Intermittent fasting or skipping breakfast is dangerous for young athletes. In fact, breakfast is the most important meal of the day for young athletes. There is plenty of evidence to support that breakfast has a significant impact on the physical health, mood, mental focus and physical performance in young athletes. Likewise, there is strong evidence that skipping breakfast has a negative impact on adolescents’ mental and physical performance, mood and their ability to build muscle.
Benefits of Breakfast for Young Athletes:
- Improve endurance, speed and performance in the morning, afternoon or evening
- Better learning, focus and concentration, time on task, get their work done faster, make fewer errors
- Fewer colds, headaches and miss fewer practices
- Improved mood and less hyperactivity
Intermittent Fasting Hurts Performance in Athletes.
Skipping breakfast often lowers athletic endurance, intensity and performance, whether you are training in the morning or evening. In fact, this study in 2020 showed that when male collegiate athletes had breakfast, they improved their basketball free throw shooting performance in the evening.
We also know that working out on an empty stomach also makes you lose muscle, so you miss out critical on training adaptations. In fact, this 2020 review in the Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that fasted workouts cause weight loss from both fat and muscle mass.
Intermittent Fasting is Dangerous for Young Athletes.
Skipping breakfast is dangerous for young athletes, because even when young athletes eat freely, they often don’t eat enough. In fact, studies have found that they often don’t eat enough to match their high athletic demands. It is a challenge for young athletes to eat enough to replace their fuel needs and they often fall short when a meal or snack is missed or delayed. We know from research on intermittent fasting, that it is equivalent to a calorie restricted diet and achieves weight loss.
So if a young athlete misses breakfast, they are unlikely to make up the missed calories later in the day. This was shown in a study that found that when athletes skip breakfast, they eat significantly less overall calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, compared to when they have breakfast.
Young athletes who skip breakfast may not meet their calorie needs are at high risk of RED-S, which has negative metabolic, physiological and psychological impacts.
For more information on Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S), see my blog All Young Athletes Should Know About RED-S.
Why do Kids Skip Breakfast?
Top 3 Reasons why Kids Skip Breakfast:
- They don’t have enough time (they slept in).
- They are not hungry yet.
- Their parent didn’t make anything for them.
Good sleep routines really set the stage for a successful morning. If kids are up late and sleep in, they really don’t have time to think about breakfast. If a child says they are not hungry for breakfast yet, it is often because the vagus nerve that is responsible for stimulating hunger turns on only 20minutes after waking.
It seems quite obvious that kids will eat when they have time and someone makes their breakfast for them, but how do make this a habit in our hectic mornings?
Breakfast Ideas for Young Athletes
Some common breakfasts teens have are waffles, cheerios, granola bars and toast, but these are fast acting carbs that have no protein and no lasting power. These foods will leave your kids crashing and craving carbs an hour later.
A balanced breakfast includes 2-3 food groups and always has whole grains and a protein.
Tips to Add Protein to Breakfast:
- Add peanut butter, milk or greek yogurt to the waffles
- Add greek yogurt, milk and chia seeds or nut butter in your smoothie
- Have a couple eggs with your toast
Teach your young athlete that a balanced breakfast includes 2-3 food groups and offer suggestions. Check out these great recipes for high protein kid-friendly breakfasts.
Curious about protein? Check out this post: How Much Protein Do Kids Need?
Curious about which milk is best for your young athlete? Check out this post: What Milk is Best for Young Athletes?
High Protein Breakfasts for Young Athletes:
- Greek yogurt + granola + fruit
- Toast + peanut butter + milk
- Overnight oats or chia pudding
- Oatmeal + milk + nuts or seeds
- Whole grain cereal + milk + banana
- Protein pancakes with fruit + milk
- French toast
- waffles with greek yogurt and fruit
- Scrambled eggs and cheese in a wrap
- Smoothie made with milk, greek yogurt, fruit, seeds
- Bagel BLT + cheese + eggs
- Avocado toast + milk
- Bean and avocado wrap
- Turkey sausage + hashbrowns
- Egg bites + English muffin
- Cottage cheese + fruit
- Protein shake + oatmeal muffins
How to Get Your Kids to Have Breakfast
We want to train our kids to be proficient at feeding themselves, so we do need to set some supports and expectations in place for them to get into a consistent breakfast routine.
The night before: Build a Screen Free Sleep Routine
Build good sleep routines, to ensure that your kids get to bed on time and are rested for a smoother morning.
Strategies to build good sleep routines:
- Turn off screens earlier at night to help your kid wind down
- Keep all screens and electronics out of their rooms at night
- Have them charge their devices in the hallway or kitchen overnight
- Create a downtime on phones and ipads using the parental controls feature
- If your child is still not waking up on time, you can turn off screens earlier the next night
In the morning: Get their breakfast started
In some families, the kids have been independently making their own breakfast regularly, but for others breakfast might be a team effort. Some kids need a little extra help making it happen and there are several ways we can lend a hand with that.
Tips to Help Your Athlete Have Breakfast:
- Set an expectation that breakfast needs to happen before hair and makeup.
- Keep a “no screens in the morning” rule on school days to minimize distractions.
- Offer a gentle reminder that it is time to sit down and eat their breakfast, if needed.
- Get their breakfast started e.g. put bread in the toaster, put the eggs on the stove for them, they will appreciate a hot breakfast!
- Have premade breakfasts ready to heat e.g. frozen burrito, frozen French toast, overnight oats, precooked bacon, egg bites, smoothie ingredients ready to blend
- Make a breakfast that can be eaten with on the go eg. smoothie or wrap.
- Support, supervise and do spot checks to ensure your athlete gets a great breakfast!
Remember: If athletes are showing up to practice under fueled or improperly fueled, they are not progressing or performing to their potential. Want to learn how to unlock your potential from an expert? Cristina Sutter empowers youth with simple sport nutrition tools to fuel their training and to thrive in sport.