They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. For athletes and physically active professionals, breakfast is even more important than usual. Breakfast provides you the energy and nutrients needed to prepare your body for the day. A healthy breakfast before or after exercise tells your body to build muscle instead of fat, to burn calories instead of digesting slowly, and to keep you energized for the challenges ahead. If you eat a heavy breakfast, that can set you up to feel slow and sleepy for the rest of the day. So where do you draw the line?
It can be tough to sort the traditions of breakfast food with the needs of your body and active daily routine. Are eggs good or bad? Should you load up on carbs or keep it light? Honestly, part of the reason it seems hard to get a straight answer is because the right breakfast for each person is different. The correct balance of calories, carbs, proteins, fiber, and even fats will depend on your metabolism and the activities you plan to do that day.
So today, the Mueller Sports Medicine team is here to help you visualize the perfect breakfast menu to energize your active morning routine.
Nutrition Balance of an Breakfast Built for Energy
We could rattle off a few universal tips, but a true self-optimizer knows that your goals shape how you should eat. If you’re grabbing a few calories for your morning run, you will choose a completely different breakfast compared to fueling up for an efficient morning at a desk-job. In fact, you might snack, run, then eat a real breakfast before work.
When choosing your breakfast, assess what you’re fueling up for and the kind of energy you’re hoping to gain. Also keep in mind the downsides of certain foods and know what to avoid when it will cramp your style.
Short-Term vs Long-Term Energy
Different foods digest into calories at different rates. Carbs and sugar digest almost instantly into energy, this makes foods like fruit, toast, muffins, and granola bars ideal for quick, short-term energy. A very small serving of healthy carbs can fuel you for a morning run if you’re among the many who can’t do a morning workout on an empty stomach.
Long-term energy comes from complex carbs, proteins, and select fats. Most “traditional” breakfasts are built with long-term energy in mind. Eggs and wheat toast make a long-term energy breakfast. So does oatmeal, which is both a complex carb and secondary source of protein. However, these foods also take longer to digest and can result in cramps if you try to work out on a long-term energy meal.
Fueling for Workout vs Desk Energy
Are you eating just before a workout or to fuel for a full shift until your next break or meal? Fueling for a workout requires a short-term energy meal. You want to keep your stomach mostly empty so as to wait the least amount of time between eating and sweating. You’ll want to minimize cramps and maximize temporary energy.
Fueling for a long morning at work or school is another matter. You need slow-digesting power-packed foods that will provide energy until lunchtime, without overloading on calories that your seated body won’t be burning.
Shaping Your Digestion
Lastly, there’s your digestion to consider. Each person knows their body’s own quirks when it comes to both energy and comfort. You may know that some foods make you feel bad, heavy, sleepy, or urgent while others you can digest without a second thought. Since your mood, energy, and focus can all be affected by how your stomach feels, what you eat is a very important factor.
Runners and other high-intensity athletes know that what’s in your stomach can affect your performance and your ability even to complete an exercise. Trust your gut and avoid foods that make you feel bad, and prioritize foods that make you feel satiated but seem to digest with no effort.
Pocket Breakfast on the Go
The first kind of energy breakfast is the pocket breakfast. So many people eat their first meal of the day on the go. Whether you’re heading to the gym, tackling rush-hour traffic, or walking to your first morning class, breakfast on the move can be healthy and energizing if you choose wisely.
Do not grab a donut, if you’re fueling for a workout, snag a banana or half a white bagel. If you’re fueling for the day, target fruit, and whole-grain related foods such as whole-grain muffins. One great solution is to make a large batch of healthy breakfast wraps, packed individually, for a week of optimal breakfast on the go.
Tip: Avoid fast-food type breakfasts like breakfast burritos or biscuit sandwiches, and dodge that morning donut, too. These are packed with grease and the wrong balance of energy. You can make your own healthy versions of breakfast burritos and much more at home.
Breakfast Before a Morning Workout or Run
Waking up to work out is a good routine for anyone, as what you do in the morning sets up how your body treats food and energy for the entire day. If you eat a normal-sized meal, it’s advised that you should wait at least two hours before doing any serious exercise. This means there are two ways to eat breakfast before a morning workout, you can either get up very early, eat breakfast, and work out later or you can grab something small right before your workout. It is also possible to engage in morning exercise without food, but many people find this uncomfortable and it can be unsafe if you lose coordination or focus when your stomach is empty.
For eating just before a workout, choose a small portion of light carbs. A single piece of fruit, half a white bagel, or a small cup of yogurt can provide you enough calories to get going without weighing you down or risking cramps. For a longer workout ahead, bring a second small carb snack along with a large water bottle to refuel mid-workout.
After your workout, eat a complete breakfast with whole grains, proteins, and a small portion of healthy fat. This gives your body the building-blocks to grow and strengthen your muscles and the energy to make it to lunch.
Breakfast Before School or Office Job
Getting energized before a day at the office and your desk is a completely different story. Whether you’re not a morning workout person, you don’t have time, or you’re just skipping your workout for the day, it’s important to plan your morning meal a little differently. If you’re eating to fuel your brain but won’t need much from your body, prioritize proteins, complex carbs, produce, and fiber. In other words, you want food that digests slowly, providing energy and nutrients the whole time.
Oatmeal and whole-grain anything (toast, muffins, pancakes, etc.) provide complex carbs that burn more slowly and often provide an element of healthy fiber. Eggs, yogurt, nut-butters, and low-fat cheeses are great breakfast protein choices, but you can also cook with lean meats. Also, feel free to add a side of vegetables or fruit for healthy fiber and trace nutrients.
This kind of meal will digest over the next few hours, providing you energy instead of making you feel sleepy.
Breakfast Before a Labor-Intensive Job
What about jobs that are not athletic, but are physically demanding? If the morning you are preparing for includes hauling, climbing, and other types of physical activity beyond sitting at a desk, plan your breakfast accordingly.
“Traditional” breakfasts were designed for labor-intensive jobs. A full plate of eggs, toast, fruit, oatmeal, and perhaps some lean sausage is more reasonable when you’ll be burning a large amount of energy over several hours. Include one element of fast-energy carbs like white bread toast or up to three white flour pancakes for quick energy. Also include complex carbs, like a bowl of oatmeal or a whole-grain muffin for longer energy.
Protein is important because you rely on your muscles throughout the day and won’t be refueling during your morning shift. Make sure you don’t overload, as you can only absorb about a palm-sized portion every few hours. Consider packing a hard-boiled egg or a cup of yogurt for your morning break snack.
Breakfast Before a Destination Event
Finally, to round out the collection, there’s choosing your breakfast before an event day. Everyone– athletes, professionals, or couch potatoes –has had to face some all-day or at least all-morning event. Camps and conferences, weddings and charity events; you will at some point find yourself wondering what to eat when facing a day of activity and mystery.
You may know that physical labor is ahead or the activities may be unknown. There may be tons of snacks and buffet tables or you might find yourself isolated from food until some predetermined “lunch”. So the question arises, what do you eat in the morning?
First and foremost, balance your strategy. Chances are, you aren’t about to start the event with a 3-mile run, so it’s safe to eat complex carbs and protein. Plan a breakfast that is nutritionally complete to minimize the chances of a craving between meals. Make sure to eat some fruit and a full serving of lean protein with your breakfast, and dodge the heavy foods like greasy sausage. Yogurt with granola is a great fallback, especially if you’re not normally a breakfast person.
If faced with a breakfast pastry buffet, head for the muffins and pancakes, which tend to have less baked-in sugar and glazing. If you can, pack an extra piece of fruit and a wrapped muffin for an emergency snack.
Listen to Your Body
There is plenty of advice we can give about choosing the right breakfast at the right time. But ultimately, the choice is up to your body. You alone know what feels right in your stomach during a run, a hard workout, or a long morning at work. By following these guidelines and then listening closely to your body, you will be able to determine the perfect balanced breakfast that you need for your personal metabolism and morning routine.
Here at Mueller Sports Medicine, we believe in helping every athlete and active individual to achieve their optimal performance. Feel free to browse through our blog for more athlete lifestyle insights and injury recovery tips. #muellerready