Most RealJock.com members know that skipping breakfast is generally a bad idea, right? We’re on to the research (University of Massachusetts Medical School epidemiologist Yunsheng Ma, PhD, et al.) that shows people who skip breakfast are four times more likely to be obese than those who eat breakfast. We know that breakfast delivers the energy to live an active life and the nutrients to fuel muscle growth and repair throughout the day. We understand that a steady supply of nutrients and consistent blood sugar levels prevents spikes in insulin which—horrors—can cause sugar to be stored as fat.
So if that’s the case, why do some of us skip breakfast anyway? Alternatively, why do so many of us think of packaged products—protein drinks, smoothies and power bars in particular—as breakfast?
The answers are rooted in time and yummy. Everyone is busy in the mornings. If we’re not headed for a morning workout it’s a mad dash to work. And those products are pretty tasty, usually: requisite protein, sweet as candy. When we're rushed and starving, we let our sweet tooth drive our choices, and we end up with packaged food. But the problem with most packaged meal replacements is they are intensely processed foods. They may contain all the ingredients and nutritional values listed on the label, but it pretty much ends there. And one product, eaten every day, is a mono-diet, lacking the variety your body needs. So how can you honor the needs of that sweet tooth, but get your nutritional needs met as well?
Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” told The New York Times’ Janet Maslin to “be as vitamin-conscious as the person who takes supplements, but don’t actually take them.” He argues for a diverse diet, moderate in portions but proportionately derived from plants—in as close a form to how they grow as possible. Compare your favorite power bar to fruits, nuts and seeds: the real foods have hundreds of naturally occurring, beneficial micronutrients and fiber, most of which are not inside that paper wrapper.
From this advice, how can the guy who exercises eat smart and sweet at the beginning of a very busy day? It is possible. Begin by stocking your kitchen with a few key ingredients, then consider how two minutes of preparation is all you need. With tasty ingredients your breakfast can be as sweet as Muscle Milk on Fruit Loops—but a whole lot healthier.
The Sweet Breakfast Kitchen
Next time you visit a supermarket—and no, the “nutrition” counter at your gym is not a grocery store—stock up on key categories of foods. Here's a chart of types and specific examples of food that you can buy:
|WHAT TO BUY AND WHY|
|Category of Nutrients||Type of Food||Healthy Examples||Things to Know|
|Unprocessed or Minimally Processed Carbohydrates||Grains||Whole grain breads, bagels, pita and muffins; Oatmeal (plain rolled oats, no additives); Brown rice; Wheat germ||Brown rice, cooked and cooled, has been used for centuries in desserts (tapioca pudding, for example). It has a lower glycemic load (releases sugar gradually into the bloodstream), offers five grams of protein in a 195 gram serving and is a good source of B vitamins, iron, selenium, manganese and fiber. Rolled-oat oatmeal does not have to be cooked. Known as “old fashioned” oats—the kind most Americans grew up with—you just need to add water or another liquid. And the bulk kind (e.g., in cylindrical cartons from Quaker and other manufacturers) is virtually the same as the “instant” convenient packets, but without sugar or other ingredients added. Steel cut oats are another story; they require 30 or more minutes of cooking and thus are very inconvenient for mornings. But made ahead, they provide the same nutrients and a different texture.|
|Unprocessed or Minimally Processed Carbohydrates||Fruit||Fresh fruit (any and all kinds; don’t be shy about exotic tropical fruits such as star fruit, mangoes and papayas); Dried fruit (craisins, raisins, plums, berries, dates, figs, apricots); Frozen fruit (strawberries and all the dark berries)||Frozen fruit is just as, if not more, nutritious than fresh—and often more economical. Research conducted at the University of Illinois (B. Klein, et al.) in the 1990s found that freezing locks in nutrients that are otherwise lost in the weeks between harvest and delivery to grocery stores. Farmer’s market fresh might be better, but that is seasonally limited for most of us.|
|Unprocessed or Minimally Processed Carbohydrates||Vegetable||Dark chocolate (65% or higher unsweetened cocoa)||Technically, cocoa is a vegetable and surprisingly high in antioxidants.|
|Proteins||Nuts||Almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts and peanut butter||Peanut butter is a great option, but watch out for the added sugars and oils that can make it insanely caloric.|
|Proteins||Low-fat dairy||2%, 1% or non-fat (skim) milk, yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese||Think calcium, guys. Low-fat dairy options pack plenty of protein in a package that won't go to your waistline.|
|Proteins||Thinly-sliced cheese||Swiss, low-fat mozzarella, cheddar||Cheese for breakfast? Yes, and it has saturated fats and salt. But it also contains protein and calcium, provides a terrific taste complement to fruit and is convenient. Moderation is the key.|
|Proteins||Prepared protein powder||Whey, casein, soy or egg white protein powders||These kinds of protein powders are fine if you feel you need them, but the idea here is to bring diversity to your diet—if you’re drinking protein drinks post-workout, you owe yourself something different at other meals. Most guys consume more protein than is necessary. You can probably forego these for other protein sources.|
|Seeds||Any type of seed||Pumpkin, squash, sunflower, sesame, flax, pine nuts||Seeds are good sources of protein, healthy fats, fiber and minerals. Flax seeds are best eaten crushed. Pine nuts are not actually a nut, rather a seed.|
|Flavors and Sweeteners||Natural sweeteners||Table sugar, maple syrup, honey||Bearing in mind that these are all, in the end, sugars and therefore quickly consumed and unsustaining calories, a little sweetness goes a long way. If you like your food sweet, start with a very small dollop.|
|Flavors and Sweeteners||Artificial sweeteners||Splenda, Equal, Sweet ‘N Low, stevia||If you can't take the calories from natural sweeteners, artificial is an option, but there is always controversy surrounding these products. To try going without, remembering that your fruits will have a lot of sweetness to them. They may reduce your need for additional sweet flavors.|
|Flavors and Sweeteners||Spices||Cinnamon||Cinnamon reportedly provides a number of health benefits, including a boost to brain activity from just the aroma.|
Fifteen creative combinations
The basic formula is this: strive to include one ingredient from most or all of the above categories (carbs, proteins, seeds, flavors/sweeteners) in your morning breakfast. Anyone who grew up on peanut butter and jam sandwiches should be able to figure this out. Just use whole grain breads, a peanut butter brand that does not contain hydrogenated oils (i.e., transfats), and some form of fruit (fresh, dried, frozen) that you can fit inside the sandwich.
Thinking outside the breakfast box, here are 15 combinations that can be assembled in less than two minutes:
1.) Toasted bread, slice of Swiss or cheddar cheese, sliced strawberries or other fruit
2.) Whole grain bagel, peanut butter, raisins, dark chocolate
3.) Brown rice (cold), yogurt, berries, walnuts, cinnamon, sweetener (try honey or maple syrup)
4.) Brown rice (cold), apple (chopped), protein powder (or kefir, yogurt or milk), wheat germ
5.) Oatmeal (cold), berries, almonds, kefir, crushed flax seeds
6.) Trail mix: Any combination of nuts, dried fruit and seeds (can be carried in a small plastic bag; great for travel)
7.) Honey trail mix: honey, nuts, dried fruit, seeds (you will need a spoon)
8.) Yogurt soup: add mango, wheat germ and pine nuts
9.) Cantaloupe, covered in cottage cheese, drizzled with honey and flecked with seeds
10.) Chocolate goop: walnuts, frozen blueberries, wheat germ and dark chocolate bits, microwaved in a small bowl
11.) Peanut butter and prunes or dates
12.) Pita, peanut butter, strawberries, chocolate, flax seed
13.) Orange slices drizzled with honey, sprinkled with pine nuts or crushed walnuts
14.) Apple slices, microwaved (20 seconds) with maple syrup and cinnamon
15.) Banana, mashed and mixed with berries, protein powder, almonds and seeds; spread on toasted bread, bagel or pita
Of course portions need to be kept in check. These are high-energy foods—quantities of such things as high-fat nuts should be approached with moderation. Even snack-size portions can be satisfying and able to stave off hunger for hours.
With this framework, make breakfast dessert your first act of creativity every morning. It’s a fresh kick-start to any day, physically and mentally.
About Russ Klettke: Russ Klettke is an ACE (American Council on Exercise) certified fitness trainer and also the author of “A Guy’s Gotta Eat, the regular guy’s guide to eating smart” (Marlowe & Co., 2004, with Deanna Conte, MS RD LD), available at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and more than 100 public library systems in the U.S., Canada and Europe. For more information, see http://RussKlettke.com.