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Breakfast – the most important meal of the day

By Darren O'Toole | In Nutrition | on September 3, 2015

It’s the meal that is most likely to be skipped. An extra half hour in bed or an inability to eat first thing means that the most important meal of the day is often the most missed meal of the day. I am of course talking about breakfast. But why is it important and more so, are we eating the right content when we do have it?

Let’s first start with why consuming food in the first place is important. When we wake up, it is likely that it has been around 10 hours since you last ate anything. If it isn’t, then you are either not getting enough sleep, or are eating too close to bedtime. Within this period, your body has undertaken some important work. Rest time allows our bodies to repair our muscles from all of the day’s exertion.  For this repair to take place, we need to be burning energy. Our energy requirements don’t simply stop at 9pm of an evening. Therefore our energy stores are slightly low in the morning. The longer it goes before we begin our refuelling, the more likely it is that we enter into ‘starvation mode’.

Starve to survive

Starvation mode is a wonderful survival mechanism linked to our old hunter-gatherer ways when it could be days between meals. In this scenario, our body becomes super-efficient at making the most of the calories it currently has stored. The main way it does this is to protect its fat stores and instead use lean tissue or muscle to provide it with some of the calories it needs to keep functioning. This directly leads to a loss of muscle, which in turn lowers metabolic rate so that the body needs fewer calories to keep ticking over and weight loss slows down. Essentially, for most of us, we don’t want our metabolism to slow. We want our metabolism to be firing – utilising our fat stores and conserving our glycogen stores for when we need an urgent, immediate energy supply. Consuming food as soon as we get up will prevent our bodies falling into this starvation mode.

So having agreed that we need to be eating breakfast, what should we eat? Previous studies have found that fat intake at the time of waking seems to turn on fat metabolism very efficiently and also turns on the body’s ability to respond to different types of food later in the day. Carbohydrate consumption upon waking promotes carb metabolism from the outset which also leaves it to be higher throughout the day. For most, possibly apart from endurance athletes, this suggests that a fatty breakfast is best for most people. That way, we will be burning fats from the get go, and only introduce our carbohydrate metabolism when we consume a mixed meal at lunch or dinner.

Two leading body composition experts – Charles Poliquin and Nick Mitchell – actively promote this food intake for breakfast. Fats and proteins for breakfast can include steaks, eggs, bacon, yoghurt and nuts. Not conventional, but possibly the way forward. Drop the Kellogg’s Cornflakes or the Coco Pops and consider getting the frying pan out instead!

Meat feast

Meat, due to its high protein content, creates a gradual blood sugar increase throughout the day. Sugar and other simple carbs found in the aforementioned cereal brands, may give you a quick boost, but their lack of protein means that good feeling won’t last. Higher protein breakfasts have been found to result in fewer hunger pangs, less fixation on food, and less late-night snacking than the lower protein ones. What’s more, productivity and attention spans have found to be higher following a high protein, high fat breakfast compared to a sugary one.

Healthy fats and proteins help your body to maintain a stable blood sugar level for long periods, whilst a high carb breakfast will result in insulin spikes. Insulin has a fat-sparing effect. Not only does it drive most cells to preferentially oxidise carbohydrates instead of fatty acids for energy, insulin indirectly stimulates accumulation of fat in adipose tissue. When you avoid sugar and starches your blood sugar stabilises and the levels of insulin, the fat-storing hormone, drop. This increases fat burning and makes you feel more satiated.

Now, hopefully you’ll acknowledge that a high protein, high fat breakfast is the best option for stimulating your metabolism without encouraging fat storage. You’ll also crave bad foods less, maintain concentration and have a steady concerted energy supply. So put down the cereals, and embrace those nuts and eggs. You’ll feel better for it, trust me!

About the autor

This blog article has been written by Darren O’Toole, founder and lead personal trainer of Dynamic Fitness Training. For nutritional advice to support your fitness goals, contact Darren directly.

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