Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day
As most people tend to lead a busy life, ‘grabbing’ an unhealthy breakfast or missing breakfast altogether is more likely to occur due to having a hectic schedule with work commitments, family commitments etc. It is important not to skip breakfast as there are many health benefits to eating a balanced breakfast, specific to weight management, improved mental wellbeing and enhanced exercise performance.
Many of us have heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but why? As the body is in a starvation mode due to the body experiencing a long period without food (calories) until breakfast is consumed, this delay causes depleted levels of glucose and energy in the body. Replenishing energy by eating a nutritionally balanced breakfast will provide the necessary glucose and calories required by the body and the mind, reducing the symptoms of tiredness and poor concentration levels. The calories provided by breakfast will allow the body and the mind to function more efficiently. By having a breakfast will prevent the urge of overindulging on extra calories mid morning due to the intense hunger pangs caused by skipping breakfast.
Nutritionally Balanced Breakfast Options:
Choosing foods which have a low glycaemic index such as; porridge, bran flakes, low sugar muesli, oatcakes or wholemeal toast will allow the body to release energy from these foods more slowly due to the high fibre content. High fibre foods also increases the levels of satiety (feeling of fullness) and reduces the urge of consuming extra calories compared to foods which have a high glyacemic content eg; cornflakes, white bread options (toast, crumpets) or biscuits (made with white flour). Fibre will also reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer.
Adding protein to wholegrain cereal for example; nuts and seeds or as a topping on wholegrain toast such as; egg, beans or lean bacon will suppress the appetite, reduce the likelihood of consuming additional calories which can lead to weight gain. Protein will also aid recovery if breakfast is consumed after exercise.
Wholegrain cereals contain iron which reduces the risk of becoming anaemic (when the body becomes intensely tired or fatigued). The iron in these cereals enhances oxygen availability to the lungs and the muscles and as the requirement for oxygen is significantly increased during exercise, this can improve exercise performance. To enhance the iron availability in the body include vitamin C in your diet by drinking fruit juice or adding fruit to your cereal (berries, kiwi, dried fruit). This is particular beneficial for those who practice a vegetarian diet or a vegan diet due to restricting red meat, this food is an excellent source of iron.
The calcium from milk or yoghurt added to cereal is beneficial to the bones as it will reduce the risk of osteoporosis due to the calcium content in these foods which assists in strengthening the bones. Choosing low fat milk and low fat yoghurt will assist in maintaining good cholesterol levels in the body which can aid weight management, reduce the risk of high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart related diseases.
Breakfast Prior to Exercise:
If you can tolerate high fibre foods, choose porridge or wholegrain toast with some protein for example; porridge with low fat natural yoghurt or low fat milk and nuts and seeds or wholegrain toast with low fat cheese or a poached or a boiled egg. These are nutritionally balanced foods prior to exercise as they provide a type of carbohydrate which slowly releases energy and fibre and protein to enhance satiety levels. For those who are unable to tolerate high fibre foods consume a fruit smoothie or white toast with hummus, low fat cheese or a poached or boiled egg. If cereal is preferred choose a low fibre cereal such as; cornflakes.
Breakfast after Exercise:
There are not normally any issues with the choice of food if you eat breakfast after exercise as there is not the same stress on the body. It is beneficial to consume a breakfast that contains protein and carbohydrate to refuel the glucose in the muscles lost through exercise and protein to help with repairing the muscles and reducing the onset of fatigue.
Breakfast on Race Day:
On race day it is critical that you do not introduce any foods which are different from the norm as your body will have adapted to what it can and cannot tolerate. For some consuming high fibre foods can cause gut stress and will have a negative impact on your sporting performance from a physical and psychological perspective, therefore these foods should be avoided.
It is important to eat breakfast at least 2 hours before exercise to allow the body to digest and absorb breakfast and prevent gut stress which is more likely to occur on race day due to nerves and increased adrenaline levels prior to the event. The timing for eating breakfast applies to training too but for some it is even more important before a race and for some, a longer period of time between breakfast and a race is necessary.
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