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Young Athletes: Why They Need Breakfast

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My book, Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete targets young athletes, aged 8 to 18. Check out how you can buy the book. 

Young Athlete Nutrition & Breakfast

When I speak with or coach young athletes about nutrition, I hear a recurrent theme: no breakfast. The reasons vary, such as no time, no hunger, or they may even believe that eating breakfast makes them hungrier later (and inclined to overeat) or even sets them up for weight gain.

But breakfast may be one of the most critical components of the aspiring athlete’s diet. In fact, I believe young athletes need breakfast.

Why Young Athletes Need Breakfast

Breakfast = Break {the} Fast.

In a typical day, the young athlete should eat several times, in intervals of about 3 to 5 hours. Overnight, the interval is longer because sleep cycles tend to be 6 hours or more (hopefully).

The result is a long period without nutrition, and this semi-starvation state, if left uncorrected, can have a negative impact on physical and academic performance, as well as behavior.

Breakfast breaks the overnight fast and helps the brain and body start to function at its best, energizing your young athlete.

All-important nutrients

Young athlete nutrition includes breakfast as it offers a host of nutrients the young athlete requires, not only for growth and development, but also for muscle repair (protein) and replenishing the energy in muscles (carbohydrate) after exercise.

Other nutrients, like iron and calcium, help the athlete avoid fatigue and build healthy bones, respectively. When young athletes skip out on breakfast, their consumption of important nutrients may be compromised. 

Skipping breakfast may mean weight gain

For some athletes there may be a belief that skipping breakfast will result in weight loss or weight control, especially among teens. But that’s not what research tells us.

Skipping breakfast may cause too much hunger and overeating later in the day. Leaving out breakfast is also associated with poor food choices—high calorie, low nutrient foods that do little to satisfy hunger or fuel the body for exercise.

Furthermore, some research indicates that breakfast skippers may be more likely to be overweight or obese compared to breakfast eaters.

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Anything is better than nothing

Eating something in the morning is better than eating nothing at all. However, over time, the finer details do matter.

Young athletes who choose donuts, sugary cereals and fatty foods may develop a strong taste preference for these foods and a nutrition habit that may be difficult to change down the road.

These foods also don’t offer lasting energy, which all competitive athletes need to access for optimal performance.

Eat Like a Champion is a sports nutrition program for young athletes and their parents to learn how to fuel the growing body for a competitive edge.

How to choose foods wisely

If solid food causes cramps or other discomfort before exercise, focus on a liquid breakfast: smoothies, an instant breakfast drink, milk or non-dairy substitute, kefir, a packaged yogurt drink, or 100% fruit juice. Liquid breakfasts are digested faster than a solid breakfast.

If solids are easy to handle, but time is short, focus on small meals that are quick to grab: hard-boiled eggs, trail mix, dry cereal, yogurt, a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts and raisins, or a muffin.

If you have the time, and exercise happens later in the day, eat a well-balanced breakfast: cereal, milk and fruit; eggs, toast and 100% fruit juice; bagel, peanut butter and milk; or yogurt, granola, nuts and berries.

Does your young athlete do breakfast? If not, what are the biggest barriers?

You may enjoy this free download called 70 Awesome Snacks for the Young Athlete!

Click to Get New Snack Ideas for Your Athlete!

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Eat Like a Champion - Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete by Jill Castle, MS, RDN