Give your body and brain the fuel they need, whether you work out, don’t have much appetite, or are running out the door in the a.m.
What you eat after rolling out of bed has the power to banish cravings, turbo-charge energy, and keep your waistline in check. Breakfast munchers eat 12 percent healthier throughout the day, according to data from the app Eatery (by Massive Health), which tracks users’ daily chow-down habits. “Skipping breakfast makes you more likely to overindulge at your next meal or eat mid-morning snacks that are high in calories and sugar to ward off hunger until lunch,” says Amari Cheffer, R.D., owner of Eat Chic Chicago.
And if the a.m. is your time to exercise, you especially need to nosh. When you wake up, blood sugar levels and carb stores are way down, explains sports dietitian Michele Macedonio, R.D. Breakfast provides what your brain needs to feel alert and what your muscles need to perform at their best—so you feel zippy on the treadmill instead of fatigued and, well, just blah.
Don’t reach for just any cereal or oatmeal, though. Different morning routines call for different morning meals. Whether you’re trying to drop 10 pounds or rip through an a.m. BodyPump class, one of these eight yummy, satisfying breakfasts will start your day on a high note.
Make muscle-building protein a priority, Macedonio says. Combine 1/4 cup each granola, rolled oats, chopped almonds, and raisins or dried cranberries with low-fat milk. (Feel free to eat half and save the rest for tomorrow, depending on your calorie needs.)
After you leave the gym, aim for another 20 grams of protein, as studies show this is ideal for kick-starting the muscle-repair process. Try 6 ounces of fat-free or low-fat ricotta cheese, a cup of fat-free or low-fat Greek yogurt, or 3 ounces of sliced roast beef or roasted chicken.
Repeat after us: A grande skinny caramel macchiato is not a breakfast. For the same wake-you-up buzz of caffeine and healthful antioxidants and no calories, have green tea. Then make one or two eggs—the whole thing, not just the whites since more than half of the fill-you-up protein is in the yolk—with a piece of fruit such as an apple or a cup of raspberries. This all clocks in between 135 to 240 calories and has 7 to 14 grams of protein and 4.5 to 8 grams of fiber to provide staying power until lunch, Cheffer says.
First things first: Eat! “That will keep your metabolism going,” Cheffer says. Nibble on something light within an hour of waking up such as a piece of fruit. And next time push back dinnertime. Eating two to three hours before going to sleep—including snacks—will give your body ample time to digest everything before the a.m.
Your muscles run on carbs as their main source of fuel when your heart’s pumping while you run, spin, or sweat on an elliptical, so eat an hour before your exercise to boost energy and allow your body time to break down your meal. Swirl plain fat-free or low-fat yogurt into oatmeal and top with fresh fruit or raisins. (If you have less time, a fruit and milk or yogurt smoothie wins points for easy digestibility.)
Post-workout enjoy a mix of carbs to replenish glycogen stores and protein to maximize muscle repair, ideally within 30 minutes of your cooldown—this is the prime time when muscles are like a sponge, absorbing all those powerhouse nutrients. A 100-calorie whole-wheat sandwich thin spread with a thin layer of peanut butter and topped with a bit of honey or jelly is an easy choice, Macedonio says.
Slow-digesting fiber and protein are your best friends when you want to quash stomach rumblings. Shoot for 7 to 10 grams of fiber and 15 to 20 grams of protein, which can deliciously be reached with a pseudo-parfait of a cup of plain fat-free or low-fat Greek yogurt, a serving of high-fiber cereal (look for those that pack at least five grams per serving), and fresh or frozen blueberries.
The last thing you want is something that sits like a rock in your gut, so an easy-to-digest smoothie is the way to go. Keep it healthy by blending frozen fruit and milk or a non-dairy alternative (for ideas, check out these delicious smoothie recipes). Or buy a bottled one that contains less than 30 grams of sugar per serving and protein to slow the rate that your body absorbs that sugar and keep you fuller longer, Cheffer says. Either way, sip slowly through the morning for a dose of important vitamins and minerals.
On Sunday, prep Macedonio’s favorite eat-on-the-run option for the week: Mix a whole grain, high-fiber, low-sugar cereal (she likes Mini Shredded Wheat, Cheerios, or Chex); nuts (soy nuts, peanuts, or almonds); and dried fruit (raisins or cranberries), and portion out one-cup servings into sandwich bags. On your way out the door in the morning, grab a bag and a single-serving carton of low-fat milk. Or bake up a half-dozen fiber-rich breakfast muffins and freeze. Take one out the night before to thaw, or defrost it in the toaster oven when you wake up. Both options offer that perfect combo of carbs and protein that helps kick your brain into gear and satisfies your hunger.
Breakfast isn’t one-size-fits-all for yogis. Intense, athletic-style classes call for any of the options listed previously for cardio or strength workouts. Since milder versions of yoga typically don’t burn as many calories, Macedonio recommends a piece of fruit or a container of applesauce before heading to the studio to pump up energy without weighing you down during an inversion.
Following any type of downward dog session, chopped fruit stirred into a container of fat-free or low-fat plain yogurt is a good bet, as it delivers (say it with us) carbs and protein to recharge your body.