Easy High-Fiber Breakfast Ideas for Athletes
Starting the day with a well-balanced, high-fiber breakfast is a nutritious way for athletes to begin the day. Let’s take a look at what fiber is and the different types of dietary fiber. Then we will explore ways athletes can add fiber to their breakfasts.
What is Fiber?
Dietary fiber occurs naturally in plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Fiber is an important part of a well-balanced diet. Consuming an adequate amount of fiber in the diet is associated with many positive health benefits, including a reduced risk of developing many chronic diseases1.
When discussing dietary fiber, it is classified into two types based on the fiber’s solubility in water. The two groups function differently in the body providing different health benefits.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water forming a gel-like substance. In the body, soluble fiber helps to slow down the digestion process. Foods that contain soluble fiber include: whole grains, such as oats, barley, and rye, seeds, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. In the body, insoluble fiber helps speed up the passage of food through the intestine and adds bulk to stool. Insoluble fiber is found in vegetables, legumes, seeds, fruit (particularly the skin), wheat bran, brown rice, and whole grains.
How Much Fiber is Recommended?
The Institute of Medicine2 provides recommendations for adequate fiber intake that vary based upon both age and gender.
- 4-8 years old: 25 grams/day
- 9-13 years old: 31 grams/day
- 14-50 years old: 38 grams/day
- ≥ 51: 30 grams/day
- 4-8 years old: 25 grams/day
- 9-18 years old: 26 grams/day
- 19-50 years old: 25 grams/day
- ≥ 51: 21 grams/day
Despite the importance of dietary fiber, the majority of Americans do not consume the recommended amounts of fiber daily1. When it comes to athletes, many sports foods, such as shakes, gels, chews, and bars, tend to be low in fiber. Although sports foods serve an intended purpose surrounding activity, outside of activity it is important for athletes to plan nutritious meals that contain a variety of whole foods.
Increasing Fiber Intake
If you are currently not eating enough fiber in your daily diet, slowly increase your intake to the recommended amounts. This allows your body to adjust to the increased intake and minimize any GI discomfort. Also be mindful to ensure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day, which helps your body with processing the increased fiber intake.
What About High-Fiber Breakfasts Before Morning Workouts?
Since fiber slows down digestion it is not recommended before exercise. Prior to a workout it is best to choose carbohydrates that are low in fiber and provide a quick source of energy3. Therefore, if you are going to be doing a morning workout, save the fiber-rich carbohydrates to enjoy with your breakfast after the exercise session.
High-Fiber Breakfast Ideas for Athletes
Let’s take a look at a variety of ways athletes can add fiber to their breakfast.
Oatmeal is a whole grain carbohydrate containing soluble fiber. It also contains antioxidants, B Vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc. You can further increase the fiber and nutrient content of oatmeal by mixing in dried fruit, seeds, nuts, berries, and sliced bananas.
There are a variety of types of oats you can enjoy in the morning, including instant, quick cook, old fashioned, and steel cut. The cooking times and preparation methods differ based on the type of oats, so make sure you plan accordingly.
Overnight oats are a great breakfast food. They can be prepared the night before, saving you valuable time in the morning. Overnight oats are best when prepared with old-fashioned oats rather than instant or steel cut oats. You can increase the protein content by making them with Greek yogurt and ultra-filtered milk. Mix in a variety of fruits, nuts, and seeds for added fiber and nutrition.
Another great oatmeal recipe athletes can enjoy in the morning is Baked Berry Oatmeal Bars. The recipe is available on Registered Dietitian, Katie Dodd’s High Calorie Recipes website. You can prepare the bars with either old fashioned or quick cook oats. Each bar contains 5 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein making it a great addition to your morning meal.
High-Fiber Breakfast Cereals
Whole grain breakfast cereals are great for an easy breakfast requiring little preparation. When selecting a breakfast cereal, look at the nutrition facts label for a cereal that is made with whole grains and contain 20% or more of the Daily Value (DV) for fiber (5 grams or more per serving).
Some great high-fiber breakfast cereal options to keep in your pantry include:
- Kashi Go® Honey Almond Flax Crunch – Made with whole grains, flax seeds, and sliced almonds, this cereal makes a great substitute for granola. A ¾ cup serving provides 35 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of fiber, and 9 grams of protein.
- Kellogg’s® Special K® Protein Cereal – Great cereal option to help you start the day with carbohydrates and protein. Each 1 1/3 cup serving provides 39 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of fiber, and 15 grams of protein.
- Quaker® Oatmeal Squares – A whole grain breakfast cereal that is delicious dry or with milk. Each 1 cup serving provides 44 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein.
- Nature’s Path Organic Foods® Flax Plus® Raisin Bran Flakes – Whole grain cereal containing crunchy flakes, raisins, and flax seeds. Each 1 1/4 cup serving provides 45 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein.
Many breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals, which can help you meet your daily nutrient needs. To further boost the fiber and nutrient content of your breakfast cereal, add in dried fruit and nuts.
Whole Grain Bread
A great way to add fiber to breakfast is with whole grain bread items, including: bread, bagels, flatbread, tortillas, wraps, and English muffins. When selecting whole grain breads, read the package to ensure the product is 100% whole grain. As you read the ingredient list, the word “whole” should be listed as the first ingredient in the product, such as whole wheat, whole oat, or whole rye.
Dave’s Killer Bread® has a wide variety of whole grain bread products including sandwich bread, breakfast bread, bagels, and English muffins.
Carbohydrates provide the body with the energy needed to perform at its best. Having whole grain breads with your breakfast can help set you up for sports nutrition success.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are an excellent way to add fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants to your morning meal. Eating fruits and vegetables in their whole form will provide more fiber than when the food is processed. Juicing fruits and vegetables removes most of the fiber from the fresh produce.
Also keep in mind that the edible seeds of fruit (raspberries, kiwis) as well as skin of produce (apples, pears, peaches, potatoes) contain fiber. Thus, when looking to increase fiber intake you are better off eating the whole form.
Ideas for adding fruits and vegetables to your morning meal include:
Avocados are a great way to add healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber to your breakfast. A medium avocado contains ~9 grams of dietary fiber4. At breakfast enjoy avocado as a topping on your toast, addition to your scrambled eggs, or even blended into a smoothie.
Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, are packed full of nutrition, containing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Adding a handful of leafy greens to your morning smoothie is a great way to boost the nutrient content of your drink. Be aware that although the greens will not alter the taste of your smoothie, they will turn the smoothie a greenish-brown color. At breakfast you can also add leafy greens to your omelet or breakfast burrito to increase the fiber and nutrient content of your meal.
Beans are a great way to boost the fiber content of your breakfast. Consider adding beans to a breakfast burrito, enjoying as a side dish with your meal, or having hummus as a spread with a breakfast wrap.
Dried fruit is another easy way to boost your fiber intake at breakfast. In addition to fiber, dried fruit contains phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. Dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, cranberries, pineapple, and mango, makes a nutritious addition to your oatmeal, breakfast cereal, and topping to your yogurt.
Flaxseeds and chia seeds are nutrient dense seeds that provide fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. The seeds are versatile and can easily be added into your morning oatmeal, smoothies, and yogurt.
Chia seeds contain ~10 grams of fiber per 1 oz (28 g) serving5. A unique characteristic of chia seeds is their ability to absorb water. This makes chia seeds a great addition to smoothies and overnight oats. In addition, chia seeds can be used at breakfast as a vegan egg substitute or to make chia seed pudding. Since chia seeds do not have much flavor, they provide an easy way to increase the fiber and nutrient content of your meal.
Flaxseeds are typically consumed ground, as it is easier for the body to digest and absorb the nutrients in the ground form. Ground flaxseeds contain ~6 grams of fiber per 1 oz (28 g) serving6. You can add ground flaxseeds into breakfast baked goods such as pancake, waffle, and muffin mixes. You can also stir a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds into your bowl of breakfast cereal, adding in fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids.
High-Fiber Breakfast-On-The-Go Ideas
Even on busy mornings there are plenty of ways athletes can enjoy a high-fiber breakfast-on-the-go. Whole grain breakfast bars paired with a banana or other fresh fruit and a glass of milk can make a quick breakfast-on-the-go. To further increase the nutrient content of your meal, try topping the breakfast bars with nut butter.
Breakfast wraps are also convenient to enjoy on the way out the door. A whole grain wrap filled with scrambled eggs, veggies, and beans is a great option. You can also make a non-traditional breakfast wrap with turkey, guacamole, tomatoes, and spinach.
Instant oatmeal can be quickly prepared in the microwave and ready within minutes. Try mixing two packets of instant oatmeal with milk, nut butter, and dried fruit for a nutritious way to start your day.
Finally, consider making a breakfast trail mix that contains your favorite whole grain breakfast cereals, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds. Prepackage the mix into sealable bags that you can grab on your way out the door. This is a perfect portable breakfast you can snack on all morning.
High-Fiber Breakfasts for Athletes
You are now equipped with a variety of ways to add fiber to your breakfast. Make sure to plan ahead to have a variety of high fiber breakfast foods available for the week. For additional tips on planning a healthy breakfast, check-out my recent blog, 3 Keys to Building a Healthy Breakfast.
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- Anderson, J. W., Baird, P., Davis, R. H., Jr, Ferreri, S., Knudtson, M., Koraym, A., Waters, V., & Williams, C. L. (2009). Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutrition reviews, 67(4), 188–205. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x
- Nutrient Recommendations and Databases. (n.d.). Ods.od.nih.gov. https://ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/nutrientrecommendations.aspx#dri
- Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2016 – Volume 48 – Issue 3 – p 543-568 https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0000000000000852
- FoodData Central. (n.d.). Fdc.nal.usda.gov. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/171706/nutrients
- FoodData Central. (n.d.). Fdc.nal.usda.gov. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170554/nutrients
- FoodData Central. (n.d.). Fdc.nal.usda.gov. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/2262075/nutrients
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 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.