Why Gymnasts Need To Eat Breakfast Before School (And 5 Ways To Start Eating If You Struggle To)
Updated: Sep 12, 2022
I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase: “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. But what does that even mean???
Breakfast is the key to turning your body “on” for the day. You’ll 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, gym, and all of your other obligations.
Would you expect a car to run with no gas? Your phone or laptop to work without being charged?
Now that the school year is here and competition season is quickly approaching, breakfast is even more important.
I know, it can feel so easy to just roll out of bed and head straight to school. I get it- I’ve been there- setting my alarm for the last possible second to get as much sleep as I possibly can before I had to head out the door was definitely a priority. I didn’t want to sacrifice any time that I could use sleeping to eat breakfast. I mean, it just felt like it was too early in the morning to eat anyways. It’s so easy to just tell yourself you can just eat at lunch, or have a snack later.
No matter what your reason for skipping breakfast – whether it's because you don't think you have enough time to make and eat breakfast, because you don't feel hungry in the morning, or any other reason, it's SUPER common for gymnasts to skip breakfast before school.
But, as a dietitian working with high level gymnasts, this is one of the biggest mistakes you could be making with your nutrition as you head into competition season.
If you want to train your best this fall and reach your goals this season, DO NOT skip breakfast!
Breakfast is a crucial part to your day, and here is why:
If you go to school without breakfast, you’re likely to feel more tired, sluggish, slow, and brain fogged throughout the day.
If we think about the word “breakfast” it literally means to break the fast. Likely, the last fuel you gave your body was the day before - dinner or a bedtime snack. And while you sleep, your body is using up all that energy to repair and recover from the previous day and refill your body’s energy stores. Without breakfast, your body will basically be running on empty.
This is not conducive to having enough energy at school or for practice and reaching your goals in the gym. You are most likely going to feel tired, unfocused, and sluggish. Your brain needs food in order to function and without food it can be hard to think clearly. Not having fuel doesn’t just lead to a productive practice and it also puts you at risk for injury.
Also, skipping breakfast can make it even harder to meet all of your energy and nutrient needs for the day.
Think of your nutrition needs like a pie chart and the “slices of the pie” are your meals and snacks each the day.
Your goal is to get 100% of the pie (total energy, macro, and micro nutrients) daily.
Skipping breakfast also likely means you will have less time and fewer opportunities to get adequate nutrition throughout the day. If you only prioritize time for 2 meals (say, lunch and dinner), you are now cutting the pie into 2 pieces (instead of 4 or more).
That means that, in order to actually eat enough and meet your body's demands, you’d need to eat 50% of your nutrition at lunch and 50% at dinner - that’s a lot of food in one sitting! More likely, you'll find yourself either uncomfortably full or coming up short.
Additionally, most gymnasts that skip breakfast earlier in the day experience what is known as "rebound hunger" later in the day. This happens when you've been running behind on your fuel all day and around 3pm (like after school or before gym), dinner time, or even right before bed, you'll feel especially hungry! Like even if you eat a reasonable meal or snack, 15 minutes later, you're back in the pantry looking for what's next.
Additionally, while a recovery meal (like dinner or a snack) after practice is important, you don’t want to find yourself hurrying to get your nutrition in at the end of the day, stuffing yourself before bed. Eating a lot before bed can also affect your sleep, causing poor sleep quality by interfering with digestion. If you cut your pizza pie into more slices (by including breakfast and some snacks) it will be easier to properly fuel without feeling stuffed and uncomfortable.
If the your pie is cut into 4 or even 6 slices (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks at school, before gym, during gym, etc.), you won’t feel overwhelmed trying to eat enough each day. Eating breakfast will set you up for a successful day of fueling.
So, what should be included in a breakfast before school?
Breakfast is no different than any other meal - look to build a performance plate!
This will likely include:
Grains and starches for energy
Protein for muscle growth and recovery
Fruits or veggies for fiber (helps with fullness), vitamins, and minerals
Fats for fullness, satisfaction, and energy
Some of my favorite easy school morning breakfasts include:
Make ahead breakfast burritos & fruit
Baked or overnight oatmeal with greek yogurt
A breakfast sandwich & a piece of fruit
2 protein waffles with pb and banana
Greek yogurt parfait or smoothie bowl with fruit, granola, and crushed nuts or seeds
2 Slices of Avocado toast with, Spinach, Tomato, Hemp Hearts, Glass of OJ
1-2 balanced protein bars, a piece of fruit, and a glass of milk
What about if I homeschool or practice in the morning?
The foods you will include on your pre-practice breakfast plate may differ a little compared to a plate you'd eat before heading to school and will depend on a few factors, including:
How much time you have until practice starts
How your body deals with digestion before a workout (especially nutrients like fat, fiber, and protein)
Your personal food preferences
Most often, if a gymnast has a morning practice, they are eating between 30-90 minutes before starting warm-up. The more time you have (2-3 hours), the more fiber, fat, and protein will be on your plate. The less time you have (15-90 minutes), the more simple grains and fruits you'll want to include. The following modified athlete's plate is a great blueprint starting point, where you can adjust portions and proportions of foods based on your own needs.
Some of my favorite examples of a pre-workout breakfast include:
A bagel with 2 eggs, cheese, and fruit
Oatmeal or overnight oat made with milk, berries, and crushed almonds
2 Protein Muffins with an orange and glass of milk
Waffles, peanut butter, banana, and milk
Greek yogurt, granola, fruit, and chia seeds
If eating breakfast is one of the most challenging parts of your fueling plan, here 5 tips to make eating breakfast each morning a little easier:
5 Ways To Start A Morning Breakfast Routine
1. Make it a habit:
If you start getting in the habit of eating breakfast, it will become a part of your routine and set you up for success all day long. It can seem hard to make this change in your day, but once you do it will become easier and easier the more you practice - you will become used to it! Try to make breakfast a habit by setting the intention to eat something in the morning (2x a week, 3x week, daily - make the goal realistic), so that you are already used to eating when you wake up.
2. Start small:
If you are used to not eating at all, it is unrealistic to expect to start eating a large breakfast right away. Start with something small and work your way up to a larger more balanced place. This might mean starting with something like a piece of toast, a granola bar, or a smoothie in the morning. Even this small amount of food will be a great start to fuel your body and jump start your energy. Keep in mind though: eating a small breakfast might make you start to feel hungry soon after. This is actually a good thing, as it means your body is using food for energy! Make sure to bring an extra snack with you for when you start to feel hungry again.
3. Prioritize the time:
This can be the hardest part, especially if it feels like sacrificing precious sleep to make time for breakfast might be the deal breaker for you. However, making time does not have to mean sacrificing much sleep at all! Have a plan for breakfast before going to bed. Choose quick to eat or drink foods that you could eat while getting ready, in the car, or even in homeroom.
4. Make breakfast ahead of time:
By making your breakfast the night before or prepping on a less busy day (like over the weekend), you can have a more involved breakfast in just minutes! Some ideas for breakfasts like these are:
Make ahead breakfast burritos can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for months, and then popped them in oven while getting ready or into the microwave minutes before running out the door.
Make a large batch of muffins whenever you have time, and then you can easily grab one before practice. Muffins can be a great way to add in nutrient dense foods like yogurt, chia seeds, peanut butter, bananas, and more!
Overnight oats are such an easy way to achieve a balanced athlete's plate in the morning as they provide color, starch and protein. Grab a jar, add in some oatmeal, protein milk and/or yogurt of your choice, frozen fruit of choice and then let it sit overnight. In the morning I add some nut butter or crunchy nuts or seeds on top!
Yogurt parfaits are also an easy breakfast that you can prepare the night before, but add the granola in the morning so it doesn’t get soggy!
Here are some of my favorite make-ahead breakfast recipes!
5: Remember: something is better than nothing:
If you are still struggling to introduce breakfast into your mornings, just remember that you don’t need to be perfect to start. Grabbing a piece of fruit as you head out the door in the morning, a granola bar, or even a glass of milk, juice, or a pre-made smoothie is 100% better than nothing (although please remember: coffee and energy drinks ARE NOT breakfast...). By eating something (and by something I don't mean it has to be an elaborate sit down meal), you are more likely to feel alert and energized (see tip #1)!
If you want to reach your goals this season, you have to eat breakfast. A meal before school or morning workout that is easy to put together and will give you energy will really set you up for success all day long. By not eating breakfast, you're likely holding yourself back from seeing how much better you really could be getting in the gym.
Looking to learn and implement performance nutrition strategies BEFORE competition season? The Fueled Gymnast Academy is coming back one last time in 2022!
I designed this 6-Week small group program for competitive gymnasts as the easiest, most comprehensive to learn how to fuel your body to feel your best and reach your highest potential!
This program will run from 10/10 - 11/18 and will be jam packed with information for you AND your gymnast to learn and implement performance nutrition strategies BEFORE competition season!
Just some of the amazing information in this program includes:
Getting your gymnast to understand "Why" fueling is in an important part of their gymnastics
Basic nutrition principles
Building an Athlete's Plate
Fueling for Competitions