If you’re a high school athlete, you’ve probably gone to an early morning practice, school, training session or game without eating “breakfast”. Learn how you’re hindering your performance. Or, if you work with young athletes, are a high school athlete or a parent of one you know what crazy mornings look like these days. Many are so worried about checking their phone in the am they are wasting precious minutes that could be allocated to breakfast. Case and point, if you have time to grab your phone, scroll through social in the morning then you have time to grab something nutritious to fuel your day. That’s right, young athletes need to eat breakfast and the excuse “I don’t have time” or “I’m not hungry” is not acceptable. Time for some tough love here. Way too many teens are staying up past midnight snacking and not getting quality sleep which disrupts the circadian clock, hunger hormones like ghrelin and leptin leading to “appetite disruptions” . This is quite common because high-calorie, low-nutrient choices like Cheetos , candies and snack foods were consumed at 1 am while playing Minecraft.
“Time” the biggest barrier in skipping breakfast
According to a study, parents identified time as the greatest barrier to breakfast consumption. To overcome this barrier, we must utilize our down-time outside of morning hours and through-out the week to prepare grab and go-options. This article will help decrease the concern parents also have about the healthfulness of some traditional breakfast. I will provide some simple, high-nutrient options for that first meal of the day!
Breakfast, what is it? According to Merriam-Webister, breakfast is the first meal of the day especially when taken in the morning. While most health professionals, doctors and dietitians will say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The reason breakfast, the first meal of the day I.e. breaking the fast is considered incredibly important is since we wake up dehydrated and need to fuel both our muscle and brain for the day. The first meal we put into our bodies sets the tone for our neurotransmitters that day. Research has indicated nutrients and calories missed at breakfast by teens are unlikely to be made up for later in the day. Studies also illustrate breakfast eaters tend to have higher school attendance, score higher on standardized tests, fewer tardiness and fewer hunger-induced stomach pains in the morning. Additionally, recent studies illustrate the benefits of breakfast. To the parents out there reading this, you should front load your calories. What does that mean? Well it would be helpful for weight-management and long-term health to consume a higher amount of nutrients at breakfast than at dinner according to a 2020 article published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
As the day progresses and schedules intensify there is left time to eat and fuel. If you’re new to my work, then please refer back to my where I break down the difference between eating and fueling. In fact, archive People first an athlete second will always be my approach. We eat for health first and fuel for performance second. Fundamental carbohydrate and protein information for young athletes can be found here . If you are a strength coach then check out this article as I have written it specific for you.
Eating and fueling upon fasting while we are rested is key for supporting growth, development, and maturation. Then factor in practices, training and conditioning? It’s a recipe for injury, blunted maturation, stress fractures and consequences for long-term health if we skip meals. In my opinion breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. That is right, nor is “lunch” or “dinner”. As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and performance dietitian I educate and coach on the philosophy that ALL MEALS MATTER! A great resource on building a high-performance plate can be viewed here. One meal is not more important than another. I also reference pre-training and post-training nutrition in this statement. Many young athletes are so worried about that post-competition meal being perfect but fail to at consistently well at all the other meals leading up to the event. How you eat at each meal will produce much better results for growth and recovery than one meal. #EattheRainbow
All meals matter explained
When I present at coaches, clinics, and conferences I reference “breakfast” but quickly identify that I call breakfast as meal one. I do not use traditional meal patterns like most. Why you may ask? Well, for starters I like to teach my athletes that all meals matter. Not one meal over another, and I also clear up the confusion that there’s some special “pre-game” or “pre-training” meal that will bolster an athlete’s performance. The fact of the matter is that the meals consumed leading up to that training session are what win games and lead to a stellar training session. Consistently eating well over time translates into successful practices, games and ultimately championships won.
Ask any successful coach who has had a string of winning seasons, he/she understands it’s all about the fundamentals carried out day in and day out. Championship teams are not strung together after a few weeks of camp. It takes time, commitment, planning and strategy. Furthermore, high-school and adult athletes need more than the three normal meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) a non-athlete would consume. Athletes need more calories and that requires more frequent feedings with a higher volume of calories. Young athletes also need to get in plenty of colorful fruits and veggies. Unsure of how to incorporate them? Check out one of my recent article, 7 Ways to Get More Veggies into your Young Athlete’s Diet published at Simplifaster .
Nutrition with Wendi Coaching Hack
When counseling my young athletes and recreational active adults we go over the benefits consume four-five meals per day. When we go over their nutrition I ask, what was meal one? Referring to “breakfast” as meal one also helps young athletes feel like eating something before, they leave the house is realistic. Breakfast is often affiliated with a “sit down and eat approach”. Most young athletes and even adults do not have time to sit down and eat something and feel overwhelmed with lack of planning or time in the morning. So, for a young growing and developing athlete meal one is a grab-n-go option of a protein, fiber + carbohydrate. Ideally the meal would be planned out in advance to ensure it is available to grab on the way out. Control your controllables, planning meals in advance for a schedule you know you have come up is a controllable. Simple grab-and-go breakfasts include hard boiled-egg and fruit, string cheese and banana, yogurt parfait and whole-grain granola, whole-grain toast with nut butter, turkey breakfast sandwich, and berries and oatmeal.
My top five premium fuel meal one options
- Eggs, one of the most nutrient dense, convenient and inexpensive foods available. Eggs are rich in choline which helps support neurotransmitter production for cognition. 6-8 grams of high-quality protein and contain all essential amino acids for muscle mass, bone health and promoting satiety. also contain lutein and zeaxanthin which are antioxidants that support eye health. Eggs are considered one of the most nutritious foods available containing several vitamins, minerals, and folate . Egg scramble, hard boiled or even a fried egg sandwich!
2. Greek Yogurt, another nutrient rich option that is convenient, delicious, and nourishing for all ages. Greek yogurt is high in protein, reduces appetite, contains beneficial pro-biotics for healthy gut function along with calcium and vitamin D. Greek yogurt also contains electrolytes and carbohydrates to support brain and muscle contraction. I build several yogurt parfaits and keep them in the fridge for busy days. See video on my Facebook page on building the ultimate parfait or posts for inspiration!
Bone Health Hack
Calcium can only reach its full bone-growth potential in the presence of adequate vitamin D. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium. Recommendations for calcium and vitamin D vary. A great way to attain adequate calcium and vitamin D is to consume dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, milk and fortified beverages. Bonus: A yogurt parfait with mixed berries can be a great pre-exercise snack roughly 45-60 min before training. A yogurt parfait offers key carbohydrates and high-quality protein to fuel exercise.
- Whole-grains Oatmeal or Overnight Oats, a great way to attain some high-quality calories for optimal focus in the classroom and on the field. Oatmeal is a great swap for those breakfast cereal lovers, oatmeal contains more fiber, less sugar and promotes satiety along with an abundance of B-vitamins. Oats are also rich in antioxidants which help reduce exercise induced inflammation and support heart health. Keep in mind 1 cup of oatmeal contains scant protein, 6-8 g to be exact. Which is why it is important to incorporate some sort of protein option like Greek yogurt, string cheese, hard-boiled egg, milk, whey-protein powder, or a high-protein nut butter like RX nut butter, 100% peanut butter an almond butter Please check out my website for some ideas on over night oats or view this great recipe via the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- Whole-grain toast, wrap, waffle or even PANCAKES! That is right, whole-grain pancakes can be a great sit-down option, grab-n-go or even snack later in the week. You can prepare them in bulk and wrap the leftovers in tinfoil. I have a great recipe here for you to try or Nuts’-n-More. Use discount code 143NWW for 10% off your next order. View the high-protein coconut pancake recipe here!
- High-protein fruit smoothie, quick and convenient way to consume high-quality protein, carbohydrates, fruits, and liquids on the go. You can even add Greek yogurt, chia seeds, flax, or other omega-3 fatty fats to help support health, digestion and reduce exercise induced inflammation. Be sure to include NSF approved whey protein powder or cow’s milk for ample high-quality protein. Put together protein powder, chia seeds,fruits/veggies in gallon freezer bag and place in freezer to be used in the morning to save time. Add milk, ice and you’re set.
Simple ways to overcome the time barrier with simple meals:
- Establish a morning routine
- Utilize breakfast at school (if available)Wake up 15-min sooner
- Prepare foods for meal one ahead of time
- Dozen hard boiled eggs for the week
- Hard-boiled egg, spinach & chicken
- Smoothie freezer bags ready to go
- Overnight oats in mason jars for the week
- Turkey cheese sausage bagel wrapped in tinfoil
- Grab-and-go chocolate or white milk
- Bananas, apples, pears and other perishable fruit on hand
- String cheese and portioned out nuts
- Whole-grain pita with turkey, egg and cheese
- Egg scramble muffin tins baked ahead of time
- Greek yogurt parfaits in mason jars or Tupperware container
Please follow me on Twitter for other quick and healthy nutritional strategies
Mixing it all together
We eat for health first and fuel for athletic performance second). Baring in mind that not every young athlete will always be an athlete. We must learn healthy habits early on which begin with meal one. As always, we need to get back to the basics. To be a champion you must be willing to execute the healthy habits consistently to be successful. What are you willing to do today that will help you be better tomorrow? Plan to start your day with intent of what you plan to accomplish which hopefully upon reading this article is meal one. If the pandemic is still overwhelming you please refer back to a previous blog I wrote on staying healthy during the quarantine found here .
Still feeling a little hungry for more information on nutrition and even training? Check out an article I co-authored with Erica Suter available here. In the article I provide a week sample menu for young athletes and Erica provides a sample week of strength and conditioning. I highly recommend Erica to anyone out there who works with young female athletes or is a young female athlete. Erica’s knowledge is next to none and she is someone I respect with significance in our field as a role model to both young men and women of all ages.
“Nutrition is a secret weapon! It can make a good athlete great or a great athlete good, the choice is up to you!” (Sm)
In Good Health and Performance,
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist, health & fitness coach and former college athlete. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to create nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. Wendi partners with parents, sports performance staff, special needs and recreational athletes and organizations to eat and fuel for success. Wendi specializes in sports nutrition serving elite youth athletes as well as collegiate athletes teaching them the importance of getting back to the basics. She is a former sports dietitian for the Dairy Council of Michigan, is an adjunct instructor in Kinesiology, Health and Wellness Division at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan. She earned both her B.S. and M.S. at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and has spent time learning from several professionals in the field along with an internship at the University of Florida. Wendi also works with the general population to build healthier habits and improve body composition. Wendi is based in East Lansing, Michigan with her own nutrition consulting business. Follow Wendi on Twitter and Instagram and book a consultation to become a nutritional client HERE.