Breakfast cereals – A comprehensive review for athletes

Posted on April 26, 2021 by

Much like the ever-growing range of milks on offer in Australian supermarkets, there are also now over two hundred breakfast cereals available too.

This array of choice can be overwhelming, especially when there is such diversity in the nutrient quality across products.

Read our comprehensive review of milks.

To understand how to make the best choice to match your goals and preferences, we have compared the nutrient composition of eight common breakfast cereal products. Context is crucial in nutrition and different cereals can have a different role in the diet depending on your goals. Some cereals are better close to training, others are better away from training and some may be better for specific health needs.

See below for the full review.


Breakfast Cereals – Per 100g

Note: Serve size will vary depending on density of cereal

Product Energy (kJ/kcal) Protein (g) Fat (g) Carbs (g) Sugar (g) Fibre (g) Fortified with
vitamins/
minerals?
Untoasted fruit/
nut muesli
1830kJ
435kcal
14.9 17.3 50.7 15 8.7 No
Oat Clusters 1850kJ
442kcal
7.4 14.2 68 23.4 6.4 No
Bran flakes 1420kJ
340kcal
14.1 4.6 46.0 15.7 28.0 Yes
Rice puffs 1630kJ 7.4 1.1 85.2 8.5 2.3 Yes
Rolled oats 1590kJ
381kcal
13.1 9.0 55.8 1.0 10.8 No
Wheat biscuits 1490kJ
355kcal
12.4 1.3 67.0 3.3 11.0 Yes
Grain bricks 1630kJ
390kcal
21.8 3.0 65.2 24.2 5.3 Yes
Bran flakes
with sultanas
1470kJ
351kcal
10.9 2.8 61.5 22.3 16.7 Yes

Nutrient composition will vary across brands, so it is always worthwhile looking at the nutrition information panel on the back.

Pre-Training

Before training it’s best to prime the body with carbohydrates, the body’s most abundant fuel supply to maintain exercise intensity and reduce fatigue during the session. While most breakfast cereals are grain-based (commonly rice or wheat) making them inherently carbohydrate-rich, the digestion and utilisation of those carbs will vary between types of cereal.

During exercise, blood flow is directed to muscles to allow them to continue working, resulting in reduced blood flow from the gut. While dietary fat and fibre are crucial components of a high-performance diet and regular breakfast practice, right before training their slow-digesting nature can linger content in the gut and lead to gastrointestinal upset when closely follow by exercise.

The choice of a meal or snack of a bowl of cereal consumed close to training (~60-90 minutes beforehand), would be best to have one that is lower in fat and fibre like rice puffs, corn flakes or grain bricks for maximum carbohydrates but a reduced risk of adverse gut side effects.

 

Post-Training

After training, food and drink choices should be based around optimising training adaptation and recovery. Recovery should be a key priority for athletes, as a high-performance athlete is not just one who can push themselves in a single training session, but one who can do so repeatedly. Optimising recovery supports training consistency.

The two key nutrients required for prompt recovery are carbohydrates to replace the fuel used (especially crucial when you have a short turnaround between sessions) and protein for muscle repair. While all cereals reviewed are relatively high in carbohydrates, they are generally low in quality protein. Therefore, to ensure muscle repair, instead of looking for a high-protein cereal, we recommend choosing a cereal that you enjoy and ensure it is combined with another source of protein like milk, Greek yoghurt or a Musashi protein shake when consuming after training.

 

Health

Athletes cannot perform at their best if their health is compromised. When consuming meals away from training (>3 hours) and the acute priority is not fuelling or recovery, athletes should choose a cereal that will support optimal health and to continue to build and turn over energy stores in anticipation for another training session.

While fibre too close to training can cause gut symptoms, high-fibre cereals should be the preferred option when consuming away from training to support a healthy gut. The gut plays a role in many areas of health including immunity and mental health, and fibre is one nutrient that is commonly not met for its daily requirements. The highest fibre cereals reviewed are bran flakes (+/- sultanas), rolled oats, untoasted mueslis and wheat biscuits.

For athletes with additional nutrient requirements, cereals that are fortified with certain essential vitamins and minerals may support optimal nutrient intake if under-consumed in their regular diet. Similarly, athletes with food sensitivities like gluten intolerance should avoid cereals containing in barley, rye, oats and wheat and choose rice, sorghum, buckwheat or quinoa-based cereals as these are inherently gluten-free grains.

 

Our verdict

Nutrition strategies for performance sometimes differ from those appropriate for optimising health or to suit daily lifestyle activities.  Many different cereals can be included in a high-performance diet and provide a way to add variety depending on your training schedule. Some will suit consumption at better times than others depending on individual goals and focus so the purpose of the cereal being consumed should be considered before deciding which to have.

 

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