As it says on the tin, breakfast ‘breaks’ your ‘fast’. It is the first thing of the day that you ingest after 8 to 10 hours of sleeping and fasting. When you are sleeping, your body is primarily using stored body fat to fuel your automatic bodily processes – remember, we still burn calories when we are asleep and most of these calories come from stored body fat – as well as dietary protein to repair damaged cells. After hours of not eating, your body becomes a little wary about ‘wasting away’ so the next time you fuel your amazing machine, it decides to try and replace the stores of body fat that it has used up over the night.
For breakfast, your body is trying to replace the stores it has used over night just in case, it thinks, it won’t be fuelled for a long time again. On top of this, breakfast looks to provide your muscles and brain with fuel to function efficiently for the morning, as well as continuing to repair cells. It needs a good amount of calories to do all of this efficiently.
PICKING THE RIGHT FOOD IS ESSENTIAL
“All foods are equal, but some foods are more equal than others.”
Adapted from a well-known book of course, this phrase helps to describe how foods work with the body. All foods provide a thermogenic effect on the body through the calories they possess. The more calories a food has, the more fuel it provides for the fire. The greater the fire – read: the body’s energy stores – the more alert and efficient our daily actions, be it reading or sprinting.
Some foods have more calories per gram than others. Carbohydrates and protein both contain 4 calories per gram; however, dietary fats contain 9 calories per gram. This is useful information but it doesn’t explain this section’s introductory line. This can actually be explained by a more succinct mantra:
NO CALORIES ARE EQUAL
Based on the knowledge that food types have different inherent calories, Person A decides to make 3 cereal breakfasts of 500 calories each:
- 100g porridge oats with water, almonds, berries and Total 0% Greek Yoghurt
- 50g no added sugar muesli with semi-skimmed milk, honey, a banana and pumpkin seeds
- 40g raisin wheats with skimmed milk, a sprinkling of sugar, and one piece of white toast with raspberry jam.
Person A believes that if they ate these 3 breakfasts consistently for 2 months each, ate the same food after each breakfast to always total 2000 calories per day, and ensured they burned 2000 calories per day too, that their body composition would be the same after each 2 month period.
They believe this because they think a calorie is a calorie and, to not put on fat, you just need to eat the same as you expend each day.
WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!
The make up of your calories is just as important as the number of calories you consume, especially at breakfast. As I mentioned previously, when your body receives food for the first time since the fast overnight, it looks to try and store some of the fuel as body fat. However, it does this more efficiently with some foods compared to others. If you were to take home one point from this article, it should be the following:
High sugar foods are the worst choices to make for your breakfast.
This is because your body stores body fat most efficiently from sugar. Eating high sugar foods will send your blood sugar up. The higher your blood sugar sores, the greater the secretion of the hormone insulin. Insulin looks to store body fat. The more insulin that is secreted (apart from in a post-workout state) the more body fat is stored. Furthermore, insulin’s main function is to remove the high, potentially toxic levels of sugar from the blood; in doing this, it sends your blood sugar crashing down again. This can lead you to want and need more sugary foods to take your blood sugar up to a level you can function with, and then the cycle of insulin secretion and blood sugar removal continues.
Start the day with sugar, and you have another 15 hours of craving sugar. Meal 3 of the above is 90% composed of high sugar. Meal 2 is more complex in its composition but still has a combination of sugary foods (banana, honey, milk and potentially some dried fruit in the muesli) that combine to elevate insulin above optimal levels. Meal 1 is the best choice – it is the most complex breakfast filled with complex carbohydrates, health dietary fats and protein sources that will have the minimal insulin elevation meaning that it will keep you full and energised the longest as complexity of the meal and the lack of high sugar foods means that the signal to secrete insulin only occurs minimally meaning that sugar isn’t removed from the blood.
Choosing the right option for breakfast means that you don’t allow your body to store much body fat from your food. So whilst you were sleeping you would have burned body fat for energy and, upon waking and eating, you don’t have that body fat replaced entirely meaning that you will be in a slightly leaner state day-by-day when choosing the right breakfast and creating a calorie deficit over the course of the day.
WHAT IF I DON’T LIKE EATING BREAKFAST?
Many people don’t like to eat breakfast because they feel nauseous at that time of day or feel they ‘don’t have time’ to have breakfast. Firstly, you can train your body to eat breakfast; it just needs a concerted effort and to find the right option for you. If you are in a hurry, preparation is key, you don’t need to spend time in the morning making something if you’ve already made it the night or weekend before and can take it with you on your commute.
But, if you really don’t like breakfast, you will still have to break your fast at some point, and the longer you leave it after waking, the more your blood sugar level will start to decrease as you start to go about your daily activities. The longer you leave it, the more your body thinks that it is being starved as it’s now 10 to 14 hours since you ate last; because of this, it really REALLY tries hard to store the next thing you eat as body fat. If you eat the wrong food as you have waited too long after waking because your blood sugar has decreased and you feel the need to quickly get some sugar into you, then you are doing the perfect thing to store body fat and continue to overeat and eat the wrong foods throughout the day.
If you can go a few hours after waking on just a coffee but can control your blood sugar and choose a complex meal for the first thing that you eat, then you are welcome to not eat as soon as you wake. But, this is hard to do and not many people can do it and function efficiently; thus, I never recommend it as the longer you leave it to eat after waking, the more important it is that you do not chose a sugary option. This is why breakfast first thing is always strongly encouraged but not mandatory because only some people can control their blood sugar and their food choices a few hours after waking.
START THE DAY WITH COMPLEX BREAKFASTS
So, starting the day with breakfast is the way to go for most people and a complex breakfast is a must. The number of calories in your breakfast, and for your daily intake, does depends on your height, weight, muscle mass and whether you are looking to lose weight, gain weight and muscle or just maintain your weight and stay healthy; this is where a nutritionist can come in to help you individually. But in general, we can all have a similar menu for the best breakfast just with different quantities of everything.
Another personal preference is the ratio of complex carbohydrates to protein to dietary fats in your breakfast. This is a trial and error process and also depends on your health and fitness goals again, but try different options and see if you work best with mainly complex carbohydrates, fats or protein; or an even mixture of them all. The one thing to be sure about is that you must have some of each food type within your meal. This allows you to get the correct energy type for the various processes in the body, gives you the right vitamins and minerals, and, moreover, means that insulin secretion will be suppressed N.B. insulin response is greatest when dealing with one food type on its own; make sure you combine carbohydrates with proteins and fats, for example, further blunt the response. So don’t have just fruit, pair it with a good low sugar yoghurt, some nuts and some oats; don’t just have a plain porridge, add some seeds and maybe some protein powder to it.
GOOD BREAKFAST CHOICES
- Porridge oats with water, almonds, banana and a low sugar yoghurt – CHEAPEST + ALL-ROUNDER (add a scoop of protein powder for a high protein, flavoured option)
- An omelette with vegetables – LOW CARB CHOICE
- Homemade smoothie; blend: oats, berries, ice cubes, chia seeds and whole milk – ON-THE-GO
- 2 slices of wholemeal bread with peanut butter/marmite/low fat cheese/meat/fish/grilled veg + low sugar yoghurt mixed with nuts and fruit – A ‘MAIN’ + ‘DESSERT’ OPTION
- A normal meal: Meat/fish + a complex carbohydrate + green vegetables – THE BULK BUYER
- Replacement meal protein shake (recommendation) – FOR THOSE WHO DON’T LIKE BREAKFAST
- Smoked salmon with scrambled egg and wholemeal toast – THE BREAKFAST MEETING
Director – Head of Fitness and Nutrition
Fitness Body Pro