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Food & Drink What Do Athletes Eat for Breakfast?

It may sound like the start of a joke, but there’s no punchline (anyway, runner beans aren’t a typical breakfast staple!). In fact, sports nutrition is a very serious business. Whatever the level of competition, athletes and coaches know that results out on the track or field are achieved with the right training, and the right diet.

But what do athletes eat to perform at their best? Whether you are competing for the Olympics, a national level or even just trying to improve your fitness, here we take a look at what athletes should eat for breakfast to set themselves up for a day’s training or competition. After all, many races are decided by who gets the best start!

SPAR International are proud sponsors of European Athletics, an affiliation that has given us plenty of insight into athletes’ dietary requirements. So much so, you’ll find all the ingredients to whip up a breakfast fit for a champion, at your local convenience store.

What do athletes eat: a few guidelines

Count on those calories

Depending on the discipline, the recommended daily intake of calories can vary greatly. If training for a speed event or any which require short bursts of energy rather than long term, they will stick closer to the average recommended daily calorie intake of 2,000 for women, and 2,500 for men. But if they are training for a distance event, which requires a more intensive training regime, they could be looking to consume up to 5,000 calories a day to keep them going. Remember this is over a day though, so don’t go trying to cram all those calories into your breakfast!

What should athletes eat for breakfast calorie wise? A good guide is 1/3 of their daily recommended intake.

Compete better with carbs, don’t pass on proteins, or fear the fats

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, so to boost their muscles (including the heart) and improve stamina throughout training or events, an athlete meal plan will be loaded with carbs, particularly for breakfast.

It’s recommended that an athlete’s breakfast should be made up of 50% carbohydrates, 25% protein and 25% fat. A typical healthy breakfast for athletes will contain a carb source such as fruit and vegetables, whole grain cereal such as porridge or muesli, and rye bread. Proteins (and natural fats) will be derived from eggs, nuts, cheese, yoghurt, milk and meat.

How to hydrate

Nutrition for athletes includes eating right and staying hydrated. With intensive activity comes the need to stay hydrated. It’s recommended that an athlete’s day begins with at least two glasses of water to adequately hydrate them after a good night’s sleep. Water is the drink of choice over any juices. Whilst whole fruits are highly recommended for their fibre and level of anti-oxidants, fruit juices should be overlooked due to them containing more sugars and less of the good stuff found in fruit skins.  

There’s plenty written about the negatives of too much caffeine, but it actually plays an important role in an athlete’s diet. It provides energy and promotes endurance when enjoyed in a measured way. So, an athlete will typically wash down their breakfast with a single cup of coffee or a black tea.

What a healthy breakfast for athletes looks like 

Taking all of the above into account, you may be scratching your head wondering how to combine all of this into a breakfast that is good for the body, and for the taste buds. Here are a few ideas which will provide the calories and the nutrients for you to go for gold, or improve your PB.

Out of the blocks Burrito

A delicious combination of protein and carbohydrates – hand held, which is highly convenient if you are running out the door late for training! In a large pan, heat a teaspoon of vegetable oil. Add two turkey sausages – rich in protein and contain far less fat than their pork counterparts. Turn frequently until browned, then remove them from the pan to cool. Turn the pan down to medium heat and add three egg whites. Cook until they scramble and are no longer runny. Add a handful of grated low-fat cheddar cheese along with salt and pepper and stir until you have something resembling an omelette’s consistency, before removing from the heat.

Heat a wholemeal tortilla under the grill for around twenty seconds per side. Cut your sausages into small chunks. Chop up a plum tomato, yellow pepper, and half an avocado. Add the veg, sausages and omelette to the centre of your tortilla and fold into a burrito.

Peanut butter and banana porridge to fuel a personal best

For a fibre, protein and carb rich breakfast, an athlete’s go-to is porridge. It ticks all the sports nutrition boxes and is quick and easy to make in the morning. To a medium saucepan, add 200ml of milk and bring to the boil. Stir in 340g of quick porridge oats and reduce to a simmer, cooking for around two minutes. When cooked, remove from the heat and cover for a few minutes to thicken. Then stir in a mashed banana, 2 tbsp of smooth peanut butter, ½ tsp of cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Serve topped with sliced banana and a splash of honey. Or, if you are looking to get ahead, why not try our overnight oats recipe instead? 

Go for gold with grilled cheese and avocado

It may sound like comfort food, but cheese, whole-wheat bread and avocado provide plenty of nutrition for athletes. Take half an avocado and slice into quarters. Sprinkle with salt and a little lemon juice. Brush two pieces of whole-wheat bread with olive oil per side, then load one side with 90g of grated mozzarella, and your avocado slices. Place your sandwich under a hot grill until the bread browns and your cheese melts.