How To Make A Healthy Breakfast For Athletes

Greenletes / Running / Runner Nutrition / How To Make A Healthy Breakfast For Athletes

Last updated on June 9th, 2021 at 07:51 am

These 10 tips for a healthy athlete breakfast will help you jumpstart your energy levels and start out your day on a healthy note. Don’t miss out on the simple and fueling recipe options.

You’ve all heard the saying, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Choosing to start your day with a healthy meal is important, but the foods you put on your plate are just as significant.

Mornings are hectic, and you may grab something quick like a bowl of cereal, a pastry or a protein shake. But are these the right foods to start out your day on an energizing note? Probably not.

Why is breakfast important for athletes?

Eating breakfast plays an important role in mental and physical health. And every athlete knows that you can’t go the distance without a strong body and mind.

During sleep, metabolism slows down to help the body recover from exercise. Eating breakfast jumpstarts your metabolism to fuel the body and brain. This is especially important for early morning workouts.

Not to mention that your stomach is empty in the morning, and eating breakfast fills the tank with proper fuel to endure long practices, workouts, and games.

These 10 tips for a healthy athlete breakfast will help you jumpstart your energy levels and perform at your best. And more than 10 fueling recipe options. #healthybreakfast #breakfast #runnernutrition

The brain also needs food to function properly since it uses 20% of your food supply to help you think clearly.  Fuel the brain like any other muscle, so that it can do its job on the field.

The good news is that you can absolutely make a quick healthy breakfast and still make it on time for your workout. These tips will help you start your day on a healthy note and make the most out of your workout.

1. Eat protein

The typical American diet tends to be lower in protein in the morning and heavy at night. Spread protein intake throughout the day to maximize absorption into the muscles. If you eat oatmeal, add some milk or yogurt for protein. If you love toast, top it with an egg.

2. Choose whole grains

Carbs give you energy. While it’s really tempting to eat refined grains, like cereal or pastries, at breakfast, those options don’t do a body good. Sugary refined (or processed) grains are digested quickly and don’t help keep you full.

Whole grains, on the other hand, contribute fiber and protein to your breakfast—two nutrients that help control appetite. Popular breakfast whole grains are oats and whole wheat bread, or change things up by adding quinoa to oatmeal or making a savory breakfast bowl with brown rice.

3. Incorporate healthy fats

The “good” or healthy unsaturated fats are an important part of an athlete’s breakfast for a few reasons. [Read about unsaturated fat here.] First, healthy fats curb hunger, which is important for athletes who are eating more than the normal range of calories, because it prevents overeating.

Second, healthy fats help with cognition, and keeping your mental game strong is a vital part of any sport. Add some nuts or nut butter to toast, olive oil to an omelet or avocado to a smoothie to get plenty of healthy fat at breakfast. 

4. Time your breakfast around your workout

What you eat depends on when you eat. If you have time for breakfast before a workout, make sure you eat fueling foods that won’t irritate your stomach. Or if you eat breakfast after a workout, incorporate recovery foods into your meal. Check out The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner to learn more about what to eat before, during and after a workout.

5. Eat fruits and veggies at breakfast

Breakfast foods are usually high in grains and sugar and low in fruits and vegetables. Pile some fruits and veggies onto your plate, bowl or cup in the morning to ensure you get your 5 servings per day. For example, make a smoothie or add veggies to eggs. Here are some of my favorite breakfast recipes with fruit and veggies:

6. Read the ingredients on cereal boxes

Many cereals contain an exorbitant amount of sugar. Buy a cereal that has “whole grains” listed as the first ingredient with less than 6 grams of sugar. Some good options are Cheerios, Chex and Barbara’s Puffins.

7. Stay away from saturated fat

Did you know that you shouldn’t have more than 20 grams of saturated fat per day? This “bad” kind of fat is known to clog arteries and contribute to heart disease and other conditions, and it’s high in breakfast meats, like bacon and sausage.

But what many people don’t realize is that many baked goods have a ton of saturated fat as well. Instead of starting your day on a “bad” fat note with donuts, fried foods or fatty meats, opt for healthier fats.

8. Drink water with breakfast

It’s normal to be thirsty when you first wake up, especially since you haven’t had any water in hours. Start the day with a big old glass of water, especially if you’re working out. It will help keep you hydrated throughout the day and jumpstart energy levels.

9. Drink coffee, if you’re used to it

If you’re a regular coffee drinker, there’s no need to stay away from the drink. [Read all about the benefits of coffee here.]

Research has actually found that caffeine can help with athletic performance. Plus, coffee helps keep you regular. That said, if you don’t drink coffee, there’s no need to add it to your diet, and definitely don’t try anything new before a big game or race.

10. Meal prep, if you’re short on time.

I’ll say it again…breakfast is important. Please don’t skip it. If you don’t have time for breakfast, prep something ahead of time, like any of these options:

Also, check out this list of 15 pre-workout snacks that can hold you over until breakfast.


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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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