September 8, 2014 • Sports Medicine

Nutritional Value: Making breakfast a priority

If your athletes had one habit they could change to improve their health and athletic performances, what would it be? Coaches who answer “eat breakfast every morning” are off to a winning start.

Eating breakfast is key to an athlete’s health and performance because it’s the body’s first refueling stop of the day. After eight to 12 hours without a meal or snack, the body needs to be replenished with fuel and fluid. In other words, athletes and even coaches who skimp on breakfast, or even worse, skip it altogether, will already be behind and will spend the rest of the day playing catch-up.

Breakfast doesn’t need to be an elaborate sit-down affair. Grabbing a large coffee (and a Danish, doughnut or muffin), however, isn’t the best way to jumpstart the day. Plenty of quick, healthy, tasty breakfast options exist, so it’s easy to make eating breakfast daily a priority.

Breakfast facts

Breakfast is refueling. It’s the first opportunity to replenish fluid and glucose (blood sugar), the major fuel for the brain and nervous system, and to refill liver glycogen (carbohydrate stored as fuel for the brain and muscles) stores that were consumed by the body overnight.

Breakfast also provides a jump start that helps athletes to meet daily requirements of key nutrients, such as water, fiber and more than 40 other necessary vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and zinc. Athletes who are regular breakfast eaters tend to have better endurance and greater strength.

Eating breakfast daily improves memory and other mental skills that successful athletes rely on, such as alertness, concentration and problem-solving abilities. It also has positive effects on mood, making it easier for an athlete to stay positive, calm, relaxed and motivated.

It’s important to note, especially for athletes, that breakfast eaters have an easier time maintaining a healthy weight. Eating breakfast helps to decreases the ravenous hunger that athletes often experience later in the day. Unplanned or out-of-control snacking often results in unwanted weight gain because of the higher intake of fat and calories.

Coaches must remind athletes that breakfast fuels and sustains the body through morning training sessions, as well as early-in-the-day competitive efforts. This is particularly important for athletes who are engaged in two-a-day practices, as well as those competing in sports that feature multiple rounds or matches that take place on the same day, as well as during multiple day tournaments.

Remember that breakfast eaters make better food choices throughout the rest of the day. As such, they are more successful at meeting their daily nutrient needs.

Nutritional Value is a column that focuses on athlete health and wellness. It appears regularly in Coach & Athletic Director magazine.

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