Touted as ‘the most important meal of the day’, what you eat – or don’t eat – first thing in a morning could make or break your performance. Should you have breakfast? Why? What? How much? Let’s explore…
Break-fast. Your first meal in a morning is literally breaking your fast (i.e. overnight fast whilst sleeping). It is therefore an opportunity to refeed and provide you with energy for the day ahead. You might head straight for the cupboards when you wake up, or you might focus on rushing out the door for school or work. The choices you make in a morning could set the scene for the rest of the day. Eating breakfast containing carbohydrate (CHO) and protein improved sprint performance in one study (Highton et al., 2013). CHO availability is increased with intake, and we know it is a primary fuel source. Having breakfast has been linked with improved mood and psychological states, as well as reaction time. A high-protein breakfast has shown the ability to improve postprandial responses after a meal like satiety (fullness), satisfaction and pleasant feelings (Boelsma et al., 2010). Better still, if you like a cup of tea or coffee in a morning, caffeine intake has could improve mood and alertness – so could help you feel awake and prepared for the day. Try to keep caffeinated products for the mornings and early afternoons. The half-life (how much time it takes for half the caffeine to pass through the system) is around 6-10 hours, meaning if you have caffeine later in the day, it could still be in your system by bedtime and worsen sleep onset (i.e. it’ll take longer for you to fall into a deep sleep).
Going Without Breakfast
An experienced high-performance (you may say ‘elite’) athlete might perform fasted training to enhance training adaptation (Van Proeyen et al., 2011). For most athletes, skipping meals is not necessary, nor a good idea – particularly if you want to perform at your best. Skipping breakfast will likely do the opposite to eating something; negative mood states, alertness, and the big one – reduced physical performance. In younger populations, skipping breakfast has been associated with decreased academic performance. Research has even shown those who skipped breakfast made worse choices later in the day and overate. The link between breakfast (or no breakfast) and your state for the rest of the day becomes a little clearer.
For training and performance, a breakfast containing carbohydrate (1-1.5 g/kg) and protein (20 g) is a good way to go three to four hours prior to your session. For example, a 60 kg athlete might have 60-90 g carbohydrate from a large bowl of porridge made with milk, with a high-protein yogurt topped with fruit. Sounds delicious! Enjoy your breakfast!
Boelsma, Brink, Stafleu, & Hendriks. (2010). Measures of postprandial wellness after single intake of two protein–carbohydrate meals. Appetite, 54(3), 456-464.
Highton, J., Twist, C., Lamb, K., & Nicholas, C. (2013). Carbohydrate-protein coingestion improves multiple-sprint running performance. Journal of Sports Sciences, 31(4), 361-369.
Van Proeyen, K., Szlufcik, K., Nielens, H., Ramaekers, M., & Hespel, P. (2011). Beneficial metabolic adaptations due to endurance exercise training in the fasted state. Journal of Applied Physiology, 110(1), 236-245.