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Breakfast for Athletes

Uncategorized Mar 31, 2021

Eat Like a King Or...Not?

Prompted by the systematic review and meta-analysis in the BMJ in 2019 (1); prompted the question about whether we should eat breakfast “like a king” or indeed at all?!

Interestingly, the conclusion from 13 studies into weight change and energy intake was that breakfast may not “be a good strategy for weight loss." 

As athletes always looking for extra gains in performance, it is not a surprise that this raised many questions about whether this may be a quick win for some to meet that golden “race weight” more efficiently. 

Science and studies should always be questioned, interpreted, and taken in the context in which it is written. Like with all science that hits the headlines - does the science stack up for the context in which we are asking the question?

Breakfast literally to "break fast" of the overnight period of fasting from the night before. 

With training and athletes in mind, do we need it?

Well, like a lot of answers nutritionally...it depends!

It depends on several factors, including the nature of the type of training being carried out, the timing of training, the timing of “breakfast”, race fuelling, and what the goals of the athlete are for that day or period of time. No one size fits all, and all athletes are individuals with different goals and requirements. 

For some athletes, they may have certain days where they may purposefully train “low” or even have slept “low” - fasted from the night before to gain metabolic and psychological advantages. In this case, breakfast before training would not be required. The meaning of low in this context is low in carbohydrates. 

However, post-training refueling would be important. Would this indeed be breakfast, albeit at a different time to the norm? 

What about a rest day if an athlete doesn’t feel hunger? In this case, and within the context of the study aforementioned, if overall weight loss is a focus, then being more intuitive with one’s appetite and forgoing breakfast well may be beneficial. The study showed that those participants who skipped breakfast had an overall lower energy intake and small weight reduction. 

What about appetite? 

image of healthy breakfast

Managing appetite is super important and something I spend time focusing on with our athletes. Being intuitive about eating can be more difficult if higher training volumes and intensities cause a reduction in appetite. With regards to breakfast, if you can manage appetite appropriately on a rest day, then not having breakfast may work well for you. However, missing breakfast but not listening to hunger and being over restrained may actually have the opposite effect over time. 

A Scandinavian study in 2014 of high-level female endurance athletes; showed that being over restrained with eating; in this case with a low energy availability (LEA) <45kg/fat-free mass/day showed that resting metabolic rate was 6.8% lower than matched female athletes meeting energy requirements. (2)

Breakfast before training; do we still need to eat? 

If you are heading out on a long Sunday bike ride or off-road run session, then definitely stocking up your glycogen stores will confer advantages to performance. Ultimately, you will have the energy to complete the session and maybe even push yourself harder than without breakfast. Think of that early morning speed swim set or turbo session; these higher intensity sessions rely on carbohydrates. A quick, small, light breakfast snack pre-workout would definitely help get you through the session without flagging!

running field track

And last but not least…breakfast pre-race is an absolute must! Even if you are a bag of nerves and you feel sick at the thought of standing on that start line after little sleep, trying to stock up your glycogen stores is important if you are going to perform at your best! Race breakfasts can range from a bowl of steaming slow-release oats topped with golden syrup and a kick of espresso to rice pudding or even a liquid-based milk drink full of carbohydrates. 

In summary, breakfast constitutes a meal, a pre, or a post-training snack. For most athletes, it is essential as a fuelling strategy, be it pre or post-workout. For those athletes, however, looking to manipulate weight: listening to appetite, and possibly forgoing breakfast maybe a strategy!

1. https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.l42 {accessed 15/11/20)

2. Melin, A., Tornberg, Å.B., Skouby, S., Møller, S.S., Sundgot‐Borgen, J., Faber, J., Sidelmann, J.J., Aziz, M. and Sjödin, A. (2015), Energy availability in female athletes. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 25: 610-622. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12261



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