For everyday folks, breakfast may be optional but for Olympians, this morning meal is no joke. While we’re asleep, our bodies are fasting so in the overnight hours, muscle tissue is breaking down, our brain and cells are starved of energy and our bodies are deprived of fluids. Come morning, star athletes need to stoke muscle protein synthesis (rebuilding muscle tissue), awaken cells with much-needed energy, and replenish their fluid status to optimize performance. That means athletes should pack protein, wholesome sources of carbohydrate and a nutrient-positive beverage into their morning meal, according to Marie Spano, RD, a sports dietitian nutritionist for the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Falcons. Below is a peek at what Olympians told NBC News what they eat for breakfast, along with some pro tips for fueling up for and skating through everyday life.
Eggs, eggs, and more eggs
Many of our Olympic stars, like bobsledder Aja Evans, pack their mornings with eggs, which Spano says is “a great pick for a protein, and an important source of nutrients including choline, along with vitamins A and B-12.” Evans goes the extra mile by mixing in tomatoes, green peppers and onions — veggies that provide valuable nutrition. The diced ham is one addition she could improve upon. Both ham and bacon, which her teammate Elana Meyers Taylor confesses to eating with her eggs, are processed meats — foods that are associated with a higher risk of some cancers and heart disease. “A better option is unprocessed turkey or chicken,” suggests Spano.
For athletes or the average Jane or Joe who need some carbs to start their day, a side of berries or sweet potato hash could provide the right kind of energy.
Freestyle skier David Wise is on the right track with oatmeal and eggs. “Whole grains, like oatmeal, contain fiber and vitamins, as well as plant compounds that can protect the body’s tissues,” explains Spano. Women’s hockey player Alex Rigsby is another oatmeal eater. She pairs hers with yogurt for the one-two punch of carbohydrate and protein. Rigsby also includes a ‘green drink,’ which she describes as a bunch of different greens mixed with some ginger and turmeric. This nutrition-packed beverage can replenish any fluids lost overnight. Plus, both ginger and turmeric are considered natural anti-inflammatory agents. One study found that ginger can reduce exercise-induced pain by up to 25% while other research has found that turmeric supplementation may prevent joint damage. You don’t have to be an athlete to try these awesome smoothie additives.
Snowboard gold medalist Jamie Anderson is also on board with oatmeal, flavoring hers with cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom. Spices add flavor and health promoting antioxidants so take a page out of her playbook and try this at home. She also adds crunch and healthy fats with pecans and walnuts — another way to up your oatmeal game.
17-year-old Olympic darling Chloe Kim is a fan of cereal: Cinnamon Toast Crunch to be exact. Though it’s hard to argue with her gold medal run, from a nutritional standpoint, she could step it up a notch. The cereal contains 9 grams of added sugar — more than two teaspoons’ worth. “A typical Western diet full of added sugars is not healthy for the gut or the immune system,” says Spano. “Among other important functions for an athlete, the immune system clears out damaged muscle laying the ground for new proteins in muscle.”
Here’s a tip for freestyle skier, Ashley Caldwell, who eats Special K with Strawberries when she isn’t chowing down on an egg and cheese breakfast burrito. The gold medal goes to high-fiber, whole grain cereal with no added sugar. A peek at the ingredient list of her favorite choice shows there’s more sugar than berries in the box, so she’d be better off adding her own fruit to an unsweetened whole grain cereal.
One thing Olympic athletes have in common is a passion for peanut butter. This fan favorite has eight grams of plant-based protein to help aid muscle growth and recovery. Peanuts and peanut butter also provide a nice nutrient package, including magnesium, copper, vitamin E and manganese. That’s why so many of our team USA athletes wake up with this delicious pantry staple. Speed skater Brittany Bowe adds a big scoop of peanut butter, along with a banana, to her chocolate USANA Nutrimeal shake. Cross country skier Sadie Bjornsen enjoys hers mixed with oatmeal, yogurt, apple slices, nuts, raisins and honey — a balanced bowl to fuel her intense activity. American luger Erin Hamlin is also a fan of oatmeal with peanut butter and fruit.
When it comes to favorite toppings, peanut butter is my jam. It’s an easy way to boost flavor, satisfaction and nutrition of many morning meals — from whole wheat toast to smoothies to hot cereals. For breakfast, stick to one or two teaspoons, depending on what you're eating.
Peanut butter has eight grams of plant-based protein to help aid muscle growth and recovery.
File this under athletes are just like us: Nearly all of our team USA Olympic athletes include coffee as part of their morning routine. From Boblsedder Aja Evans to snowboarder Kelly Clark (who’s a self-proclaimed coffee snob) to our bronze medal-winning ice dancer, Maia Shibutani, our star athletes rely on coffee to get them going in the morning. The fact that caffeine improves athletic performance is almost universally accepted, and a recent study found that you can still chug it every day and get those perks.
Though coffee’s benefits are undisputed, both Elana Meyers Taylor (a US bobsledder) and Jackie Wiles (an alpine skier) take their coffee bulletproof style— with butter and coconut oil or medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil. Though people swear this elixir can lead to better performance, there's no legit evidence of this specific combo.
Olympic athletes know a superfood when they see it. Avocados contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, and 20 vitamins and minerals. Plus, avocados are just plain delicious. It’s no wonder that so many athletes add them to their morning meals. Do as Nordic skier Bryan Fletcher does and top whole wheat toast with avocado, eggs over easy and Sriacha sauce or add them to a scramble like alpine skiier Lindsey Vonn. Her favorite mix: Scrambled eggs with peppers, mushrooms, onions and spinach, topped with avocado, cilantro and salsa, with a side of whole wheat toast.
Or go in another direction with hockey player Meghan Duggan’s breakfast of choice. Her favorite recipe starts with base of nutritious, carb-rich whole grains, such as brown rice, farro or quinoa. To that, she adds scrambled eggs, spinach, half a diced avocado, a few slices of tomato, bean or alfalfa sprouts, a sprinkling of hot sauce and salt and pepper. Each of these meals provide a nice mix of healthy fats, wholesome carbohydrates and powerful proteins. Plus, all of these scrambles are brimming with extra nutrition, thanks to the variety of veggies.
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