 375 degrees

Grease muffin tin

Mix 6 large eggs and 1/4 cup almond milk in a medium bowl

Add 1/8 teaspoon – salt and 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper, continue to stir
Chop 1 medium – bell pepper, red and 3/4 cup – spinach into tiny pieces

Mix chopped veggies into bowl of egg, milk, salt and pepper

Pour mixture into greased muffin tin and baked for 20-25 minutes at 375 or until middle of egg cup springs back to touch.

Egg cups can be kept in the fridge and reheated for about 4 days. The egg cups can be eaten by themselves, with a side of salsa or smashed and rolled up into a tortilla such as the ones listed above.

Homemade Turkey Sausage + Sweet Potato + sautéed veggies in avocado oil

Turkey Sausage

1 pound lean ground turkey
2 1⁄2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon sweet paprika*
1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes*
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon avocado oil

Directions:

1. In a bowl, combine the ground turkey and all of the dry ingredients.
2. Using your hands or a large spoon or fork, mix ingredients thoroughly,
making sure the spices are well mixed into the ground turkey.
3. Form the meat into 8 equal-size patties.
4. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
5. Sauté the patties until brown on both sides, and until the internal
temperature reaches 165° F (about 8 to 10 minutes).
Recipe excerpt from the Institute for Functional Medicine ReNew Cookbook

Sweet potato

Poke a few holes in a raw sweet potato with a fork
Rub with a little coconut oil and wrap in foil
Leave overnight in a crockpot on low and it will be ready for you in the morning

Greens

Take 2 cups of your favorite greens, sauté in 1-2 TBSP of olive or avocado oil (Extra bonus for adding garlic) until slightly wilted and enjoy!

Ultimate Options for Those Who Say: I Refuse to Meal Prep!

Grab and Go
Epic All Natural Meat Bar + Apple dipped in 1-2 TBSP nut butter + glass of vanilla unsweetened flax milk
5 Minute Yogurt Bowl
In a bowl, dump: 1 cup unsweetened coconut or almond yogurt + 1 teaspoon of chia seeds + 1 TBSP nut butter + 1/4 cup fresh or frozen fruit. Stir and enjoy!
Whole Food Smoothie
20-25g (protein) scoop of your favorite protein powder
1 frozen banana
1.5 TBSP your favorite nut butter
1 handful of dry spinach
8 oz unsweetened nut or seed mil

Well, there you have it, the ultimate healthy breakfast for athletes. Consistency is key and I promise it will pay off.

While there are very high-quality protein bars now available and we all love the convenience, I encourage everyone to make some of these efficient whole-food breakfast options a staple in their routine.

Do you have any favorite grab and go breakfasts that meet the 4 criteria listed above? Please share your comments below!

About The Author

Kylene Bogden

Kylene Bogden is one of the most well respected Functional Sports Dietitians in the United States. As a high school and collegiate sprinter, she experienced recurrent injury and fatigue. After years of constant struggle, she eventually learned that an abundance of processed foods and poor fueling strategies were the root of her performance issues. Kylene's personal journey as an athlete fueled her passion for finding a more progressive approach to sports nutrition. Since then, she has helped thousands of individuals dramatically improve overall health and athletic performance by taking a whole food approach. To learn more about Kylene's story and how a functional nutrition approach can help you to achieve your goals, simply click on the contact us link in the upper right-hand corner today!

2 Comments

  1. Pamela

    So many great tips and ideas. Cassava tortillas are so versatile! They make a great GF alternative to chapati or roti in Indian cooking too. My boys will press and cook up a week’s worth for me [I make the dough & divide them]. Makes the GF life much easier.

    Reply
    • Kylene Bogden

      Hi Pamela! I love the idea of incorporating them into Indian dishes. Also- amazing that your boys are making it happen. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

      Reply

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