Planning Your Perfect Breakfast
As an athlete, you are no doubt keenly aware of your reliance on nutritious and strategically chosen foods. The structure of your diet can make or break your performance come race day and even slow your progress in training. So, yeah… it’s a big deal.
And, breakfast has long been lauded as the most important meal of the day. But, is it really? If breakfast actually does matter as much as your mother would have you believe, what should it look like? More importantly, how can you tailor that first meal to meet your needs?
The Issue Of Weight
Before jumping into the structure of an ideal breakfast for runners, though, it’s important to deal with the on-going debate raging around the unassuming meal. As mentioned, people have believed for a very long time that a healthy breakfast is absolutely vital. The idea was that a well-designed first meal would set your metabolic mood for the day and prevent you from entering starvation mode.
This concept seemed to have some scientific backing when studies reported that individuals who skipped breakfast seemed to weigh more than those who had eaten the meal. Unfortunately, this study showed only a statistical correlation – it did show that skipping breakfast causes weight gain. The argument for breakfast was been further weakened by an ever-growing body of evidence suggesting that strategically executed fasts can actually provide a wide range of benefits.
So, how should you view the meal? A 2014 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition sought to settle the debate by observing the weight changes experienced over 16 weeks by 283 overweight individuals who either ate breakfast or didn’t. The rest of the time, the participants were “free-living,” meaning that they ate how they wanted apart from that initial meal.
At the end of the study, there was no difference in weight loss between the two groups. What’s the lesson, then? When it comes to weight loss, breakfast doesn’t actually matter.
Athletes, though, tend to care more about their performance than their weight – unless the latter impacts the former. What effect, then, could skipping breakfast have on your runs? Really, that depends on your training style and what you’re trying to accomplish.
During submaximal runs – in which your effort is staying below about 70 percent of your max – there really doesn’t seem to be much immediate difference in your performance. However, fasted training seems to make it more difficult for your body to adapt and therefore improve between workouts. If your primary concern is making noticeable gains in your performance – which it likely is – than the science suggests you’re going to want to eat a good breakfast.
Building The Meal
So, what does that even mean? If you do choose to eat before your run, it’s important to keep a few basic principles in mind.
First, remember that heavy foods that are rich in fat and/or fiber are not a great idea – particularly if you’re heading out for a long run that day. While filling and nutritious, those foods can cause significant digestive problems once you start working. To minimize the potential side effects of throwing back a big meal right before your run, try having small, light meal before you go and a larger, more substantial version when you get back.
At the same time, your body is going to be looking for a ready source of carbohydrates to fuel your workout. While your overall diet adds to these stores, they are constantly being depleted. Before you leave for a run, then, it’s a good idea to top-off the tank with an easy-to-digest carbohydrate.
With those guidelines, what could work as a simple pre-run breakfast? Here’s an easy smoothie recipe that can be tossed together and enjoyed quickly first thing in the morning:
- 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup frozen berries
- 1/2 cup Tart cherry juice
- Honey, to taste
Again, that’s your pre-run fuel. What should you use to recover once you get back? Now is the time for slower carbs, fiber and more protein. Eggs and whole wheat toast are perfect for these purposes. Exactly how big this second half of breakfast is will depend on your overall caloric needs and fitness goals.
But what about your off days? Or what if you don’t run in the mornings? In those situations there’s no need to break your breakfast into two separate meals. You can also be a little more aggressive with filling proteins and fibers. Of course, the classic eggs and toast formula works totally fine in this situation as well.
Generally speaking, your breakfast should be about 300 to 600 calories, consisting primarily of lean proteins, slow carbohydrates and fiber. While dairy – in the form of milk, cheese or yogurt – is a great way to get protein into your meal, opt for the low-fat versions if possible.