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The importance of breakfast

Charlotte Lok, Bsc (Hons) Food Science and Nutrition

No matter what time of the day you work out, a balanced breakfast gives your body the energy and nutrient it needs.

No doubt you have heard countless studies about the importance of a morning meal. This is more so for athletes who value their daily performance in sports. Athletes who don’t eat in the morning have all kinds of excuses – no time, not much appetite, or a dislike of breakfast foods are pretty common ones. With the many benefits that a balanced breakfast offers to an athlete, it’s a meal that shouldn’t be so casually dismissed.

A Balanced Breakfast Supports Activity

While you are asleep at night, your body taps into your carbohydrate stores to maintain basic functions such as breathing, blood circulation and supports the body’s repair mechanism. This causes the depletion of carbohydrate stores when you wake up in the morning. When you start your activities the next day, your working muscles and your brain rely on a steady supply of carbohydrate as energy. As carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for your body, it is important to replenish its supply first thing in the morning.

Protein serves many functions in the body, and athletes know how important protein is in supporting muscle recovery. It is best to supply protein at regular intervals throughout the day for optimal muscle repair and growth, which is why a morning meal with protein is so important. Protein also increases satiety levels and, as part of a balanced breakfast, has been shown to help control snacking on unhealthy foods later in the day.

Small amounts of healthy fats are important too. Other than being an energy source, some fatty acids cannot be made by the body, so these essential fatty acids need to come from your diet. Your body uses these fatty acids to make, among other things, hormones that plays an important role is growth, development and recovery.

A balanced and healthy breakfast should be able to supply your body with the nutrients needed to support your daily activities. A whole-grain fortified cereal bowl with milk and fruit, for example, supplies carbohydrates for fuel, B vitamins that help convert food into energy, important minerals and protein to support muscle.

Why Athletes Shouldn’t Skip Breakfast

Without consuming any food while you are asleep, your blood sugar levels naturally decline, and your body produces cortisol – a hormone released by your adrenal glands. One of the functions of cortisol is to keep blood sugar levels from falling too far by stimulating the breaking down of proteins. The body proteins will then become amino acids to be converted into glucose, bringing blood sugar levels back up. This natural process ensures you have energy when you need it, but it is important to eat a balanced meal soon after waking to bring your blood sugar levels back up to help offset this cortisol response, which will protect your muscles.

When you skip breakfast, it can affect how you feel and perform for the whole day. If you usually exercise in the morning, you may not have enough energy to get through your workout if you haven’t eaten. If you work out in the afternoon, skipping breakfast might lead to a larger-than-necessary lunch – and that uncomfortable feeling you get when you exercise with a very full stomach.  Another common problem with breakfast skipping is that it’s easy to convince yourself that you can eat larger meals the rest of the day - but that can lead to a vicious cycle. If you wind up eating a huge dinner, you may not be hungry the next morning…and so you skip breakfast, and the cycle continues. 

What To Eat In The Morning

The size of your breakfast is determined by how soon you’ll be exercising. If you are headed out within an hour or two of eating, you may not want much, but you should get something easy to digest like a banana, a small serving of yoghurt, or a protein shake. If you have more time, then you can have a regular breakfast.

A balanced breakfast contains a good amount of carbohydrates from foods like fruits and grains, protein from foods like eggs, lean meats, dairy products, protein powders or tofu. A bit of healthy fat from nuts, seeds or avocado will help your meal stick with you. A protein shake is always a great choice for those who say they don’t have much time, and for those who do not have much appetite in the morning. 

Here are some balanced breakfast ideas:

  • Protein shake made with milk, berries and chia seeds

  • Nut butter on whole grain bread with fresh fruits

  • Yoghurt topped with fruit and flaxseeds

  • Vegetable omelette with cheese and whole grain toast

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