Food & DietSports Nutrition

Breakfast and the Student Athlete

By June 9, 2016 January 28th, 2020 No Comments

Raising a Generation of Breakfast Skippers?

A few years back, a market research company called the NPD Group conducted a study that found that 31 million Americans (about 10% across the entire population) regularly skipped breakfast. As a group, the biggest offenders were males between the ages of 18 and 34, 28% of whom reported skipping a morning meal. This is not good, but in some ways it’s unsurprising. However, the researchers also identified a worrisome pattern among children—the percentage of kids who don’t eat or drink anything in the morning rises as they get older and peaks at 14% for 13 to 17-year-olds. A similar pattern was identified in a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, but the numbers painted a somewhat starker picture: 20% of children (aged 9 to 13 years) and 31.5% of adolescents (aged 14 to 18 years) were breakfast skippers. And—to make matters worse—several experts are convinced that the percentage of children who do not regularly eat a morning meal is trending upward.

Why Care?

Both the general pattern and the upward trend are cause for concern for at least two longer-term reasons:

  • Breakfast skipping is associated with eating more (and typically less healthy) food later in the day as well as unhealthy weight gain.
  • Adolescents are growing rapidly and establishing nutritional habits that are likely to follow them into adulthood.

But for one population—student athletes—skipping breakfast may have more immediate consequences.

Breakfast and Athletic Performance

A group of researchers in the UK recently measured the athletic performance of 10 males later in the day after having eaten breakfast and compared it to their performance on days when breakfast had been skipped. Interestingly, they found that athletic performance was indeed significantly impaired when the participants skipped breakfast. But there was another wrinkle as well. The researchers discovered that participants couldn’t make up for skipping breakfast simply by eating more at lunch. While participants did indeed tend to consume more at lunch after skipping breakfast (by about 200 calories), their performance still suffered relative to the days they ate breakfast.

The Point for Parents

While this small-scale study is hardly the final word (For instance, it’s not clear how the results translate to children, adolescents or females.), it seems reasonable to offer a bit of simple advice to parents of young athletes.

If your son or daughter is planning to practice or compete in a sport during the late afternoon or evening, it’s a good idea to encourage them to eat a good breakfast.  While other research has established a clear link between breakfast and scholastic performance, this research suggests that breakfast may also be the most important meal of the day when it comes to physical activity after school.

And there is NO reason to suppose that the eating a good breakfast isn’t beneficial for parents, too! The more that researchers study breakfast, the more they learn about its importance to both cognitive and physical function.

As chiropractic physicians, we have a particular interest in helping our patients develop good lifestyle habits that will help them avoid illness and injury. Whether you have general questions or specific health concerns, we encourage you to call or visit our office. We’re here to help!