Prevailing public wisdom depicts that breakfast is the most important meal of the day - Here’s a challenge for you: if you were asked to define breakfast, what would you say? Better yet, why is it important? Consider the context of your answer. It’s not so easy is it?
Regrettably, context is rarely considered when looking at different ways of eating and it is an important component when it comes to eating for health, performance and wellbeing. There is a lot of information which is readily available to the public.
Unfortunately, it can be like Chinese whispers, whereby the original message, in this case ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’, is distorted out of its original context. How many of you go without breakfast and don’t eat until ‘lunch time’? Would that make your lunch, your breakfast? Let’s take a look at why breakfast is particularly important, and in what context it could benefit someone.
Breakfast and Metabolism
Eating food awakens lots of different bodily processes to metabolise food for its energy. This is known as dietary induced thermogenesis (DIT). So, technically eating breakfast does kick start your metabolism. However, don’t count on this kick start to help you lose weight, there are lots of other factors that will influence weight gain and loss like physical activity and the quantity of food you are eating.
Whilst studies have shown eating breakfast makes you subconsciously more active throughout the morning (thus burning more calories), those who didn’t eat breakfast didn’t over compensate later in the day, meaning they had missed a meal. Missing meals will not help with healthy weight loss.
A good tip to remember is that muscle is a more metabolically active tissue and therefore burns more calories. Pack on some more muscle mass, combine this with a bit of breakfast and exercise….hey presto, you could lose some weight. To help also dispel a myth. Muscle does not weigh more than fat. A pound of fat and a pound of muscle both weigh the same. On the other hand, their composition is different.
Muscle has a leaner appearance due to its high density, whereas fat has a low volume and needs more space to jiggle around. Therefore muscle occupies less space than fat does. The misconception often comes from the fact that your weight wouldn’t fluctuate much after completing resistance or cardiovascular exercise due to your increased muscle mass and decreased fat mass. However, your appearance would be considerably different. We shouldn’t get carried away with our weight, our body composition is most important.
Breakfast and Cognitive Function
Our body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose. Glucose is transported to the brain cells and used as fuel by the brain. There have been positive links made between the provision of carbohydrates and your mood as well as cognitive function. Therefore consuming carbohydrates (the good type!) in the morning could certainly help with your morning slog in the office. When choosing carbohydrates try and go for low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates such as oats or bran. Try this for a breakfast: porridge with seasonal berries, a dollop of greek yogurt, partnered with a spinach omelette.
When training early in the morning, what type of intensity and how long do you train for? Those are the type of questions you should ask yourself when considering if you need to eat anything prior to training.
If you are training at a high intensity for say 30 minutes to an hour you may struggle to hold down food having it so close to training. Unless you get up early to have breakfast before training or you only have a small snack like HIGH5 Energy Bar or an Energy Gel. If you don’t have breakfast, recovery after is key! Make sure you consume protein and carbohydrates as soon as you can after training. This will increase rates of protein synthesis (the building of muscle tissue) helping you recover quicker. Recovery Drink is ideal for this. When training at a moderate to low intensity you can eat something beforehand. This is especially important when training for more than 90 minutes. Unless your aim is increased fat metabolism via fasted training.
Some tips to take away with you:
1. Breakfast doesn’t need to be sugary cereals, concentrated fruit juices or French pastries. Be more adventurous with your breakfast; don’t force yourself to eat a big bowl of cereal and a coffee in the morning if you don’t want it. Wait until you feel hungry and prepare something more nutritious. This will benefit your training or daily routine a lot more than that bowl of sugary cereal.
2. If you aren’t a breakfast eater but suffer mid morning slumps, have a snack! However, don’t forget to ensure you get enough food in during the rest of the day. Otherwise your training adaptations could suffer.
3. If you’re training in the morning, think about what that session is trying to achieve. Harder intensities and longer duration sessions will require fuelling prior to or during training.
4. If doing fasted training, ensure you recover properly. Make sure you get enough protein and carbohydrates post exercise to stimulate the training adaptation.
Breakfast is something most of us can benefit from, however, there are lots of inter-individual variances between everyone’s goals, routines and tastes. This means that it is down to you as an individual to experiment and find out how you feel after consuming different foods and timings in and around your daily routine and training. Switch up that bowl of sugary cereal for an omelette of your choice and a fresh smoothie rather than the sugary concentrated fruit juices you can buy from supermarkets. Nutrition is personal and not everyone likes the same things. Go and find out what works for you and be one step closer to achieving your goals, whatever they may be.