Sports nutrition: eating breakfast is vital in aiding recovery

Breakfast is vital for helping your metabolic and energy-producing processes swing into action

By Andrew Hamilton BSc Hons MRSC ACSM

It's one of the oldest clichés in the book, but 'breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper' is no less true for that.

Breakfast is an incredibly important meal; not only does it help your metabolic and energy-producing processes swing into action after a night's rest, research has also shown that those who eat breakfast experience superior mental performance during the morning, and increased physical performance later in day ­ the time when many of us with 9-5 routines have to train.

Moreover, it's also a fact that eating a decent breakfast also reduces the likelihood of food cravings later in the day; when given the opportunity to select from a wide range of foods, those who eat breakfast tend to automatically make healthier food choices in the evening compared to those who don't.

But there's also another dimension to breakfast. Provided it is chosen carefully, a cereal and milk breakfast can actually make an extremely nutritious snack at other times of the day. Even better, very recent research has also shown that cereal and milk can promote recovery after exercise as effectively if not more effectively than some 'sports recovery drinks'!

The beauty of a cereal and milk snack of course is simplicity and speed of preparation; there's no faffing around with recipes, neither are there piles of dishes to wash up either. You don't even have to use a blender, which as we all know, are carefully designed by manufacturers to collect as much debris as possible in the most inaccessible recesses, thereby frustrating your best efforts at the sink to get them clean again! 

The perfect breakfast and recovery snack

The hardest part about putting together a good breakfast snack these days is working out exactly what on earth to buy; supermarkets are now stuffed to the brim with endless cereal products, which range from superbly healthy pure 100% whole grains (perhaps with a bit of natural dried fruit added) to nutritional disaster areas consisting of nothing more than sugar, salt and fat with a bit of added sawdust to glue it all together! And even if you do manage to navigate your way to a cereal that is made from 100% whole grains and free from added sugar (any ingredient ending in 'ose' basically!) and fat, there's still an awful lot of choice out there, which can be confusing to say the least. You might therefore be wondering what the very best breakfast/recovery snack is?

Around 2 to 3 parts of carbohydrate to 1 part of protein will provide plenty of carbohydrate for muscle glycogen recovery and ample protein for tissue repair and growth.

Carbohydrate should comprise of some quicker-releasing carbs (for an initial rapid rise in blood sugar/energy) combined with slower releasing carbs (to sustain blood sugar/energy). Likewise, the protein should combine some quickly digested proteins (such as whey) with slower digesting proteins (such as casein) to provide a rapid yet sustained rise in circulating amino acid levels. 

Muesli, fruit and milk breakfast

One of the easiest ways to nail all these requirements in one simple hit is to go for a sugar-free oat-based breakfast or snack. Forget those sixties connotations of hippies and sandals, muesli forms a fantastic base for a sustaining and healthy breakfast and a brilliant recovery snack!

The oats in muesli provide slow and sustained carbohydrate release, while the fruit and honey in this recipe provide some quicker releasing carbs, together with a slug of the fruit sugar fructose, which research shows help promote recovery when combined with glucose.

The protein requirements are met partly by the oats (yes, oats like all cereals also contain protein) but more specifically by the milk, which provides a near perfect blend of whey and casein proteins. If you're using this as a post-exercise recovery snack, skimmed milk is ideal as it's free of the fat that otherwise tends to slow the emptying of your stomach. For breakfast, this is less important; either skimmed or semi-skimmed is fine.

Likewise, honey (a quick releasing carbohydrate) is not really required when eaten as a breakfast snack; chopping an apple or banana and throwing a few blueberries on top will provide loads of healthy antioxidants and fibre, as well as adding sweetness. And while this suggestion is based on muesli, the general principles can be applied to any whole grain cereal and the recipe adapted accordingly. 

Instructions- it's dead easy!

Add the muesli to a bowl and chop in the apple and banana then add the milk (leave to stand for 10 minutes if you prefer a softer consistency). Put a dollop of yoghurt on top then sprinkle the blueberries over. Drizzle the honey over the yoghurt and blueberries then enjoy!

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