Have yourself a better breakfast

It’s not easy giving up your favourite cereal. That is no accident of course, as breakfast cereals are designed to be addictive. These sugar-laden processed foods are designed to be hyper palatable, triggering the a surge of hormones that make you feel good, and leave you wanting more. As I discussed in my previous post, cereals are far from harmless, and I make the case for dropping them from your diet altogether. I can attest, as a past three-bowl-a-day cereal eater, when you kick the cravings, they eventually lose their appeal altogether.

So what should we eat for breakfast? There are loads of quick and easy options to swap in for your soggy Cornflakes.

There are three questions I would ask to help choose a better breakfast for yourself:

1) Are you using single ingredient foods to prepare your breakfast? Each food on your plate should contain one ingredient only, the food you are looking at. Let’s do a dummy test run..Banana. Ingredients? Banana. Nice, okay..Egg. Ingredient? Egg. Excellent. How about..Kellogg’s All Bran. Ingredients? Wheat Bran (87%), Sugar, Barley Malt Flavouring, Salt. Oh, no. But it says on the box here ‘Heart Healthy’, and ‘Fibre’? Sorry, doesn’t pass the test. (Incidentally, did anybody put their bowl of All-Bran with milk in the microwave, or was that just me and my Granny?)

2) Do you want your breakfast to consist of carbohydrates, protein, or fat? The macronutrient content of your breakfast will depend in part on your energy requirements for the day. Especially for athletes. If you are going to be taking part in an intensive training session a few hours after breakfast, or playing a match, you will want carbs in your breakfast to fuel your efforts.

If, on the other hand, you are going to be sitting in front of the computer working all day, you might opt for a low-carb option. Protein foods help to keep us satiated for much longer, so we won’t feel the need to eat too soon after breakfast. If you are training hard you should aim to have a source of protein with each meal, to provide the body with the building blocks for muscular repair and growth.

Your body composition goals are another important factor here also. If you are looking to reduce body fat, you want to improve your bodies ability to burn stored fat as energy. In the process of becoming fat-adapted we become less dependent on glycogen (carbs) as our source of fuel. A great way to build the metabolic machinery to oxidise fat is to swap out your carbohydrate-rich breakfast for a low-carb option, e.g. eggs, avocado, nuts. In some cases, fasting through breakfast altogether can be beneficial, as long as you do it right. You know when you’re fat adapted when you can get to lunch time without crashing and feeling miserable. Check out Mark Daily’s Apple for great advice on becoming a fat-burning beast as he calls it.

3) How well does your gut tolerate the foods you are eating?

Food intolerance is when the body can’t digest a food properly, leading to digestive symptoms such as as bloating, gas, cramps, diarrhoea, and constipation. Sensitivity to dairy products can lead to brain fog, leaving you feeling fatigued, with difficulty concentrating, or a headache. Food intolerances can also affect your skin, your joints, and your mood. For some reason, food intolerance is often portrayed as a fad, but it’s very real and affects people often unknowingly. The problem is that people are so used to experiencing these symptoms, they don’t associate them with the foods they are eating every day. Two of the most commonly poorly tolerated foods are ones many of us have with our breakfast every morning: Milk/dairy, and Wheat. And don’t forget Whey Protein comes from the liquid by-product of cheese. If you are intolerant to these foods you could be stressing you’re gut every single morning, affecting your health and performance. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned, try eliminating them altogether and see how you feel after a few weeks.

What’s for Breakfast?

I am no chéf, so if I can prepare a quick and nutritious breakfast, anybody can. Here are my go-to breakfast choices:

1. Overnight Oats. This is a great alternative to cereal if you still want your breakfast in a bowl with milk and a spoon in your hand, and is a very popular breakfast for athletes these days. Before you go to bed put oats into a bowl, cover them in some milk and leave it in the fridge over night. I use Gluten Free Oats and Oat or Almond Milk. Then in the morning, decorate the bowl with toppings and enjoy. I fire in fruit and nut mix, blueberries, flaxseed crunch, cacao nibs, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

2. Porridge. Same oats, served up differently, when you want something hot. Soaking the oats in the pot overnight increases its digestibility. I’ve ruined many’s a bowl of porridge by going OTT with toppings. I keep it simple enough now, sliced banana, cinnamon, cacao powder, and maybe a bit of honey.

Ingredients test: 100% rolled gluten free oats. Pass

3. Homemade Granola. Gives you the crunch of your cereal without the diabetes, and it’s really easy to make. All you have to do is roast some nuts and seeds, a great option if you want to keep your breakfast low-carb. Here’s how I do it: Melt some coconut oil into an oven dish, throw in a bag of mixed nuts, throw in some pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, linseed, desiccated coconut, cacao nibs, more nuts, more seeds. Then I roast them at a low to medium temperature for a while until they are golden, and not-burned.

Homemade granola

4. Eggs and Veg. How do you like your eggs? Scrambled, boiled, fried..if you have the culinary skills, poached. Serve them with an avocado, some mushrooms, or some other veg. Turn it into an omelette with tomatoes, peppers. You know yourself. An excellent source of protein in the morning, and a great breakfast for fat-adaptation.

5. Fruit. Banana, apple, orange, you know fruits..You could have a fruit salad with berries, nuts, and yoghurt (if you tolerate dairy well). If you want something to bring out the door with you, throw your fruits into a blender and make a smoothy. Frozen berries are great for this, as you can keep them in stock, and makes your smoothy nice and cool. Fruits are, obviously, packed with nutrients, but they can be high in sugar. Lower-sugar fruits are a good option for those looking to limit their carbohydrate intake. And remember, fruit-juice doesn’t count, even if it contains bits! Instead, start every day with a glass of water.

I would highly recommend Daniel Davey’s book, Raise Up Your Game, for loads more easy options for breakfast, as well as excellent recipes for lunch and dinner. I would go so far as saying that if you are an athlete looking to up your nutrition game, this is an indispensable cook book.

Author: Cairbre

Cairbre is the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Tipperary Hurling Team, having previously coached Arsenal Women FC and at the Arsenal Youth Academy. Blog posts inspired by a curiosity about the inner workings of the body and mind, and the pursuit of athletic performance. UKSCA accredited, with a Sport and Exercise Sciences BSc, and Sports Performance MSc from the University of Limerick.


  1. Great advice for breakfast options! I personally have food intolerances to dairy and wheat and it took me a bit of time to accept that I had to make changes in my diet, and then find the foods my body could handle. Great article Cairbre!

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