A lot of the research is now coming out stating breakfast isn’t quite as important as we had previously thought. Is this the same with athletes? What should they be having on competition day?
The industry has put a lot of focus on having proteins and fats for breakfast as it doesn’t increase blood sugar levels as rapidly as carbohydrates that could lead to fat storage in a negative nitrogen balance, particularly on an empty stomach during an overnight fast. There are several arguments for and against this topic (for another discussion) …
However, as an athlete it is a completely different ball game… Their focus is PERFORMANCE.
Therefore, carbohydrates are incredibly important. They are your main fuel source for both the body and brain. Protein is still important to help with recovery but should be met during overall consumption throughout the day. Limiting foods like fats and proteins for breakfast a couple of hours before competition should be addressed, as they will be heavier on the stomach, could cause bloating and discomfort and won’t provide any performance benefits in the short-term. That is not to say avoid them completely beforehand, just make sure carbohydrates make up around 60% of the meal. If you are competing later in the day then you can afford to have more fat and protein because you will have time to digest, rather than close to competition time when you need to shift towards carbohydrate options.
It is important to…
wake up at a good time to make breakfast. Although a lot of the fuel will come from the day before as it is stored in your muscle and liver as glycogen, it is still important to fuel in the morning because you do not want to compete on an empty stomach. This is a sign of under-fuelling which can lead to poor performance and increased risk of injury. Especially important in team sports where quick thinking and coordination make up a large portion of the game. Therefore, the day before should be equally as important in terms of nutrition and proper hydration. You do not want to be waking up dehydrated since it will be harder to retain optimal hydration before your competition. Chugging isn’t an option here, you want to be properly prepared.
HOW MUCH AND WHAT SHOULD I BE HAVING?
The number of calories in your breakfast depends on how many hours you have before the competition. If breakfast falls 3-4 hours before competition, eat a substantial meal consisting of 400-600 calories. Some athletes may eat up to 1,000 calories, but usually no more because you won’t have time to digest. If there are a couple of hours before you compete, 200-400 calories are sufficient.
Like everything, individuality will come into play. You may be someone who can’t tolerate certain foods and have to focus on lighter options. If you’re eating 3 or more hours before competition you could include scrambled eggs with toast and fruit, pancakes with yoghurt and sliced bananas, or a bowl of oats with fruits and honey. If the window is only a couple of hours, stick to more easily digestible foods like a bagel and jam or yoghurt, fruit or an energy bar. You may even opt for a liquid option like a fruit smoothie due to the quick digestion and less likely to cause gastric distress.
…don’t leave it until the day of competition to try a new food as it could result in worsening of performance. You will have to trial certain foods beforehand and decide what works best for you!
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