Breakfast for Athletes: What to Eat and What to Avoid

breakfast for athletes

You’ve heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That’s definitely the case for athletes, especially if you’re training for a triathlon.

That being said, not all breakfasts are created equal.

Read on to learn more about the best breakfast for athletes.

Why Should Athletes Eat Breakfast?

Breakfast is essential for athletes.

Skipping your morning meal will, more often than not, come with the following consequences:

You’ll Feel Sluggish

If you don’t fuel your body in the morning, especially before a workout or race, you’re cutting off its energy supply. This means you’ll most likely end up feeling drained and sluggish throughout the day.

Focus and mental clarity also diminish after skipping breakfast. One study found that teens and college students who didn’t eat experienced lower grades, were more forgetful, and had decreased energy levels.

If you’re both an athlete and a student, it’s especially important for you to be prioritizing breakfast.

You May End Up Binge Eating Later

Have you ever found yourself absolutely starving after an intense training session? Did you end up eating way too much when you finally got home?

This is a pretty common experience for athletes. But it’s definitely not ideal.

The practice of skipping meals, particularly breakfast, tends to cause people (especially athletes who burn so many calories during their workouts) to overeat later in the day.

Your Performance Will Suffer

Research also shows that skipping breakfast can directly hinder athletic performance.

One study compared two groups, one that had skipped breakfast and one that had consumed a 700-calorie meal prior to a workout.

The fasted group experienced increased heart rates and fat oxidation during the workout. This made it more difficult for them while burning only a few more calories compared to the group that had been fed.

The fasted group also performed worse 4.5 percent worse than the fed group.

The Best Breakfast for Athletes

Okay, you get that breakfast is important. But what should you make for yourself?

There’s not one single breakfast that is best for athletes. However, a good breakfast will typically feature the following macronutrient breakdown: Approximately half your calories should come from carbohydrates, with 25 percent coming from protein and 25 percent from fat.

You should also drink 1-2 glasses of water in the morning to make sure you’re sufficiently hydrated.

One cup of coffee or green or black tea can also provide some extra energy, along with immunity-boosting antioxidants.

Simple Breakfast Suggestions

Here are some simple breakfast suggestions that can be thrown together in no time.

  • Whole grain bagel with some nuts or seeds, served with a piece of string cheese
  • Sliced apple and peanut butter served with whole grain toast
  • Sliced banana and nuts mixed with a cup of plain yogurt
  • Whole grain cereal and milk with raisins and nuts sprinkled on top
  • Two hard-boiled eggs served with string cheese, a whole grain bagel or toast, and fruit
  • Breakfast sandwich made with eggs and toast, served with fruit on the side

If you’re looking to gain muscle mass, you may want to opt for a higher calorie breakfast. A good option would be oatmeal and two whole eggs, served with fruit and almonds.

Foods and Drinks to Avoid

Of course, there are some foods that do not make an ideal for breakfast for athletes, including the following:

High-fat Foods

Fat is digested more slowly than carbohydrates, which is why experts recommend making your breakfast especially carb-heavy.

Eating a high-fat breakfast may cause cramping or bloat during your workout.

If you eat high-fat, highly processed foods like potato chips or doughnuts before your workout, you may also find that you don’t have enough energy to fuel your whole workout or race.

Carbonated Drinks

Soda and energy drinks can give you a short-term boost. But they may also wreak havoc on your digestive system, especially if you drink ones that are full of sugar.

High-fiber Foods

There are lots of benefits that come with consuming a sufficient amount of fiber. But eating a lot of fiber before a workout is not a good idea.

Fiber digests slower than other carbohydrates. This means that, like fat, it may cause cramping or bloating during a workout or race.

It’s also not ideal to eat a lot of fiber (or fat) after a workout. This is because your muscles need to be replenished with fast-digesting carbs and protein.

How Much to Eat

In addition to what you eat, the amount you eat and when you eat also matters when it comes to breakfast for athletes.

The amount of food you should eat for breakfast will vary depending on what you’ve got planned for the rest of day and how much time you have before your workout.

If you have an early morning training session or race, you may not want to eat a huge breakfast. But you should still make sure you get plenty of fast-digesting carbohydrates to give you the energy you need. Fruit, toast, oatmeal, or rice cakes are great options.

If you won’t be training until later in the day and have to go to work or school first, your breakfast should be more calorie-dense and filling.

It can be a little higher in fat and fiber, too. Your body will have more time to digest these nutrients prior to your workout, so you probably won’t have to worry about any stomach upset.

What About Carbs?

The specific amount of carbohydrates you consume at breakfast is especially important, as your body will rely on carbohydrates first for fuel.

Tracking your carbs is especially important for endurance athletes like runners.

Follow these guidelines to make sure you have plenty of energy:

  • Four hours before your race, eat 4 grams of carbs for every kilogram of bodyweight
  • Two to 3 hours before your race, eat 2 to 3 grams of carbs for every kilogram of bodyweight
  • One hour before your race, eat 1 gram of carbs for every kilogram of bodyweight

Remember, these are guidelines, not a prescription. Everyone’s body and energy levels are a little different, and you may find that you need a little more or less for optimal performance.

Want to Learn More?

Now you’re filled in on how to make the best breakfast for athletes. Want to learn more about fueling your body properly?

If so, check out some of our other health-related blog posts.

Want us to cover something specific about workout nutrition? You can always contact us to let us know what else you’d like to learn!