Ok, when I said I wouldn’t get too scientific, I was wrong, this post is going to be all about the science. Lot’s of references and fact-checking. Let me preface this by saying, I am not a nutritionist or registered dietitian. These are my opinions, experiences, and research on breakfast and breakfast foods. Let’s hear both sides of the breakfast debate. In my opinion, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Why? It jump starts your metabolism. And, if done right, it sets the tone for all the healthy foods you’re going to put in your body the rest of the day.
“But I’m just not hungry…”
Every single day, I eat within 30 minutes of waking up. I can’t get out the door without having something in my stomach. I’ve always been that way. That being said, I simply can’t sympathize with those that say they’re not hungry or they feel nauseous when they eat in the morning. Are you one of those people? How do you feel about breakfast in the morning? Let me know in the comments below! I say, suck it up, and start eating something. As with everything, start small, but I don’t recommend starting with just juice. In my personal experience, that’s the worst thing you could start with in the morning. It could contribute to your nausea, rather than alleviate it. Start with something that has some fiber and substance. Of course, some people love their juice. You’ll always find an exception to the rule. You do you.
Breaking the fast: your metabolism
Breakfast in the morning is just that–-breaking the fast. You haven’t eaten for the entire night, 6-9 hours. That’s a long time. It has been said that extending that fast and skipping breakfast slows your metabolism. I’ve done extensive research on meal timing and fasting… specifically on breakfast. Surprisingly, research hasn’t been able to definitively show that eating breakfast boosts your metabolism. However, you might find that when you eat breakfast, you’re hungrier for lunch sooner than if you had skipped your morning meal. Well, that’s proof that your body is metabolizing those foods! Take that as a good sign. Aim to eat a filling breakfast, full of fiber and nutrients (#veggiesforbreakfast!), and be sure to have a healthy snack on hand to appease those pre-lunch stomach-growls.
Starting off on the right foot
The first thing you eat in the morning can make you feel awake, energized, and full of optimism, or it can make you feel tired, sluggish, and negative. Eating a cupcake in the morning may give you energy in the form of a sugar rush, but you’ll soon crash. And if you’re like me, you’ll be beating yourself up all day for eating that ‘bad’ thing. (I try not to label foods as ‘bad’ and ‘good,’ everything in moderation, but eating a cupcake in the morning is definitely not the perfect start to my day.)
Beginning your day with healthy breakfast foods can set you on track for healthy eating throughout the rest of the day. A study found that people who eat breakfast have a higher intake of carbohydrate, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, calcium, iron, and vitamins A, C, & E. Another study, adjusting for energy intake, found that cereal consumption was related to increased intake of fiber, calcium, iron, folic acid, vitamin C, and zinc, and decreased intake of fat and cholesterol. Basically, people who eat breakfast (ugh, cereal) get more nutrients and eat less fat and cholesterol. Eating breakfast can improve cognitive function in children, and why not adults, too? In addition, you’ll have more energy to carry out your daily routine, work efficiently, and do physical activity.
I specifically recommend that my morning clients eat at least a little something for breakfast. My workouts are intense, and you’ll need some carbohydrate stored in your muscles to deal with the physical demands placed on them during the hour-long session. Working out on an empty stomach DOES NOT burn more fat; it just causes you to burn out faster. Thus, you are ultimately burning less calories.
However, as with any little piece of nutrition advice, there is contradicting research that causes major confusion. “Eating breakfast is just added calories. You’ll never compensate for them at subsequent meals,” says Dr. Volker Schusdziarra, speaking about the results to his study. (Also check out Diet: Bigger Breakfast, Bigger Daily Calorie Count). Some people are all about the daily calorie count. But a review of breakfast studies accounts for this finding and says, “Breakfast eaters generally consumed more daily calories yet were less likely to be overweight, although not all studies associated breakfast skipping with overweight.” So, what? You eat more calories, but you’re less likely to be overweight? Yeah, well it’s a head-scratcher. Overall calorie intake is a good indicator of whether you will gain or lose weight… but the other benefits of eating breakfast must outweigh these extra calories. Right? Sometimes. Unfortunately, this is where nutrition research fails us. We can’t possible account for all of the varying factors in people’s diets, in addition to their physical activity.
When in doubt, I say try to shift your food consumption to earlier in the day. Eat breakfast, and skip that late-night snack or dessert before bed. Either way, the promise of increased cognitive function certainly sold me on breakfast. I want to kick butt in my morning sessions, the same way I kick butt in my evening sessions. Don’t you want to impress your boss in that early morning meeting? Turn your brain and your body on with breakfast.
I wake up at 5:00 or 5:15 a.m. every morning. It takes me less than 30 minutes to get up and get out the door in the morning. I wake up and put on hot water to make green tea. While the water is boiling, I grab a quick snack of protein and carbohydrates such as a hard-boiled egg and hummus or a banana with cinnamon and flax seeds. The mornings that I wake up this early, I don’t cook. I prepare my food the night before. Notice that I said ‘snack.’ This is not my full breakfast. This is just to tide me over until 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. until I’ve seen my morning clients. Then, I can eat some oatmeal, an additional hard-boiled egg and hummus, a smoothie, or a more substantial sit-down meal if I have time. I’m always starving by 12 p.m. no matter what.
Whoever came up with the idea that American breakfast foods are sweet?! I wish I could go back in time and shake that person. Consume foods with minimal added sweeteners in general, especially in the morning. Added sweeteners include sugar, honey, maple syrup, evaporated cane juice, agave, high-fructose corn syrup, and any processed foods with any of these things in them. Sweetened breakfast cereals are not a balanced breakfast. Muffins, bagels, pastries, no. You can do better than protein bars. What do I recommend?
- Eggs of any form. Hard-boiled are especially easy. I call them nature’s protein bar. And if you don’t have high cholesterol, I wouldn’t worry too much about those yolks (but get it checked by your doctor, just in case).
- Hummus is my new favorite breakfast item. Pair it with a rice cake or Wasa cracker, veggies, hard-boiled egg (tastes like a deviled egg!), or toast.
- Avocado. Same as hummus. Spread it on crackers or toast. Mash it in with two with hard-boiled eggs. Yum.
- Fish or chicken. I tend to save these for lunch or dinner when I can really enjoy them. But to each his own. They’re still a good option to start your morning.
- Banana and nut butter with flax seeds and cinnamon. I just pour some cinnamon and flax seeds on a plate and dip the banana straight in. But then again, I am in a rush in the morning…
- Chickpeas. You can make a salad out of it with some lime juice, olive oil, tomatoes, onions, and chili powder. Again, I’m somewhat of a utilitarian when it comes to food. I’ll eat them straight out of the jar sometimes. Try to buy the bagged kind, the lining of most metal cans contains bisphenol A (BPA), which leaches into the beans.
- Greek yogurt is high in protein, which is very satiating. Just be sure to choose products with no added sweeteners. If you must, you can sweeten your yogurt by adding your own fruit, jelly, honey, or even protein powder (I’ve been known to combine all of these things at the same time). And buy organic! Happier cows, happier people.
Ok, that’s it for breakfast. Got your morning routine down? Ok, then. Let’s move on to your nightly routine. Up next!