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6 Perfect, Performance-Based Breakfasts

by Jillian Rose Lim | Men's Journal

2015 03 05

If you’ve ever wondered what professional athletes eat to fuel their morning, you’re right: It’s not Frosted Flakes or a Pop Tart. From cyclists to ultra-marathon runners, everyone has his own version of the perfect, performance-based breakfast — a meal that delivers solid nutrients, energy, and good taste. “Whatever level of an athlete you are breakfast is important, so it’s good to see all of these athletes taking it so seriously,” says Dr. Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at the University of California Davis. “Research shows people who are eating breakfast can better control their weight, their overall diet throughout the day, and have better cognitive skills at school and work.” Here, six athletes share their recipes for their favorite first meal — and we tell you what the combo can do for you.

  1. Ryan Hall's Muscle Milk, Teff Flour, Cocoa Pancake
  2. Seamus Mullen's Savory Oatmeal
  3. Hunter McIntyre's Peanut-Butter Sweet Potatoes and Bulletproof Coffee

Obstacle race athlete Hunter McIntyre needs a ton of energy fuel. But he also keeps it simple. That’s why he starts each day with Bulletproof Coffee — a 24-ounce tumbler of the MCT-oil, coconut, butter, and coffee mix and sips on it throughout the morning, before going into a workout. “Because of the way the fats combine with the caffeine, it’s like a sustained high energy rather than that instant spike you get, or feeling gassy for the next hour,” he says. Applegate agrees, saying that the combination of fat and coffee gives calories and caffeine that will satiate anyone who’s just looking to sustain themselves on a commute then be fired up and ready to work — but you’ll have to balance out the calories you’re eating for the rest of the day, since the coffee alone can be 330 calories. McIntyre’s pre-race sweet potato, however, gets Applegate’s full nutritious seal of approval. He explains that its high amount of carbohydrates and peanut butter stick to your ribs and gives you a “solid feel” throughout a race or workout. “It’s a low protein meal so it’s really good just before a race, eaten two to three hours prior,” adds Applegate. “That would be great for someone who’s going to work out after a couple hours of work. It will deliver staying power.”


“Take a large sweet potato, cook it in the oven until you can easily stick a fork into the center. Crack the potato and place a big spoonful of your favorite nut butter in the center. My go to is Trader Joe’s sunflower seed butter and Earth Balance’s creamy coconut and peanut butter spread.”

  1. Scott Jurek's "Incan Quin-Wow" Quinoa Porridge

On a race day, ultra marathoner and CLIF bar athlete Scott Jurek goes liquid — with a smoothie that incorporates all nutrients, like coconut milk, yogurt, and bananas, or a green drink of wheatgrass and protein powder. But when he’s got more time to prepare, Jurek will whip up his Incan Quin-Wow quinoa porridge — a mixture of carbs, protein, and fat. The recipe was published in Jurek’s book, Eat and Run in 2012. And according to Applegate, the liquid-based meal helps when trying to hit all your nutrient-bases while avoiding an upset stomach. “Quinoa has about 8 grams of protein per cup so he’s pretty good with having a balanced pre-race meal,” she says. “That’s a good, quick breakfast, and that’s going to have good staying power before a workout. It’s something to eat two or three hours beforehand,” she says.



Add the quinoa and water to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the quinoa turns translucent. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and cool for 5 minutes.

Place the quinoa and the remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor and mix for 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth.

This porridge can be made the night before and refrigerated so it is ready before a morning workout. For a warm porridge, pour the porridge into a small pot and warm on very low heat for 5 minutes (you may omit the Flora Oil from the mixture and stir it in after the porridge is warmed). Garnish with raisins, apple slices, and chia seeds or your favorite nuts.

  1. Laird Hamilton's Espresso and Veggie Scramble

Right before a morning workout or hitting the surf, Hamilton has one shot of espresso over ice and afterwards, his own version of Bulletproof coffee. An hour after the workout, he’ll make his way to Coogies, a local café in Malibu where he’ll eat his title omelette, “Laird’s Veggie Scramble” with a side of bacon. “The pre-workout shot is a great boost of caffeine to endure a workout,” says Applegate, though she suggests adding carbs like dried or fresh fruit as well. “Post-work, Laird is probably exhausted so more caffeine would help revive him until he can munch down his wonderful post-workout scramble.”

Consisting of four egg whites, asparagus, carrot, kale, chard, onion, tomato, spinach, basil, zucchini, bell pepper, and sundried tomato confit, the omelette is a savory feast that Applegate says will deliver protein for “a super recovery from the high intensity workout he puts in,” which often includes surfing a few hours. But for those who truly want to make this a recovery meal for a tough workout, she suggests replacing the bacon (which adds calories) with a whole-grain side like quinoa or toast.

  1. Sebastian Kienle's Amaranth-Based Cereal

2014’s Ironman champion Sebastian Kienle kicks his regular days off with amaranth-based cereal mixed with water and dried and fresh fruits. “I mix it myself so you know that there is not tons of sugar in it,” says Kienle. “I let them sit in water during the night, so the cereals are not absorbing water in my stomach, and they are easier to digest. I heat the whole mush up real quick, since I have the feeling that it gives me more energy when it is warm.” For Kienle, the meal is perfect because it’s easy to digest, sets a “good base” for the day, and for those who travel constantly as he does, the ingredients are easily obtained. “It’s important that there is a high density of nutrients, so no ’empty’ calories,” he adds. “Breakfast should have a relatively low GI so it lasts for a while. Also it should have some protein from different sources. And some longer carbs, too.”

As for Kienle’s pre-triathlon breakfast, he goes for two pieces of toast with sugar, beet syrup, two cups of coffee, water, and one PowerBar energy wafer. “This is a spot-on pre-race meal, since you want easily-digested carbs,” says Applegate. “I wouldn’t recommend this on a routine basis, maybe save it for Saturday morning meal. The Power Bar energy wafer works well for most people, so that’s good.”