By Julie Nicoletti
It is often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This seems to be especially true for student-athletes, who need to fuel their brains as well as their bodies for academic and athletic success.
Finding an appetizing, healthy choice that works may require some experimentation, though.
Some players wake up starving and can’t wait to eat breakfast, while others can’t even stand the thought of food in the morning. Some make the time to eat at home while others sleep until the very last possible moment and therefore need something portable for their commute to school. Some players are eating at dining halls, dorms or diners. Some players are trying to gain weight in the form of lean functional muscle while others are working to stay fast and lean.
The circumstances may vary, but the premise remains the same: Brains and bodies need fuel to perform.
Eating a healthy breakfast contributes to increased metabolism and energy levels throughout the day, improved mood, attention span and concentration, and decreased irritability and mid-morning fatigue. The same is not true for a Pop-Tart-and-juice breakfast, or even for a breakfast of pancakes or a bagel and cream cheese. These examples are missing an important part of any healthy breakfast: protein. Protein at breakfast may come from traditional sources such as eggs or egg whites in an omelet or frittata, or Greek yogurt in a parfait or smoothie, or may come from sources such as turkey, chicken or lean steak in a breakfast burrito.
Strategies for breakfast
The three most common reasons for skipping breakfast, along with an idea or two to help you adjust, are below.
1. “I have no appetite in the morning.”
Wake up a few minutes earlier to give your body time to feel hungry. Consider starting in small portions — a few bites and a few sips the first day — then increasing daily. Another option is to split breakfast and eat half at home or in the dining hall and the other half on the road or in class, if allowed.
2. “I’d rather sleep.”
Free up time for breakfast by doing some morning chores the night before. Plan, prepare and lay out whatever you can ahead of time. Take it to go in the form of a smoothie, egg-white wrap or breakfast burrito.
3. “I don’t like breakfast foods.”
Eat healthy foods that appeal to you. You’ve heard of breakfast for dinner. You also could have dinner for breakfast.
Suggestions for breakfast
* Eggs/egg whites: Scrambled, fried or hard boiled, in an omelet or frittata, it doesn’t matter. Make into a wrap as a portable choice. Add different spices such as chili powder to change the flavor, add vegetables to enhance the flavor and add nutrition, or top your eggs with various toppings such as salsa, hot sauce or pesto in order to keep them interesting. Pair with fruit and enjoy.
* Banana split: Peel and slice a banana lengthwise. Place on tin foil in a 400-degree oven until warm and caramelized. Remove from oven and top with almond butter or natural peanut butter. While banana is roasting, make oatmeal using oats, almond milk, protein powder and cinnamon. Place the oatmeal on top of the banana and nut butter. To top, slice additional bananas or add berries to your “sundae.”
* Protein pancakes: Make a batter by mixing 12 egg whites, 16 ounces of cottage cheese and 1 cup of oats in a blender. May add fruit as toppings or cook the fruit right into the pancakes. Use a small amount of real maple syrup or try natural applesauce, Greek yogurt or nut butter as toppings instead of syrup.
Whatever you decide, whatever your circumstances or food preferences, however creative you may be, decide to eat a healthy breakfast. It’s the best way to fuel your day and your performance.
This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
Julie Nicoletti is a certified sports nutritionist, registered pharmacist and the co-founder of Kinetic Fuel, a performance-based nutrition company in Massachusetts. At Kinetic Fuel, Nicoletti and Jules Hindman have worked with hundreds of high school, collegiate and professional athletes and teams to optimize performance through nutrition. Learn more at kineticfuel.net.