Mom always used to say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And you know what? Mom was right. Who knew Mom was a nutritional researcher?
In today’s fast-paced society, we are often rushed and short on time, especially in the morning when there seems to be so much to do in advance of going to work or starting our day. So a lot of people choose not to take the time to prepare and eat a nutritious breakfast, and instead either skip the meal altogether, or they grab something on the go that’s incredibly sugar-laden and calorically dense: donuts, fast food breakfast sandwiches, an infused coffee drink – you get the picture. What those people don’t realize is that they are sabotaging their body’s ability to run at an optimal level, they are encouraging it to store bodyfat, and they are setting themselves up for a cascade of nutritional failures for the remainder of the day. That may sound harsh, but it’s the truth, and there are plenty of clinical studies in the literature to back it up.
So I’m going to explain (in an oversimplified way) what happens when you eat carb-laden sweet or sugary things to start your day – or when you skip a meal altogether, to reinforce the fact that starting your day with a satisfying high-protein and healthy fat power packed meal will supercharge your metabolic engine and help you achieve your health and fitness goals.
First, let’s talk about what happens when you eat a crap breakfast or skip it altogether. As outlined in JD’s book, Get Fit, Lean and Keep Your Day Job, eating foods that are high in simple sugars and starches floods your blood stream with glucose, which in turn signals your body to release a boatload of insulin, which then tells your body to go into fat storage mode. Eating a donut, sweet pastries, breakfast cereals (nearly all breakfast cereals are all carbs and often have some sort of sugar sneakily added to them as sucrose, dextrose, fructose, and the like), fruit juices or other sugar-laden sweetened coffee drinks like a raspberry carmel macchiato) do exactly that. That sugar burns off quickly in your system, and before long you want more. How many times have you decided to have another donut an hour after eating that first one or two, because Bob from Accounting brought in a box of Krispy Kremes and there’s still a couple left. This cycle repeats itself and pretty soon you’ve had more ups and downs than the Rocket Roller Coaster at Great America. And guess where all those calories are going…. Yup. Fat City.
Some people just skip breakfast altogether, drink some coffee, and eventually the hunger cravings catch up with them and they end up overeating later in the day. The fact is, not eating stresses your body. Clinical studies have shown that breakfast skippers have inconsistent and elevated cortisol levels (the stress hormone which also causes your body to glom onto bodyfat and not let go like a giant squid on steroids) as well as elevated blood pressure. In addition, people who skip breakfast are more likely to make poorer food choices throughout the rest of the day.
If this sounds familiar, and you want to get off the energy/crash/fat storage roller coaster, then here’s what you need to do:
Eat a high-protein, low carb, moderate fat breakfast. Bacon and eggs. Steak and eggs. A veggie omelette with some cheese and some avocado slices on the side. A breakfast of this type that has 30 g of protein and a balanced level of fats was shown to have the following impact in a landmark clinical study comparing a high protein/fat breakfast group to a high-carb group and a no-breakfast group. The people eating the high-protein, high-fat, no carb breakfast showed:
- Reduced cortisol (stress hormone) levels
- Reduced levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and increased gut hormone peptide YY, which helps us to feel full (so we don’t eat too much later in the day)
- The high protein breakfast eaters reported feeling more satiated and ate fewer calories at lunch – in addition, they were less likely to snack throughout the day, and made healthier food choices when they did snack
Other studies have shown that eating a high-protein breakfast helps you lose weight in general.
So what does this tell you? It tells you to eat some protein and some fat at breakfast. Skip the sugars (no juices, bread, muffins, pastries or other starchy foods including breakfast potatoes). You’ll feel better, you’ll put yourself in a position of controlling your nutritional environment for the rest of the day, and you’ll reduce your stress hormone levels and positively impact your blood pressure. So skip the donuts and froofy coffee drinks and treat yourself to a REAL breakfast. If you’re pressed for time, hard boil some eggs the night before and throw em in the fridge and have them on the go or at work the next day. Your body will thank you.
A note for my friends who are following the ketogenic diet (eating ~5% carbs, ~75% fats and ~20% protein) and/or taking ketone supplements (which I am doing): there’s a big push for having bulletproof coffee (coffee mixed with coconut oil and grass-fed butter) first thing in the morning and then waiting until 11:00 am or so to have your first “real” meal. Although I could not find any solid research in the literature that compared bulletproof coffee to a high protein/fat breakfast, I can say with certainty that bulletproof coffee is going to be a better choice than a donut or carmel macchiato with raspberry syrup. Especially if you are following a low-carb nutrition plan. To get into a ketogenic state, you have to consume fat and protein and avoid sugars and carbohydrates, or use a cutting-edge ketone supplement. So if bulletproof coffee is working for you, go with it. However, if you’re training hard, doing high intensity weight-lifting and resistance training, make sure you get enough protein in your diet to help your body repair and rebuild that lean muscle. I’m still researching this topic exhaustively and will post more about it in the near future.
I’ve included some links to a few articles commenting on this topic that I think will help reinforce the points made above and give more ammo to the argument for having a delicious protein and fats breakfast. Plus, what more can I say, than “Bacon.”
Eating Well: How a High Protein Breakfast Can Help You Lose Weight
LiveStrong: Can Eating 30 g of Protein Each Morning Help You Lose Weight?
Female breakfast skippers display a disrupted cortisol rhythm and elevated blood pressure
About the guest blog author: Steve Welch is a medical publishing professional who Got Fit, Lean and Kept His Day Job at the ripe old age of 50. If he can do it, so can you! So get to it!