We’ve all heard the saying that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ and that we should ‘breakfast like a king’. While most of us find it effort enough to drag ourselves to the breakfast table and eat a quick bowl of Weetabix for convenient (albeit fairly healthy!) calories before rushing off to begin our day, top athletes have think more carefully about their food choices. We take a look at the breakfasting habits of sports champions and reflect on the current sugary breakfast trends in this country.
Andy Murray and Roger Federer gave us a thrilling Wimbledon final on Sunday. The 4-set match took them over 4 hours to complete. With tennis burning around 700 calories per hour that would have required at least 2,800 calories for each man.
So what do such top athletes eat to give them the energy they need to perform endurance feats like this?
Andy Murray likes to keep it simple and traditional with a bowl of porridge. Whether they are Scottish oats or not is unclear! But this breakfast is a great choice for athletes. 100% natural, oats have the highest levels of proteins and fats of any grain. The complex carbohydrates give slow-releasing energy to sustain you for longer and make you feel fuller for longer. It’s also a great value food and a good choice before a morning run, particularly as a lovely winter warmer. Combining porridge with milk will also give you the perfect balance of protein and fibre which will help prevent fatigue and aid recovery after workouts.
Marathon world-record holder Paula Radcliffe is also a fan of oats for breakfast, claiming she always starts a race day with porridge, banana and honey, often eating another bowl later in the day. Paula eats over 3,000 calories a day and trains twice a day for her runs so needs plenty of slow-releasing energy and protein.
To find out if porridge helps your performance, follow these instructions: Mix 50g porridge oats with 350ml water or milk or both, and simmer for 5 minutes. Make the texture more interesting by adding walnuts, pecans or seeds. Consider using a natural way to sweeten your porridge. Choose from honey, syrup, dried apricots, raisins, dates, bananas and freshly grated apple. Add a sprinkling of cinnamon and you have a perfectly nourishing breakfast fit for a champion!
However, not all top athletes stick to such a healthy breakfast choice. Take Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimming gold medallist. To power his workouts, for breakfast Michael eats three fried egg sandwiches with cheese, fried onions and tomatoes. This is followed by a 5-egg omelette, 3 slices of French toast, 3 chocolate pancakes, a bowl of grits (small grains of corn) and 2 cups of coffee! This comes to a whopping 4000 calories which is more than most men would consume in an entire day. Most men however, do not have Phelp’s gruelling schedule of 6 hours training each day. Each hour of swimming burns at least 600 calories, compared to 100 calories an hour for sitting a computer typing.
So, evidently athletes do not have to eat a completely healthy diet to become champions. This is because energy is essential for competitive athletes, so although sugar doesn’t give any nutritional benefit it is a fantastic source of quick energy . With the amount of calories athletes burn they need the extra energy provided by carbs and sugar and do not have to worry about weight gain.
For most of us however, consuming excessively fatty and sugary breakfasts isn’t a healthy start to the day. A February 2012 Which? report showed that sugar levels in children’s breakfast cereals were still very high and would be better placed in the biscuit shelves. The highest sugar choice was Frosties with 37 percent sugar while Shredded Wheat and Weetabix were the healthiest options, lowest in sugar and salt. Advertising was blamed for targeting children to want these high-sugar cereals. Although it is our own choice and responsibility what we and our families eat for breakfast, it’s not always simple when children are very easily influenced by advertising and peer pressure.
Better breakfast choices for children are – of course - porridge oats, perhaps Ready Brek if it’s easier. adding some raisins, honey or maple syrup to sweeten, or scrambled egg on wholegrain toast and wholegrain bread with peanut butter. Ok, these take a little longer to make than pop tarts or a bowl of coco pops but isn’t it worth it? Put quality fuel inside children and they will feel more like running around the playground and participating in sports rather than playing on the Playstation.
With the temptations of Wii Sports and Playstations, it is not surprising that children are less active and more overweight than previous generations. A 2007 UK study showed that children playing wii Sports burned an average of 150 calories an hour. While this is slightly more than they would burn if they were sitting sedentarily playing computer games or watching tv, it is no substitute for playing the live sports e.g. real tennis burns almost twice the amount of calories than wii tennis. However, some exercise is better than none and if it can even begin to get children interested in sports it holds some potential.
Perhaps if we all got up 10 minutes earlier we would have the time to give our children (and ourselves!) more interesting, healthy breakfasts rather than resorting to the ‘grab and run’ style each day. All we need then are more sports and activity in schools and we on the road to creating a healthy generation of future sports champions!