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With the explosion of Intermittent Fasting in the news, breakfast has been a hot topic for firefighters and wellness professionals. One day it’s healthier to eat breakfast, and the next day it’s not! Let’s discuss this in the context of your career as a firefighter.
To Skip or Not to Skip
Intermittent Fasting is a nutrition protocol that restricts the time you have to eat. The most common protocol is fasting from 8:00 pm to 12:00 pm the next day. Essentially skipping breakfast and having the first meal at lunchtime.
This protocol can result in weight loss because it might reduce the calories eaten in the day. Weight loss is great, but evidence suggests that skipping meals may impact performance. On-shift, firefighters need to perform their best at any moment. What happens if you run a box at 11:00 am and you have not eaten that day? Chances are your performance will not be optimal on that call.
Mental and physical performance is crucial on shift. Most firefighters will feel their best with more regular meals, especially on shift. If you do want to try Intermittent Fasting, keep the fasting window smaller on shift (ex. 8:00 pm to 7:00 am). This would cut out any nighttime snacking, but still allow you to eat during lineup.
Ice Cream for Breakfast
Every shift has that guy or girl who starts the day off with ice cream, a donut, or some other baked good. While you should enjoy these foods some of the time, sweets will often leave you hungry in a few hours. If you want that donut, try to pair it with something high in protein. A protein shake, some scrambled eggs, or Greek yogurt will do the trick. Pairing treats with protein will help hold you over until lunchtime.
The Perfect Pairing
In a dietitian’s eyes, the perfect breakfast would include protein and a high-quality carbohydrate. A high-quality carb is high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Common examples of healthy carbs are fruit, oatmeal, whole grain toast, or a whole grain pancake mix.
Many firefighters skip the healthy carb in fear of weight gain. If you PT on shift, skipping the carb may reduce your performance during the workout. Consuming 20-60 grams of carbs before a workout may enhance performance and prevent fatigue later in the day.
Protein at breakfast is important for muscle growth and maintenance. Skipping breakfast may stall muscle growth! Research suggests that 3-4 meals with 25-30 grams of protein per meal will optimize muscle growth. Include a good source of protein with breakfast like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, or protein powder.
What if I get Stuck on Calls?
If you need a portable breakfast, check the freezer aisle for a healthier breakfast sandwich or burrito. Look for options with egg whites, veggies, turkey sausage, or turkey bacon. Pair with a piece of fruit and you’re on your way!
Fast food restaurants can also work in a pinch. For breakfast sandwiches, opt for an English muffin over biscuits, bagels, or croissants. Choose turkey bacon or sausage to help reduce the fat content. Bonus points if you can work veggies into your order! A fruit cup or apple slices are typically the best side options.
Need some breakfast ideas to get started? Check out the freezable Mexican Breakfast Burrito or the Sheetpan Pancakes in the recipes section.
Megan Lautz, MS, RD, CSCS, TSAC-F
Megan is a Registered Dietitian and coach who specializes in firefighter nutrition. Megan’s mission is to help firefighters perform better, recover faster, and enjoy long healthy retirements. Megan is the owner of RescueRD LLC, which provides nutrition seminars and coaching for tactical athletes across the country. Check out @Rescue.RD on Facebook and Instagram.