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Breakfast of Champions

Any athlete who rushes out the door with just a banana or a Kellogg’s Breakfast Bar is asking for punishment. A big breakfast, comfortably eaten with an hour or so to digest is absolutely essential for success in sports. It is more than just food; it is an attitude and a discipline.

You need a high quality big breakfast every day. A competition Ferrari needs special fuel to perform at the top level of racing, and so do you. You can’t compare yourself to friends and “normal people” because you aren’t normal. If you want to be a special athlete, change your attitude and prepare yourself as if you are special. Like that Ferrari, you require special fuel.

To understand the concept of a big breakfast, you need to understand sleeping eight hours. After a hard practice, the body not only recovers and repairs itself as you sleep, but the neurological system recharges. You can’t train for soccer, baskeball, baseball, football or tennis on a depleted or fatigued central nervous system, for this you must have a full night of sleep. Eight full hours of uninterrupted sleep is the bare minimum.

After a full night of sleep the body’s protein level is worse than low, it is in a catabolic state – muscles are being eaten to feed a ravaged body. Cortisol, the hormone that chews up muscle, is plentiful. The gas tank for glycogen (also known as the liver) is on empty. Blood amino acid concentrations are chronically low when waking. The body cries out to balance blood sugar. And to top it off, the body is dehydrated. The body’s metabolism is in hibernation, like a big bear sleeping through the winter. However, this sleeping bear has to do something to get ready for yet another day of intense practice.

The moment you wake up, you need to instantly solve the overnight catabolism problem. The body needs to be fed a very large dose of protein to repair the catabolism and prepare for the tough day of work to come. Complex carbohydrates need to stuff cells with glycogen. Phytonutrients from fruit and vegetables need to fire up the fine tuning of your motor. And the long haul of hydration must begin in earnest.

From a biological point of view, your pre-breakfast energy level is at zero. In no time, you can be nourished and back in action. All that is needed is to get out of bed and have a full breakfast. The repeat sprints, the painful squats in the weightroom, the box jumps, the endless repetition of defensive tactics on the field, the bruises, twisted ankles, and the blistering heat – you overcome these problems. But getting out of bed an hour early to properly fuel your body, this is too hard to do. It’s time for an attitude adjustment.

Solve the problem by getting tough with yourself. Set specific rules to get up, and then follow the rules you’ve set. Eat a protein rich meal with twice as much complex carbohydrate. Don’t be a coward and opt for a quick bowl of cereal as this won’t give you the nutrients needed. All the talk about carbohydrates fueling hard work is just talk. For muscle development, neurological system optimization, and maximum energy output, you need about 25% of your calories to be quality animal protein, about 50% to be high quality complex carbohydrates, and about 25% to be high quality fats. You need to supplement with quality vitamins and minerals. This means tomorrow morning, the next morning, the morning after that, and every morning without exception.

A big breakfast should total about 600 to 800 calories. It is designed to fuel you to start the day, then to be supported by a complete lunch and a complete dinner. It is critical, absolutely essential that three to four snacks (each with the same 25%, 50%, 25% ratio) be also eaten throughout the day. This way the big breakfast has a domino effect, one leading to the next and the next. The meals then have a plan, an organization, and a specific fueling role.

Vitamin and mineral levels are also chronically low when you wake, leading to impairment on CNS functioning. Explosive reactions are triggered by one system – the central nervous system. Solve this by packing your body with a full load of vitamins and minerals. In this way the quality proteins you eat can be utilized more readily.

By learning to have a big breakfast the first thing every morning, you’ll prepare your system for the day, avoiding those late-in-the-day food cravings that result from an insufficient breakfast. Have lean protein, cheese, eggs, and wash it down with a yogurt protein shake. Your big breakfast needs to have high fiber complex carbohydrates in order for all this Ferrari fuel to pass through the system s-l-o-w-l-y. This will help you from running out of gas in the midst of a long hard practice.

Although the big protein breakfast makes sense, it is also backed up by science. Researchers from the University of Erlangen-Nuremburg in Germany found that the nutritionally optimal way is to have a pure protein meal first thing in the morning. This is followed by a 30% protein diet throughout the remainder of the day that balances carbohydrates and fat. Research by Groschl et al found that by eating a protein breakfast the body produces more anabolic hormones like growth hormone and insulin and also inhibits the production of cortisol. [1]

Whatever you decide about your daily calorie intake, make sure that you aim at a ratio of 2 grams of carbohydrate for every 1 gram of protein. All carbohydrates are not the same. A spoon of sugar is a carbohydrate that has virtually no nutritional value. As you seek to fuel your competition Ferrari, don’t get fooled by those who settle for mediocrity – go for nutrient dense carbohydrates. This means get out of the cereal grain mindset. Commercial corn, wheat, and soy should be avoided like the plague due to the intolerably high quantity of contaminants that are part of them. Get out of the grain world; go for high quality nutrient dense carbohydrates. Sweet potatoes, roots, legumes, ancient grains, oats, quinoa, vegetables should be your target. Commercial breads should be eaten rarely, and in very small doses.

All of this is very easy to prepare for your big breakfast. If you seek to elevate your  game, elevate your nutrition. Do this by adopting this diet that tastes great but is just different. Here is where attitude will make you successful or mediocre. If you make up your mind that all healthful food tastes bad and that you can’t eat it, then you have made up your mind to be mediocre. If you open your mind to a big breakfast of healthful food to help you take your game to then next level, then you’ll succeed. You’ll begin to fuel your Ferrari.

This diet takes more time planning, shopping and in the kitchen. But once the basic foods are prepared, very often you can freeze meal-size leftovers in baggies for another day. In this way you can assemble your breakfast quickly. One morning you may have fresh eggs with instantly defrosted quinoa from last week. You may have a Greek yogurt with honey base for your smoothie, with defrosted sweet potato plus fruit.

In summary, crank up the protein for breakfast. Figure out approximately how many grams of protein you have, and then eat twice as many grams of carbohydrate. After that, keep your ratio at 25% protein, and 50% complex carbohydrate throughout the day.

The big breakfast isn’t just eating a lot of food. It is aiming at enough fuel to power you through the gruelling workouts needed to take your game to the next level. As teammates are totally out of gas the last half hour of practice, you can outrun, out jump, and out manoeuvre the rest. Make them look like children next to an all-star all because you took over your adaptation in nutrition. Make your change and take your game to the next level.

[1] Groschl, M., et al. Endocrine Responses to the Oral Ingestion of a Physiological Dose of Essential Amino Acids in Humans, Journal of Endocrinology, November, 2003.