What does the breakfast of champions really look like? We asked five incredible athletes (from an ultrarunner to a yogi) how they fuel up in the morning to stay so fit. Then our expert—Kim Larson, RDN, a sports dietitian at Total Health in Seattle, and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—weighed in to explain how each tasty breakfast nourishes an active body.
Skier Lindsey Vonn: Steel cut oatmeal and Greek yogurt
After two devastating crashes that put her on the sidelines at the Sochi Olympics, Vonn is back at the top of her sport: In January she won her 63rd World Cup race and officially became the best female skier in history. Vonn—who has a well-earned rep for her grit and single-minded drive—fuels up with two classic healthy staples:oatmeal and Greek yogurt. “I need all that protein in the morning to get me through the day!”
Nutrition perks: “Steel-cut oats are the most unprocessed of all the oats,” Larson said. “They digest slowly—keeping hunger at baby and supplying steady energy.” A side of Greek yogurt adds protein (17 grams per 6 oz. container), as well as a host of other nutrients: calcium, vitamin D, phosphorous, magnesium, vitamin B12, and zinc. Plus, Larson said, the sodium and potassium in dairy help balance electrolytes lost as you train.
Kitchen prep: To cook the oatmeal, bring 3 to 4 cups of water to a boil. Pour in 1 cup steel-cut oats and stir. When the water returns to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the oats are tender. Vonn sweetens her bowl with a bit of agave nectar. You may also want to add a touch of sweet to the Greek yogurt with agave, honey, or fruit.
Cyclist Mary Zider: Blueberry oat and polenta pancakes
After a Division 1 soccer career at Boston College, Zider took up cycling for fun, and discovered a new sport to love. Today she rides for the Colavita/Bianchi Women’s Pro team, and also serves as its director sportif, coaching her teammates through events around the country. One of the perks of being sponsored by an Italian food company? These Blueberry oat and polenta pancakes prepared by the team chef on race days.
Nutrition perks: Cycling requires a lot of carbs and calories. “This breakfast scores high marks for both,” Larson said. And it’s got protein (in the eggs and milk), antioxidants (in the almonds and berries), and fiber and B vitamins (in the whole wheat flour and polenta). “B vitamins assist in the release of energy from foods,” she explained.
Kitchen prep: To make six servings, whisk together 1 3/4 cup milk, 2 large eggs, 2 tbsp. molasses and 1 tbsp. vanilla in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, mix ½ cup rolled oats, 1 cup whole wheat flour, ¾ cup Colavita Instant Polenta ($17, amazon.com), ½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut, 1 tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. nutmeg, zest from half a lemon, 4 tbsp. chia seeds, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. baking soda, and 1 tsp. salt. Combine the dry and wet ingredients. Stir in 1 cup blueberries. Heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat and coat with extra-virgin olive oil. Ladle the batter onto the griddle in ¼ cup sized scoops and cook or about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side, flipping when bubbles start to appear in the middle of the pancake. Enjoy with homemade blueberry syrup.
Ultrarunner Jenn Shelton: Oatmeal mole
“I used to not eat before running,” Shelton, a Patagonia-sponsored athlete (and rock star of ultramarathoning), said. “Over the years, as I started adding more distance to my runs, that had to change.” But she never in a million years expected oatmeal to be her morning meal of choice: “I’d camped way too much in my life to ever eat [the stuff] again,” she joked. But then Shelton discovered savory oatmeal dishes, and after some tinkering, came up with this recipe that calls for bacon, avocado, eggs, broth, and mole sauce (the ready-to-eat kind).
Nutrition perks: This meal is designed for long-lasting energy, Larson said. “It contains a good dose of calories and healthy fat from the bacon and avocado, along with oats for consistent performance.” The fiber-rich whole grains help keep your blood sugar balanced. Meanwhile eggs provide muscle-sustaining protein, and the salt in the broth and bacon helps replace electrolytes the body loses through sweat, she said.
Kitchen prep: Bring chicken broth to a boil, stir in steel-cut oats, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. (One part oats to two parts broth yields thicker oatmeal; for a creamier consistency, add more broth.) Heat mole in a small saucepan. (Shelton likes the roasted mole sauce from Native Kjalii Foods). Then carefully poach eggs in the mole, with the lid on the pan. Cook bacon in a saucepan over medium heat until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and chop. In the skillet with the bacon dripping, sauté diced tomato and onion until they soften and brown slightly. Stir bacon, tomato, and onion into the oatmeal. Sprinkle on queso fresco. Spoon your oatmeal into a bowl, add eggs, drizzle with mole, and top with sliced avocado and chopped cilantro. Store the leftover mole for another meal.
Surfer Tatiana Weston-Webb: Kale and onion scramble
Raised on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Weston-Webb has been addicted to waves since she was a little kid. This year at age 19, the Body Glove surfer made it to the big stage as the only female rookie on the World Championship Tour. She credits her mom, a pro bodyboarder, for her competitive drive, which has helped her shoot up the rankings from no. 16 to no. 7. She may be elite surfing’s newest threat, but Weston-Webb starts her day like a lot of us do—with a veggie scramble and toast.
Nutrition perks: In addition to a high protein-to-carb ratio (which helps keep you full longer), this breakfast boasts the super green kale and its bounty of antioxidants (including vitamins A and C). “The bread supplies the carbohydrates to keep the brain sharp and focused and the muscle stores topped off,” Larson added.
Kitchen prep: Crack 4 eggs in a bowl and blend with salt and pepper. Dice half an onion and sauté in a large skillet over medium heat in 1 tsp. of coconut oil until translucent. Add about 1 cup of kale and sauté until wilted. Pour the eggs into the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until just set. Serve on toasted gluten-free bread with hot sauce to taste
Yogi Rachel Brathen: Upside-down granola in a jar
Known to her fans simply as “Yoga Girl,” Brathen is a star on Instagram, where she shares stunning photos of herself doing crazy-hard poses (think headstand on a paddleboard floating in tropical blue water) with her 1.4 million followers. The yoga instructor, who lives in Aruba, published a memoir this spring that became a New York Times bestseller (Yoga Girl, $20, amazon.com). She hopes her work inspires people to live a healthier lifestyle. Her fave breakfast—homemade granola, yogurt, and berries (or as she calls it, “heaven in a jar”)—is a yummy way to start.
Nutrition perks: Brathen’s parfait is literally layered with energizing ingredients. “Fruit provides fiber and readily available glucose to the muscles, along with antioxidants to reduce inflammation,” Larsen pointed out, “while almonds contribute protein, more fiber, and healthy fats.” Yogurt delivers extra protein, and vitamins and minerals that are key for nerve contractions and bone and muscle health.
Kitchen prep: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, mix 2 tbsp. coconut oil and 1 tbsp. maple syrup and set aside. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup oats, ½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut, ½ cup chopped hazelnuts, ½ cup slivered almonds, ½ cup chopped dried figs, ½ cup chopped dried apricots, ½ tsp. chia seeds, a pinch of Himalayan salt, and a pinch of cinnamon. Add the coconut/maple syrup blend. Mix well—use your hands if you like! Spread on a baking sheet and bake until golden, stirring occasionally. Let cool. To serve, put 3/4 cup granola at the bottom of a half-pint mason jar, and fill with yogurt and mixed fresh berries. Drizzle honey on top.
Recipe adapted from "Yoga Girl" by Rachel Brathen. Copyright © 2014 by Rachel Brathen. Originally published in 2014 in Sweden by Bonnier Fakta. Reprinted by permission of Touchstone/Simon & Schuster.