The importance of breakfast is often debated. However, this debate mainly focuses upon its advantages, or lack of, for weight loss. Therefore, if we take aesthetics and anthropometrics out of the picture, is breakfast important? Well, as a youth athlete, ask yourself these questions... Do you want to train optimally? Do you want to recover efficiently? Do you want to be energised to compete the best you can? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then breakfast is most definitely important for you.
Why is breakfast important?
Breakfast is commonly missed due to a lack of time, a lack of appetite in the morning or even a dislike of breakfast foods. However, given the benefits a balanced breakfast may offer an athlete, it is not a meal that should be so easily dismissed. A good, satisfying breakfast tends to invest in better health. Skipping breakfast and consuming only a light lunch is going to leave any athlete running on fumes. It's also going to increase the likelihood of an athlete gorging at dinner and snacking on junk food until bedtime. This is not only robbing the body of the nutrients it needs, but also of energy for growth and high-quality workouts .
Breakfast is the first opportunity for an athlete to begin fuelling for the day ahead. The fact that it is the first opportunity is often the main reason for breakfast being hailed as the most important meal. Breakfast has been linked with nutritional adequacy, body weight management, academic and physical performance . Breakfast is also an opportunity for athletes to further their recovery from training the day before, especially if the training took place later in the day. Consuming food in and around training will allow an athlete to train harder by providing energy and thus delaying the onset of fatigue . However, no matter what time of day training may be a balanced breakfast gives an athlete's body the energy and nutrients it needs.
What makes a good breakfast?
As you sleep, the body taps into its carbohydrate stores to fuel basic bodily functions and repairs while you rest . Thus, it is important to replenish these stores upon awakening, as they are going to be low. Given that carbohydrates are the body's main energy source, topping these back up is key. Fuelling your body at the start of the day is going to help you feel more energetic and enable wiser choices around food around lunch and dinner time. A well-balanced breakfast, focusing on complex carbohydrates (wholemeal toast or oatmeal) quality protein (eggs or yogurt) and good fats (avocado or peanut butter) will keep you feeling full and provide enough energy to enjoy training, rather than dragging yourself through a workout that feels like a punishment.
Eating breakfast around training
If you train first thing in the morning, you may not want a big pre-workout breakfast, as too much food can feel heavy and uncomfortable. In this case, you should opt for something lighter, like a slice of toast with jam or a banana. Consuming some form of carbohydrate will help give you a boost in blood sugar so you are not just running on fumes. Even this small pre-workout meal will add to your quality of training.
However, this slice of toast isn't going to fuel you for the rest of the day, especially not after you have just trained. This means it is important for you to consume a post workout meal. The body's muscles are often most receptive to replacing depleted glycogen stores within the first two hours after exercising. However, if you struggle with a low appetite post workout, you could opt for a liquid breakfast, making a smoothie with milk, yogurt and fruit to supply the body with the needed carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals. This is going to help re-fuel the muscles and keep hunger at bay until the next meal.
Ultimately, given the benefits a good breakfast can have on an athlete, it can definitely be classified as an important meal. A good balanced breakfast can improve the quality of the diet, improve sports performance and increase an athlete's daily energy levels. Therefore, breakfast can be looked at as a good investment into a productive morning and is thus recommended for all athletes.
Example breakfast ideas:
- Scrambled eggs with mashed avocado on wholemeal toast
- Granola, Greek yogurt and berries
- Whole wheat cereal with semi skimmed milk and a glass of orange juice
- Banana and peanut butter on wholemeal toast
 Clayton DJ, James LJ. (2016). The effect of breakfast on appetite regulation, energy balance and exercise performance. Proc Nutr Soc, 75(3), 319-27.
 Rampersaud, G. C., Pereira, M. A., Girard, B. L., Adams, J., & Metzl, J. D. (2005). Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. Journal of the american dietetic association, 105(5), 743-760.
 Doherty, R., Madigan, S., Warrington, G., & Ellis, J. (2019). Sleep and nutrition interactions: Implications for athletes. Nutrients, 11(4), 822.