Because no one podiums at noon or tags a summit at dusk without a proper first meal.
In a new three-part series, we map out your day in food, with expert advice and tasty recipes to fuel the time-crunched, health-conscious athlete. First up: breakfast. Our breakfast expert is Adam Korzun, the director of performance nutrition for the Green Bay Packers and the former head dietitian for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team. “My philosophy is to find what food combination is right for the person, for the given situation, for the given goal,” says Korzun. “It‘s less about what to eat and more about how to eat.” To get his take on each of our athletes’ recipes, see Why It Works.
The Chef: Surfer John John Florence: Thanks to his casual approach to big waves and aerial surfing, Florence might be even more popular than Kelly Slater, but he starts his day the way a lot of us do: with a smoothie. His contains plant-based protein powder, hemp seeds, chia seeds, frozen mixed berries, celery, kale, half a banana, and maca powder. That breakfast has helped power the 22-year-old Hawaii native to a number three world ranking and a win at last year’s Quiksilver Pro in France.
Why it works: Florence is able to pack lots of energy and nutrients into a quick and easy meal that won’t bog him down. “It’s hydrating,” says dietitian Adam Korzun, “and hemp seeds are a great source of protein.” Maca powder is also believed to boost immune function, good for any athlete subjected to a rigorous travel and competition schedule.
Make it: In a blender, combine 16 ounces of raw coconut water or raw almond milk, three tablespoons of plant-based protein powder, one tablespoon of hemp seeds, one tablespoon of chia seeds, half a cup of frozen mixed berries, two celery stalks, two kale leaves, half a banana, and one tablespoon of maca powder. Blend until smooth.
Bagel with Lox
The Chef: Climber Sasha Digiulian: “I wake up hungry, and I love breakfast—it’s my favorite meal,” says DiGiulian, the top-ranked woman in the world for outdoor competitive climbing. Since she’s also a junior at Columbia University in New York City, she reaches for a deli classic before hitting the gym: a bagel with cream cheese, lox, and capers. “That will sustain me for two to three hours of climbing and strength training,” says the 22-year-old.
Why it works: “Carbohydrate-dense bagels are easy to eat and a good boost of energy,” says Korzun. “And for a climber who needs to stay lean and mean, it’s probably smart to eat carbs for breakfast, then curb them the rest of the day.” The idea is that you’ll burn those carbohydrates before they sit in your gut and turn to fat. Bonus: the salmon is loaded with omega-3’s, a natural anti-inflammatory, and capers offer salt, which helps with hydration.
Bacon and Egg Muffin
The Chef: Crossfitter Mat Fraser: Now that three-time defending CrossFit Games champion Rich Froning has retired, Fraser appears to be heir apparent. In his first games appearance last year, the 24-year-old Vermonter finished second, just behind Froning. Like lots of CrossFitters, Fraser adopted the paleo diet, which prescribes few starches and sugars, and credits it for much of his breakout success. “I have very little body fat and much better energy,” he says. “I never feel sluggish.” Fraser’s go-to breakfast is a bacon and egg muffin made by Paleo Power Meals ($9), which combines baked eggs, applewood-smoked bacon, and sweet-potato hash. It gets him ready for a session of squat snatches and burpees without making him feel heavy and bloated.
Why it works: Korzun likes Fraser’s breakfast for any power athlete—paleo or not—for one main reason: it’s loaded with protein. “Egg protein is biologically one of the highest-value protein sources and is quickly and readily used by the body,” he says. “Furthermore, egg yolk contains choline, which is important to human health because of its role as a building block for acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory, mood, and muscle control.”
Make it: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a frying pan and add one teaspoon of clarified butter. Add a quarter of a diced onion and sauté until clear, about two minutes. Add 1/4 cup of grated sweet potato and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about five minutes. Remove from heat and add one piece of cooked and diced bacon. Cook four more strips of bacon until halfway done. Let cool. Grease a muffin tin with clarified butter. In the tin, use cooled bacon strips to form a nest. Add the cooled sweet potato mixture. Crack three eggs on top and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Makes one muffin.
The Chef: Alpinist Steve House: House is widely considered one of America’s greatest alpinists, having completed technical and treacherous faces on Nanga Parbat and K7. But it was a trip up the south face of Denali in 2000 that taught him how to eat a good breakfast. “We were trying to set a speed record, so we needed to be light,” he says. “Since we couldn’t stop to cook, or carry a lot of food, we needed to teach our bodies how to metabolize fat for energy. Now if I eat too many carbs, I get bonky.” To that end, House, 44, relies on a low-carb breakfast of two or three scrambled eggs, depending on his appetite, mixed in with diced potatoes, kale, spinach, and beets. Then he’ll wash it down with two shots of espresso. “I can climb all day on this, supplementing every hour or so with gels or dried fruit,” House says.
Why it works: It’s not as though House is completely depriving himself of carbs, which are plentiful in potatoes and vegetables and are a necessary part of the chemical reaction that allows fat to metabolize. One of the veggies House includes is particularly helpful for mountain climbers: beets. “They contain nitrates, which convert to nitric oxide in your body,” says Korzun. “That makes blood vessels dilate, allowing more oxygen to get to your muscles faster.”
Make it: House uses whatever veggies he has in the fridge, and you should, too. Cook them all together before adding the eggs. Just remember, different foods have different cooking times, so add them to the skillet accordingly. A few of House’s favorites, from longest cooking time to quickest: beets, potatoes, carrots, kale, squash, mushrooms, and spinach.
The Chef: Ultra-runner Rob Krar: Not only is Krar the 2014 winner of the Western States 100, but he’s also an overnight pharmacist at a drugstore. That means he often heads to bed at 8 a.m. and “breakfast” doesn’t come until 4:30 p.m. When that happens, he inhales a bowl of steel-cut oats with raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt, digests for an hour, and then heads out on a three-hour run. “I’ve always eaten oatmeal, but I wasn’t familiar with the steel-cut kind until my wife introduced me to it,” he says. “The texture is much more satisfying than mushy rolled oats.”
Why it works: Rolled oats (the kind that cook in a few minutes) are de-husked. That outer covering is what contains most of the fiber. Says Korzun, “Steel-cut oats provide a lot more energy. And Rob puts walnuts on his oatmeal, so he gets a little bit of energy from fat when his carb stores run out.”
The Chef: Big-Mountain Skier Lynsey Dyer: Over the past two years, Dyer produced and directed Pretty Faces, a highly acclaimed ski movie with an all-female cast. Her long days of shooting began at 5 A.M. with ski touring, followed by cliff hucking and spine shredding until the sun went down. To fuel, the 31-year-old turned to a favorite among skiers: the breakfast burrito, which she loaded with eggs, bacon, sweet potatoes, and spinach. “I’m not usually hungry that early, so I take bites throughout the morning,” Dyer says. “I can make it through the day on this one meal.”
Why it works: Eggs and bacon provide a good amount of muscle-sustaining protein, but Korzun particularly likes Dyer’s choice of sweet potatoes for alpine athletes. “Not only does skiing burn a lot of calories, but being at altitude requires your body to burn more carbohydrates,” he says. “The addition of sweet potatoes—which are higher in fiber and therefore provide a slower-burning carbohydrate source than white potatoes—is great.”
Make it: Fry two strips of bacon in a pan. Once crispy, set aside on paper towels to cool. Leave a tablespoon of the bacon grease in the pan, discard the rest. Sauté an eighth of a diced sweet potato with one clove of garlic until tender. Push the potatoes to one side of the pan and scramble two eggs on the other. When the eggs are nearly done, add spinach and feta cheese to taste. Wrap everything in a gluten-free tortilla.
Ham and Wheat-Free Toast
The Chef: Ski Racer Marcel Hirscher: The three-time overall World Cup alpine ski champion from Austria is known for his fitness, which is thanks in part to dietary restrictions. “I try not to eat any cow’s-milk products, eggs, or wheat because I don’t tolerate those foods,” he says. “But before I train, I need a lot of energy and, as a result, eat lots of banana, mango, ham, and spelt bread and drink coffee.” The spelt bread works for Hirscher because it’s nutrient dense and easier on his system. And the burst of carbohydrates powers Hirscher through several runs down 90-second slalom courses.
Why it works: Ski racing is a sprint sport, and charging down a slalom course is a lot like running a 400-meter dash. “This breakfast is full of energy, but it won’t sit in your stomach and make you lethargic,” says Korzun. And don’t forget the joe. “We know caffeine increases focus and reduces perceived exertion,” he says. “In a sport like skiing, where you’re going fast and need to be focused to prevent injury, coffee probably helps.”
The Chef: Cyclist Vincenzo Nibali: Pasta with cheese for breakfast? Well, let’s not forget that Nibali, last year’s Tour de France winner, is Italian and that he’s spending all day in the saddle. Before Tour stages, he also digs into two fried eggs, sliced ham, bread with jam or honey, and dried fruit and almonds. That might sound like a lot, but pro cyclists burn up to 4,500 calories in a single stage.
Why it works: Because it’s packed with carbs and fat. “He combines simple carbs from honey and fruit for immediate energy with slower-burning carbs from pasta, along with fat from ham and nuts,” says Korzun. “Fat is our best source of long-term fuel. A trained athlete will burn fat very efficiently during a paced effort and reserve carbohydrates for the top-end, high-intensity work. So it is absolutely critical for athletes, especially an athlete enduring the rigors of daily competition or environmental extremes, to consume a balance of good fats along with carbs and protein.”
Make it: Cyclists are maniacal about everything from power output to water-bottle placement. So it’s no surprise that Nibali eats his breakfast in a very specific order: 1. Four ounces of pasta with one tablespoon of olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese to taste. 2. Two eggs fried in light olive oil. 3. Two ounces of dried ham. 4. Four small bread rolls with jam or honey. 5. Dried apricots, figs, and raisins, and an ounce of almonds. 6. A cappuccino with artificial sweetener. 7. An espresso with sweetener. 8. A glass of orange juice. 9. One liter of tap water.
What Should I Eat Before a Race?
“That is one of the most common questions I get,” says coach John Honerkamp, who has helped train thousands of marathoners through the New York Road Runners’ online training program. The answer is deceptively simple: “Eat what you always eat,” he says. Here are Honerkamp’s tips on how to do it best.
Audition your food: Pay attention to what works when you’re training and eat that before going to the starting line. But keep race logistics in mind. “If staging for the race means you’re going to be eating cold oatmeal on a bus,” he says, “eat cold oatmeal before you train.”
Be prepared: Fueling is something you can control. And “the more you’re in control, the better you’ll be race-wise, so you can actually use your energy in the race rather than panicking.”
Trust your gut: “I paced Apolo Ohno in the 2011 New York City Marathon,” Honerkamp says, “and he ate a plate of fake scrambled eggs from a box right before we ran. I was worried! But we went out and ran a negative-split 3:25. You know your stomach best.”
A Few Important Words About Brunch
After an early-morning 40-mile MTB jaunt, no one can deny that you’ve earned a drink before noon. Except for those damn scientists, who point out that, since booze is dehydrating and comes with a hit of empty carbs, it’s about the worst thing you can have after a hard workout.
But not all booze is created equal. Researchers have found that light beer is reasonably hydrating after exercise when compared with the full-strength stuff. And tomato juice contains proteins and antioxidants that encourage recovery.
So, naturally, a Mexican beer cocktail, or cerveza preparada, is the ultimate recovery drink. It also happens to be delicious.
Cerveza Preparada Recipe
- 1 can light beer
- 1 lime, juiced
- 3 ounces tomato juice
- Worcestershire sauce
- Hot sauce, like Frank’s
- Pour the beer into a pint glass (feel free to salt the rim—for the electrolytes).
- Top off with the lime and tomato juice.
- Stir in Worcestershire and hot sauce to taste.