Cereal is often seen as "unhealthy" and full of "empty calories." However, cereal actually can be a healthy food for busy athletes. Not only is cereal super portable, it is full of carbohydrates and micronutrients an athlete needs.
What's not to like about cereal?
The problem with cereal is it can be FULL of added sugar. Added sugar means that SUGAR was added to the food. The problem with added sugar is that it doesn't come with any additional nutrients besides sugar.
Many favorite cereals of athletes (and myself) contain too much added sugar for everyday consumption - lucky charms, cinnamon toast crunch, fruit loops BUT if it is your favorite, make a half and half mix - add half "sugar cereal" and half a cereal from my list.
While sugar is a carbohydrate which means it helps energize the athlete, if an athlete has too much of it, the athlete may not be able to get in the micronutrients needed to support training and performance. 4 grams of added sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon of added sugar.
Benefits of Including Cereal in an Athlete's Diet
While most cereal contains some added sugar, there are many benefits to including cereal in an athlete's diet:
Quick and Easy
Rich in carbohydrates from whole grains
Fiber to help with digestion
Fortified or enriched with micronutrients like iron, calcium and folic acid
I work with so many athletes that "don't have time" for breakfast and cereal can be the answer. Pair cereal with milk to add some protein and add a banana to add an additional food group.
Cereal is very versatile, you can add dried fruit and nuts to it to make a "breakfast trail mix," which is a very easy grab and go breakfast for busy athletes.
Dry cereal is also a great option to "load up" with carbohydrates on tournament days, game days, swim meet days, track meet days OR as a pre-training snack.
What does a Dietitian Look for in a Cereal?
When looking at cereals, I looked for cereals with 9 grams or less of added sugar and 3 grams or more of fiber. Some of my personal favorite cereals on this list are:
Quaker Oatmeal Squares
Barbara's Peanut Butter Puffins
What are some of your favorite cereals? I need to try Kind Cereal!
Any cereal I should add to this list?