Thursday, October 2, 2014

It's too early to eat - help!

Last week I  blogged about great late-night eating options for those athletes that are hungry and/or need to eat late at night, but are not sure what they should choose. The other question I am often asked is which foods are best early in the morning before athletes feel like they are really "awake" but know that they need to eat. So, once again, lets start with some ground rules:

1. If you have an early workout, it is never too early to eat something. In fact, never go to a morning workout on an empty stomach. Even athletes who have severe exercise-induced GERD can typically find something that they tolerate in small quantities. 

2. If you are chronically skipping the first meal of the day because it is "too early", it is common to no longer feel hungry in the morning. The body will adjust to what you throw at it. If you ignore early morning hunger signals, the body eventually gives up signalling. But you can bring those back by starting to eat again.

3. If you currently only drink coffee in the morning, keep in mind that coffee can upset an empty stomach and/or decrease appetite (side effects of the caffeine). It is a good rule of thumb to get at least a few bites into your stomach before introducing coffee.

4. If you struggle with not feeling hungry in the morning (or even if you don't struggle), start your day with 2 cups of water. Keep it at your bedside and drink the water as soon as you wake up. This helps get things moving and ready for digestion of calories.

So what are some good choices if you find it difficult to eat in the morning?

Liquids not only trigger the stomach to wake up and start moving, they help rehydrate the body after a long night of dehydration and recovery. Liquids are also an easy food item to start with when athletes are not used to eating early. Good options might be Carnation Instant Breakfast (or other similar meal replacement), homemade smoothies that include a source of protein, or even plain Soy milk or Cow's milk. Be careful drinking plain juice on an empty stomach. The sugar can cause cramping and diarrhea and also spike blood sugar, leaving you with a sugar crash an hour or so later. 

Granola Bars/Protein Bars
In a close second place for ease of eating are granola bars. The good ones are packed with a decent calorie punch that includes carbohydrate, protein and fat. This is another easy option because they often digest well and take about 30 seconds to eat (if needed). What is a good bar depends on if this is breakfast, pre-endurance training or pre-lifting. However, generally you want around 8 grams of protein minimum with around 16-32gm carbohydrate. 

If you are willing to be a little more adventurous and invest slightly more time into the morning, another great option is a fruit and yogurt parfait. Combine 1 cup non-fat/low-fat plain Greek Yogurt, ~2 tsp honey, 1/8 cup of nuts and 3/4 cup darkly-colored fresh or frozen fruit into a cup/water bottle/bowl/Tupperware container or whatever else is easy to eat from. It's delicious and healthy and provides a great kick-start to the day.

What Not to Eat
While typically I try to avoid the negative spin of "don't eat this or that", I feel this needs to be addressed for this particular topic. If it is early in the morning, foods that are high in sugar will often cause stomach problems (i.e. bloating, cramping, diarrhea), spike blood sugar and make you want to go back to sleep instead of waking you up. This includes favorites such as Teddy Grahams, Pop-Tarts, donuts, pastries, Quaker Chewy Bars, juice, plain frozen waffles/pancakes and bagels. While some of those may be good options in combination with other foods, none of them can stand alone.

Be Extraordinary,


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