When Olympians plan what they’ll eat in the morning, they rarely call it breakfast. “They look at it as a pre-training meal or pre-competition meal,” explains Liz Applegate, Ph.D., senior lecturer in the University of California at Davis nutrition department and author of the Encyclopedia of Sports and Fitness Nutrition (Three Rivers Press, 2002). But elite or amateur, all athletes need to eat something, says Applegate.
In general, active people should have a breakfast that provides about 500 calories, provided you have two full hours to digest before your workout, says Nancy Clark, R.D., author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (4th edition; Human Kinetics, 2008). If you’re eating en route to a workout, go for a pre-workout snack in the range of 100 to 150 calories.
No matter what your sport or your fitness level, your morning meal should be rich in carbohydrates, such as whole grains and fruits. Carbohydrates raise your blood sugar, which fuels your muscles and brain, explains Monique Ryan, R.D., author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes (2nd edition; Velo Press, 2007). Eating carbs also helps to replenish glycogen, the form of carbohydrate that your body stores and, during extended exercise, breaks down into glucose. Including a bit of lean protein, which is important for building and repairing muscles, and healthy fats (like the monounsaturated kinds in peanut butter and the omega-3s in salmon) can help give the meal more staying power—but you don’t want to overdo it either, says Ryan. Too much can slow you down by shunting your energy into digestion. What’s more, notes Applegate: runners should avoid a big meal, big fiber loads or anything that can cause intestinal stress as it jostles around.
Even if you are not in training, “consider breakfast a good opportunity to fit in some nutritious foods you might find harder to get later in the day,” says Clark. Our answer? Recipes for three on-the-go power breakfasts that can fuel your day.
1. Egg & Salmon Sandwich
Smoked salmon and egg whites on a toasted whole-wheat English muffin is the perfect power breakfast. For a more substantial meal, pair it with a piece of fruit or a glass of 100% juice.
2. Peanut Energy Bars
This carbohydrate-rich bar, full of nuts, seeds, fruit and oats, was adapted from Amy Harrison’s prize-winning submission in the Plains (Georgia) Peanut Festival recipe competition. It includes a little protein, and is a great grab-and-go pre-workout snack on mornings when you don’t have time to digest a full meal.
3. Citrus Berry Smoothie
This meal-in-a-glass smoothie is bursting with berries and orange juice, healthful sources of carbohydrate and powerful antioxidants. Getting plenty of antioxidant-rich foods makes sense for active people, since free radicals are produced any time the body’s cells process oxygen.