Breakfast of champions

As the 2021 AFL season approaches its finale, dietitians from two leading teams, Melbourne and Essendon, reveal how the players make a healthy start to their day, with tips for all of us. 

Cinnamon porridge with mandarin

Good start: Oats and fresh fruit are recommended.

For Cheyenne Holman, Essendon Football Club’s dietitian, eating the right breakfast is crucial for the players’ preparation – whether they are preparing for a session in the gym or an important match. She adds it’s an important component of everyone’s day, not just elite athletes.

“A balanced breakfast includes a source of high-quality protein like eggs, dairy or soy milk, a source of high-fibre carbohydrates [oats, fruit, wholegrain cereals, wholegrain bread] and ideally some fruit or veg for that extra nutrient hit,” she says.

High-sugar breakfasts are to be avoided because “these set you up to crash within a few hours of eating and craving more sugar.” Cheyenne also suggests steering away from anything fried or high in fat, as these foods are digested slowly and are not going to sit well in the stomach. 

Cheyenne says that a well-balanced and nutritious breakfast not only helps elite AFL players to perform at their optimum but is also essential for muscle recovery after a gruelling training session or a crunching on-field encounter.

"We know muscle growth and maintenance is best fuelled by regular doses of high-protein foods."

Cheyenne Holman

Essendon’s Brekkie Menu

  • Wholegrain cereal served with low-fat milk and banana
  • Peanut butter on sourdough with reduced-fat yoghurt and a piece of fruit
  • Oat porridge made with low-fat milk, plus fresh fruit and/or yoghurt
  • Eggs served on wholegrain toast with avocado
  • Low-fat Greek yoghurt plus your favourite fresh fruit

Dr Rebekah Alcock, dietitian with Melbourne Football Club, is equally keen to ensure her players eat a high-performance breakfast – and monitors closely what they consume.

“The key element of such a breakfast is a good-quality fuel source – after all, you would not put cheap petrol into a high-performance car, would you?” she says.

“Breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day,” she says. “This is certainly the case for Melbourne players who need to ensure that they are optimally fuelled.”

Rebekah Alcock headshot 

"Rebekah recommends a breakfast that contains a healthy fat source, such as olive oil, chia seeds or nuts, plus plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to boost the immune system."

Melbourne’s Brekkie Menu

  • Low-sugar nutty granola with high-protein yoghurt and mixed berries
  • Veggie-loaded three-egg omelette with two slices of wholegrain toast, and avocado
  • Smoothie with high-protein milk, high-protein yoghurt, banana, frozen berries, chia seeds and honey
  • Porridge made with high-protein milk, cinnamon, maple syrup and fruit of choice
  • Buckwheat and sauteed greens, topped with hummus, fermented vegetables and a poached egg

While both dietitians emphasise that the needs of elite athletes are naturally different from others, they say we can all benefit from eating a healthy breakfast.

“While football players portions are likely to be bigger, the same principles apply,” says Cheyenne.

“Include protein for satiety and tissue repair, carbs for fuel and fruit or vegetable for fibre and nutrients. A nutritious breakfast doesn’t need to be time-consuming - a berry smoothie, eggs on toast, yoghurt and fruit are all nutritious, easy options.”

Caffeine addicts will be relieved to learn that one or two cups of coffee can be added to a high-performance brekkie – but too much can affect your sleep.

“Coffee, as with most foods, is fine in moderation,” says Rebekah.

Whether you are pulling on a football jersey or your office attire there is one golden rule for achieving a healthy start to the day: never skip breakfast.

“Muscle growth and maintenance are best fuelled by regular doses of high-protein foods [approximately every 3-4 hours]. Skipping breakfast means not meeting this target,” says Cheyenne.