Breakfast of Champions: What Pro Athletes Eat for Breakfast

Nutritionists recommend eating breakfast as a strategy to set yourself up for healthy eating throughout the day, and it’s even more important for athletes. Without proper nutrition in the morning, star athletes wouldn’t have the energy to workout, much less compete on a professional level. We’re taking a closer look at how eight professional athletes eat in the morning to see how they stay on top of their game. Follow their lead and you may just find yourself feeling a little more peppy at the gym.

1. Triathlete Luke McKenzie

coffee

Some people just need a cup of coffee. | iStock.com

This Aussie endurance athlete takes a few approaches to breakfast depending on whether he’s training or racing. In a story originally published in Details that’s now featured on GQ, McKenzie said he goes for plenty of coffee, scrambled eggs with veggies and cheese, gluten-free granola, and some berries. He’s never been diagnosed with celiac disease, but McKenzie told the publication he feels better when he cuts gluten from his diet.

Going with both fruit and vegetables in the morning is a particularly smart strategy since it ensures he gets a good amount of fiber, vitamins, and other important nutrients into his body right away. According to the story, his standard exercise regimen involves 35 to 40 miles of running, 300 to 400 miles on the bike, and about three pool sessions, so he really does need to eat a substantial amount in the morning to have enough energy.

Though many question coffee as part of an athlete’s diet, fearing it will lead to dehydration, a number of studies suggest caffeine can be an effective way to boost performance. A 2009 review of 21 different studies said ingesting moderate amounts of caffeine before exercise can boost performance.

Race day is a bit different for McKenzie. According to Active.com, he usually goes for a stack of gluten-free pancakes. While most of us avoid simple carbs at all costs, they play a critical role in an endurance athlete’s race-day nutrition. These carbohydrates break down most easily, providing a great source of energy. Going for a whole grain, such as oatmeal, could actually lead to gastrointestinal distress mid-race.

2. Soccer forward Diego Forlàn

Pineapple

Have a little something sweet. | iStock.com

Soccer players are among the fittest athletes on the planet. Yes, the game is just 90 minutes, but those players run around the field the entire time. They alternate between jogging and sprinting, making a game like one really long interval session. Starting the day with healthy eats isn’t just smart, it’s necessary. According to FourFourTwo, Diego Forlàn’s typical lineup includes a plate of pineapple, buttered toast, yogurt, sometimes an egg-white omelet with ham and cheese, and a glass of orange juice.

In addition to high levels of vitamin C and fiber, pineapple contains a bromelain. This enzyme helps break down protein and, according to Muscle & Fitness, can help reduce inflammation in athletes. That means faster recovery. Both the yogurt and egg whites are great sources of protein, which is also crucial for the rebuilding process. While Forlàn doesn’t care for egg yolks, you’d be wise to keep them in your breakfast as they’re filled with protein, vitamins, and minerals.

For most, the sugar from the fresh fruit will provide plenty of energy. Unless you have a seriously demanding workout scheduled, you could probably skip the orange juice.

3. Cyclist Vincenzo Nibali

Spaghetti Aglio Olio, pasta, garlic, red pepper flakes

Would you eat pasta for breakfast? | iStock.com

This year’s Tour de France covered 3,360 kilometers, or about 2,088 miles, in 21 days. This means riders can expect to cover a little more than 99 miles per day. That’s a lot of time spent in the saddle, so it’s not surprising cyclists need a substantial breakfast. For Vincenzo Nibali, it’s quite a feast. Outside reported the cyclist starts his day with pasta with olive oil and sprinkled with cheese, fried eggs, sliced ham, dried fruit, nuts, bread with jam, coffee, orange juice, and tons of water.

4. Volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings

oatmeal, banana, honey

You knew someone on this list was a fan of oatmeal. | iStock.com

Just because her uniform is a bathing suit doesn’t mean three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings is going to skip out on a morning meal. “I’m a huge advocate of a big breakfast,” she told People.com. This way of fueling is nothing new, either. In 2012 she told STACK she loves whole-grain waffles with almond butter and honey and it’s still one of her top picks today, though she also likes fruit, eggs, protein shakes with greens, and oatmeal with almond butter and honey.

With all of these favorite combinations, Walsh Jennings gets plenty of fiber, protein, and vitamins. The strategy of combining the slow-digesting carbohydrates found in whole grains with the simple ones found in honey is pretty smart as well. The sugar gives a quick boost of energy, while the grains will help maintain that level for a long time.

Though Walsh Jennings is a partner with The National Honey Board, it’s actually not a bad choice as far as sweeteners go. It contains trace amounts of certain nutrients and, according to The Huffington Post, you end up accumulating fewer calories from it than you do white sugar since it’s a bit harder for your body to break down. Just remember to drizzle rather than drown, because it’s still sugar and relatively high in calories.

5. Basketball forward Amar’e Stoudemire

Omelette with Red Peppers

Who doesn’t want the ripped body of a basketball player? | iStock.com

Having Max Hardy as a personal chef definitely helps keep Amar’e Stoudemire’s diet on track, but the method isn’t hard to follow. Hardy spoke to Furthermore about the star’s eating habits and revealed a standard breakfast would include an omelet, fruit, green juice, and coconut water. He’s even turned Stoudemire into a pretty decent cook as well, helping him develop the recipes for his cookbook that came out last year. Stoudemire even hosted a staff appreciation breakfast where he served a frittata from the book.

Eggs are always a good choice in the morning. We all know they’re loaded with protein, but it’s not all about every weight lifter’s favorite nutrient. Men’s Health explained eggs have the highest biological value of any food. This means you can consume less protein from eggs than other sources, beef for example, and still get the same muscle-building benefits. That they taste great is just an added benefit.

As for the coconut water, you’ve probably heard it’s some sort of miracle beverage for athletes. While it does contain electrolytes, marketers have sharply curtailed their claims in recent years as more evidence supports they’ve been exaggerated. If you like the taste of it, go for it. Otherwise, hydrating with water is another good option.

6. Tennis star Roger Federer

raspberry waffle

Mmm, waffles in the morning? We can get behind that. | iStock.com

Most athletes have go-to breakfasts on competition days. It might sound boring, but sticking to the same foods is a good idea. Trying something different always runs the risk of causing an upset stomach or making you feel flat. According to The Guardian, longtime tennis champ Roger Federer’s pre-match meal includes coffee, fruit, cereal, a shot of vinegar, and waffles with raspberry syrup.

His standard waffle recipe is nothing fancy, just a basic version with eggs, flour, and butter. The simple carbohydrates deliver an immediate boost of energy that’s also gentle on the stomach, which is key for endurance athletes. Keep in mind, this is a meal to prepare for competition, so it needs to be easy to digest and pretty substantial.

Vinegar is another one of those superfoods that’s received plenty of hype in the last few years. Many claim it’s a cure-all for everything from weight loss to banishing colds. While most of these claims have little, if any, scientific backing, Yahoo Health said it could offer some minor benefits. If you like the tangy taste, a little bit is fine. Just be sure to brush your teeth afterward since the acid can erode tooth enamel over time.

7. Skier Lindsey Vonn

pumpernickel bread

Pumpernickel bread | iStock.com

Most female celebrities eat hardly more than a few bites over the course of the day. This strategy doesn’t cut it for high-caliber athletes like Lindsay Vonn, though. She told Bon Appétit she has a very healthy relationship with food, and it’s evident in her choices. One of her typical breakfasts is scrambled eggs with avocado, mushrooms, onions, cilantro, and salsa. Not only does she get plenty of protein from this standard, but also a hefty dose of vegetables.

Carbs aren’t off the table, either, at least not anymore. Vonn told Live Naturally Magazine she was paleo for about two and a half years, but she now includes slow-digesting carbs like pumpernickel bread and quinoa. It’s especially important for competition days, so she’ll have a few slices of bread or oatmeal along with her eggs. Most folks go for basic whole-wheat bread for complex carbs, but pumpernickel is another good option. It’s sort of a cross between sourdough and rye that’s filled with plenty of nutrients. With a slightly sweet, rich flavor, it’s also a nice change of pace for those sick of their standard slice.