Why breakfast matters

By Kelsey Herrick, RD, CSSD, LRD

You frequently hear that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and it is especially important for athletes. But why? And although every athlete has heard that they should eat breakfast, many still skip it for a variety of reasons. Read on to find out why this important meal can improve your performance and your overall nutrition.

Q: Do I really need to eat breakfast? I feel fine without it?

Herrick_Kelsey-2A: Both your brain and body work best when you provide it with morning fuel.  While you are sleeping, your liver burns through its store of carbohydrates so our brain and muscles will not be be well fueled when we wake up.  Without having a breakfast, your body proteins or muscles can be losing amino acids until you eat a source of protein.  If you are not nourishing your body at breakfast, your energy can be low, your productivity and concentration could be lacking.  Cravings for higher calorie treats will increase and you can be left feeling irritable until your first meal or snack.  Breakfast also helps you to have better control of your appetite which also helps with weight management.  For those individuals with very high calorie needs, missing any opportunity to eat can make it very challenging to meet your nutrition goals.

Q: What if I’m not hungry in the morning?

A: Is your late night snacking getting in the way?  You may not be feeling hungry in the morning if you ate too much the night before.  Not feeling hungry in the morning can also be habit if you’re not used to eating a breakfast.  We get hungry at times that we’re used to eating at.  It is okay to not feel hungry right after waking, but aim to eat something within the first hour to two hours of waking.

Q: What if I work out first thing in the morning?

A: If your workout is a light workout first thing in the morning, it’s fine to wait until afterwards, as long as you feel good during your workout.  For harder workouts, experiment with easy to digest/ liquid carbohydrates like sports drinks, juice, yogurt or a banana before you exercise.  You want to run on fuel, not fumes, which will allow you to work harder and maximize your fitness gains.  Remember, whether your workout is light or hard, after your workout have a well-balanced breakfast.  This is doubly important because it’s breakfast AND a recovery meal.

Q: What should I eat? Mornings are busy and I need something that doesn’t take time!

A: Breakfast can be quick and easy foods.  You do not have to make elaborate, time consuming meals.  They can be simple foods like cereal with milk and fruit.  Try make-ahead options like batch cooking breakfast burritos, freezing them and then microwaving when needed (recipe can be found at the end of the article).  Aim for a source of carbohydrate in the morning like milk, fruit or whole grains.  Protein should also be included in your breakfast meals.  Protein sources could include milk, eggs, string cheese, yogurt, nuts, and breakfast meats.  Keep your fridge stocked with fast, easy breakfast ideas like yogurt, fruit, trail mix, whole grain bagels and hard boiled eggs to name a few.

Here are some quick and easy breakfast ideas with even some nontraditional ideas to help you think outside the box:

  • Breakfast sandwich: Toast any bread of your choice, add eggs prepared your way and add a slice of cheese and/or lean deli meat
  • Bagel with peanut butter
  • Smoothie made with yogurt and fruit
  • Oatmeal, dried fruit and nuts
  • Breakfast burrito
  • Peanut butter and raisin sandwich
  • Deli meat sandwich with cheese

Breakfast Burritos (2 servings)


  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp. nonfat or low-fat milk
  • ¼ cup to ½ cup canned beans (like pinto beans or black beans)
  • 2, 6-inch flour tortillas, warmed*(Try whole-wheat tortillas to add fiber)
  • 2 Tbsp. shredded cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup salsa (purchased or homemade)
  • Any chopped vegetables


  1. Beat eggs and milk in a small bowl.
  2. Lightly coat a skillet with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. Pour egg mixture into pan, along with any vegetables of your choosing, and cook on medium to low heat until eggs become firm.
  4. Spoon half of egg mixture down the center of each tortilla.
  5. Top each with half of the cheese. Roll tortilla and serve with salsa.

For additional guidance to improve your athletic performance, meet with a sports dietitian!  A sports dietitian can work with you to enhance your performance through your nutrition choices.  Follow this link for more information on what a Sanford Sports Science Institute dietitian can help you achieve!