Easy High-Carb Breakfast Ideas for Athletes
Starting the morning with a high-carb breakfast can help ensure athletes have the energy needed for the day ahead. Let’s take a look at the carbohydrate needs of athletes. Then we will explore high-carb breakfast ideas for athletes.
Importance of Carbohydrates for Athletes
Carbohydrates provide athletes with the energy needed to perform at their best. Similar to gas in a car, carbohydrates provide the body with the fuel to run on.
Carbohydrates should be at the foundation of an athlete’s sports nutrition meal plan. Athletes can get carbohydrates in their diet from a variety of food groups, including:
- Grains: Bread, bagels, cereal, oatmeal, rice, pasta
- Fruit: Fresh, frozen, dried, canned in natural juices, applesauce, 100% fruit juice
- Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, winter squash
- Beans, peas, legumes, lentils
- Milk and yogurt
Carbohydrate Needs of Athletes
The carbohydrate needs of athletes vary based upon the intensity and duration of the activities they have planned for the day. Thus, athletes need more carbohydrates (gas in their tank) on days they will be exercising more intensely or for a longer duration than on low-intensity workout days or off-days (1).
Similarly, athletes involved in endurance-based activities (i.e., cross country running, triathlons) need more carbohydrates to support their activity than those involved in precision sports (i.e., golf).
Athletes should adjust the amount of carbohydrates they fill their plate with based upon the activities they have planned for the day. I often remind them to put more gas into their tank on days when more energy is needed to support their training and competitions.
Starting the day with a high-carb breakfast and enjoying high-carb snacks throughout the day is a great way for athletes to ensure they are fueled for optimal performance.
High-Carb Breakfast Ideas for Athletes
Now that you understand the importance of carbohydrates for athletes, let’s explore ideas for creating a high-carb, healthy breakfast for athletes.
High-Carb Fruit Smoothie: Nutrient-Rich Breakfast Option for Athletes
A fruit smoothie is a nutritious way for athletes to add carbohydrates to their breakfast. In addition to carbohydrates, fruit provides athletes with a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.
One of the benefits of a fruit smoothie is that athletes can change the type of fruit used in the smoothie to create different flavor combinations. Each flavor combination will provide different vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals from the varying types of fruits used in the smoothie. Great frozen fruit options for a fruit smoothie include berries, cherries, mango, pineapple, peaches, papaya, and banana slices.
In addition to frozen fruit, there are a variety of other ways athletes can add carbohydrates to their smoothie. Ideas include:
- 100% fruit juice
- Low-fat milk
- Rolled oats
- Maple syrup
If an athlete plans to enjoy the smoothie with breakfast following a morning workout, they should also add protein-rich ingredients to the smoothie. Check out my post-workout smoothie blog for ideas.
High-Carb Smoothie Bowl
A fun twist on the classic fruit smoothie is a high-carb smoothie bowl. A smoothie bowl is basically a thickly made fruit smoothie that is poured into a bowl.
The smoothie is then topped with an athlete’s favorite ingredients such as fruit, nuts, seeds, and grains. Instead of drinking the smoothie, the athlete enjoys eating the smoothie from the bowl with a spoon.
If you have never made a smoothie bowl, check out the ideas Kathryn Piper, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, shares in her blog, The Ultimate Guide to Smoothie Bowl Toppings.
High-Carb Bagel Breakfast Sandwich
An easy way for athletes to boost the carb content of their breakfast is by adding a whole grain bagel to their meal. A large deli-style bagel can contain over 60 grams of carbohydrates depending on the flavor and brand (2).
To provide a comparison, a regular slice of bread provides ~15 grams of carbohydrates (3). Thus, eating a large bagel at breakfast provides the carbohydrate equivalent of ~4 slices of bread.
At breakfast, athletes can use a bagel to make a high-carb sandwich. Topping the bagel with lean protein fillings such as eggs, turkey or chicken sausage, ham, and/or reduced-fat cheese is a great way for athletes to get both carbohydrates and protein with their morning meal.
Athletes who need a quick breakfast on-the-go can enjoy a bagel topped with nut butter, sliced banana, and honey. Enjoying this breakfast bagel with a glass of low-fat milk is a nutritious way for athletes to start the day.
Whole Grain, High-Carb Breakfast Cereal
A bowl of whole grain cereal is a great high-carb breakfast choice for athletes. Whole grains are a great way for athletes to add carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to their morning meal.
Athletes should read the cereal box to ensure the cereal they select is whole grain. On the ingredient list, the word “whole” should be listed as the first ingredient in the product. For example, look for cereals containing whole wheat or whole oat as the first item in the ingredient list.
Some of my favorite whole grain, high-carb breakfast cereals for athletes include:
- Quaker® Oatmeal Squares: 44 grams of carbs per 1 cup serving
- Kashi GO® Crunch: 38 grams of carbs per ¾ cup serving
- CheeriosTM Oat Crunch, Oats ‘N Honey: 43 grams of carbs per 1 cup serving
- Bob’s Red Mill® Old Country Style Muesli: 46 grams of carbs per ½ cup serving
Enjoying the whole grain cereal with low-fat milk will add additional carbohydrates and nutrients to the meal. One cup of low-fat milk provides 12 grams of carbohydrates, as well as 13 essential nutrients that are important for an athlete’s health (4).
Athletes can further increase the carbohydrate, vitamin, and mineral content of their cereal by topping it with fresh berries, dried fruit, or sliced banana.
Gluten-Free Cereal Options for Athletes
Athletes with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance need to avoid carbohydrates that contain gluten. Gluten is a naturally occurring storage protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, as well as hybrids of these grains (5).
Thus, athletes following a gluten-free diet will need to select breakfast cereal options that are made with rice, corn, quinoa, and other gluten-free grains. Athletes should be mindful that even when cereals are made with gluten-free grains, it is important to read the food label on the cereal box carefully. It is possible that gluten containing ingredients may be added to the cereal in processing.
Check out my blog, gluten-free cereal for athletes, for tips to help athletes following a gluten-free diet select a breakfast cereal that meets their individual needs.
Fruit and Greek Yogurt Parfait: Easy High-Carb Breakfast On-the-Go
A fruit and Greek yogurt parfait is an excellent high-carb item that athletes can enjoy at breakfast. A 5.3 oz individual container of vanilla Greek yogurt contains ~15 grams of carbs and 13 grams of protein (6).
Topping the yogurt with mixed berries will add carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to the parfait. Berries are also rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds making them a nutritious addition to an athlete’s breakfast (7). I like to encourage athletes to keep frozen berries on hand to easily add to a quick parfait on-the-go.
Athletes can also stir granola or one of the whole grain cereals listed above into the parfait, which will add a nice crunch and further boost the carbohydrate content of their breakfast.
Overnight Oats: Make Ahead High-Carb Breakfast
Overnight oats are a high-carb breakfast item that athletes can meal prep in advance on the weekend. There are numerous ingredients that athletes can add to their overnight oats to boost the carbohydrate content of the oats.
Ideas for ingredients to mix into overnight oats to increase the carbohydrate content include:
- Frozen fruit
- Dried fruit
- Pumpkin puree
- Greek yogurt
- Low-fat milk
- Maple syrup
Before enjoying the overnight oats in the morning, athletes can top the oats with sliced banana and granola for added flavor and carbohydrates.
If athletes are interested in ideas for increasing the protein content of their overnight oats, check out my blog that provides tips for making protein overnight oats.
Whole Grain Pancakes and Waffles
Pancakes and waffles are a tasty high-carb breakfast option that athletes can enjoy before a busy day. I recommend that athletes purchase a whole grain pancake/waffle mix to use at home for preparing their favorite breakfast items.
Kodiak Cakes® and Krusteaz® both make whole grain, protein-rich pancake mixes that are a great option for athletes. Athletes can prepare a batch of pancakes or waffles in advance and freeze individual servings to have available for busy weekday mornings.
Kodiak Cakes® also makes frozen waffles and pancakes that are made with 100% whole grain and contain protein. Athletes can find these in the freezer section of their grocery store.
They can enjoy the pancakes and waffles topped with fresh berries, fruit compote or preserves, sliced bananas, or maple syrup for a carbohydrate-rich breakfast to start the day.
Whole Grain French Toast
French toast prepared on thick-sliced, whole grain bread is another great way for athletes to enjoy carbohydrates at breakfast. Since French toast is prepared by dipping bread in eggs and milk prior to grilling, it has the benefit of providing protein and carbs.
Similar to the pancakes and waffles, athletes can top their French toast with fresh berries, fruit preserves, and/or maple syrup to further boost the carb content of the meal.
High-Carb Breakfast Drink Ideas
In addition to smoothies, athletes can select beverages to have at breakfast that will increase the carbohydrate and nutrient content of their meal.
Low-fat milk, 100% fruit juice, and fruit/vegetable juice blends are all good options for athletes to enjoy at breakfast.
High-Carb Breakfast Ideas for Athletes
You are now set with a variety of high-carb breakfast ideas for athletes. Athletes should take time to plan ahead to ensure they have a variety of high-carb options to choose from on busy weekday mornings.
For additional sports nutrition tips, check out my blog on balanced snack ideas for athletes.
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About the Author
Mandy is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.