With the summer just about behind us, heading back to school often means a lot of big changes in a gymnast's schedule; and none seem to pose more challenges than the return of more rushed mornings and the fight over breakfast.
It’s important to set your gymnasts up for success by making sure their body and mind are properly nourished and ready for a full day of school and gymnastics practice!
Why is breakfast so important?
So often, we are told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Is that really true?
If we think about the word “breakfast” it literally means to “break the fast.” Upon waking up in the morning, it is likely that the last fuel you gave your body was the day before 8 or even 10+ hours ago, like dinner or a bedtime snack. And while you sleep, your body is actually much more active than you think! You are using up all that energy and nutrients to repair and recover from the previous day and refill your body’s energy stores so you can do it all over again. Without breakfast, your body will basically be running on empty until you do eat again, which can affect your efforts both in the classroom and in the gym!
Breakfast also plays a crucial role in:
Improving focus, concentration, and memory
Reducing stress levels
Regulating blood sugar levels (which is essential for preventing mood swings and fatigue later in the day)
Providing the body with essential nutrients and energy for the day
And yet, even though breakfast is one of the most important fueling opportunities in a gymnast’s day, so many gymnast don’t eat enough (or skip breakfast entirely).
There are so many reasons that gymnasts end up skipping breakfast
There just isn’t enough time in the morning
You really don’t like breakfast food
You just don’t feel hungry
While I understand the craziness of school day mornings, it's important to understand that if your gymnast is leaving the house without breakfast consistently, it is very likely they will be under-fueled for the day.
Gymnasts that skip breakfast are more likely to:
Struggle to stay awake in school or deal with brain fog
Need a nap in their precious (limited) time between school and gym
Feel extremely hungry (and crave carbs and sweets) after school and late at night
Gas out during practice
Plus, is the first time you really want to eat an early morning breakfast the day of a big meet (when you’ve got that fan favorite 8am report time)
What if I told you that Breakfast doesn’t have to be a challenge!
That’s right. Breakfast can be made super simple if we just put a little thought, planning, and strategy behind it!
Grab & Go!
Breakfast doesn’t have to be fancy to be a get the job done (and follow a performance plate). It can be as easy as grabbing a couple pre-packaged snacks on the way out the door. Here are some grab and go options to try!
Uncrustable with chocolate milk and an apple
Protein bar with a pair or fruit snacks
Greek yogurt with some trail mix and a banana
Granola bar with some hard boiled eggs
Pre-made protein shake with some crackers
Grapes with crackers and a cheese stick
All of these options will fuel any gymnasts for the day and they take less than a minute to grab! When grabbing your breakfast try to pick a protein, carbohydrate and fat to go along with the athlete's plate.
And, if your gymnast doesn't like more traditional "breakfast foods", there's no rule that says they can't have more of a lunch or dinner style meal (like leftovers or a sandwich) in the morning...
Put It Together The Night Before
So often when we think of "meal prep" we think about dinner or even lunch, but why not breakfast? Meal prep doesn’t have to involve a full day of cooking to prepare for the entire week. It can be as simple as setting your grab and go breakfast on the counter so you don’t forget it in the morning. Or maybe making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or yogurt bowl the night before so you can grab it in the morning. Having a plan or idea of what you want to eat the night before can make your mornings less stressful.
Easy meal prep ideas:
Make a PB&J sandwich the night before
Set out an oatmeal packet or cereal and a bowl on the counter
Make a yogurt bowl the night before
Cut up some fruit the night before
Make a smoothie the night before
Breakfast Does Not Have To Be At The Table
Since we are all human, there will be mornings when your alarm doesn’t go off and you have five minutes to get out the door. Or, you just need to get every last minute of sleep you can. On days like these, I’m sure eating breakfast is the last thing on your mind. So something that can be helpful is keeping snacks in your car! I have an emergency snack bag in my car at all times that has protein bars, granola bars, fruit snacks, trail mix and crackers. This has saved me so many times on rushed mornings and highly recommend everyone to keep some emergency non-perishable snacks in their cars, lockers, backpacks, or gym bags.
You can also use other times in your morning to your advantage! Many gymnasts in my 1-on-1 coaching programs who struggle with mornings will take some or all of their breakfast with them and eat in the car or on the bus, when they get to school, in homeroom, or even during their first class of the day. Make the most out of the time you have!
What if I simply can’t get my gymnasts to eat breakfast?
One of the biggest struggles for so many gym families is getting your young gymnast to eat anything for breakfast at all. So many gymnasts just aren't hungry in the morning (often because they're stuck in a cycle of under eating early in the day and therefore needing to over eat late in the day - like after practice - so they're still full in the morning). But, this is just not a meal your gymnast can afford to skip. If your gymnast refuses to eat breakfast, please remember that something is always better than nothing and you always have to start somewhere. Try offering something small and palatable to get them into a routine and start getting their stomach more comfortable accepting and digesting food early.
With consistently eating “something” in the morning, your gymnast will likely notice that they begin to have stronger, more consistent hunger cues in the mornings and breakfast can become easier and easier. As you start to eat “something” in the morning, you are able to train both your hunger cues and stomach to get used to eating. The goal is to work your way up to a complete breakfast but that may take some time, so starting out small and working your way up overtime is a great strategy. As you become consistent, you will find that your stomach will be able to ingest more and more food because our stomach can be trained and get used to a fueling routine.
So start off small with foods like…
Dried fruit or fruit leather/strup
If you can get them to eat something, that's a win and eventually they can work up to a complete breakfast their stomach gets used to eating in the mornings.
Breakfast is the key to turning your body “on” for the day. So, you need to give your body fuel if you expect it to have you the energy you want to get through a long day filled with school and gym!