For years we've been told breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially if you're trying to lose weight. Even the Surgeon General says that eating breakfast "may be important in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight". It turns out the idea spread from misconstrued studies and isn't true. You can read more about how that happened in this article: Myths Surround Breakfast and Weight. The question remains, should or shouldn't you have breakfast? Or maybe this isn't the right question to ask.
Eating a balanced first meal is what's important. Here, "balanced" refers to a meal that keeps your blood sugar stable therefore promoting weight loss (or maintenance). When you eat something, your body breaks down the starches from that meal into a sugar called glucose. The sugar ends up circulating through your blood stream to supply energy to your body's cells. Some of that energy is necessary and gets used and distributed properly, but too much sugar in your blood will make your insulin hormone spike and store the excess as fat in order to even things out. As a side note and interestingly, the other extreme isn't good either: too little glucose can switch your body to "starvation mode" and use up lean muscle as fuel instead of fat. Both scenarios can have a negative impact on your weight and body composition.
So what makes a great first meal, or any meal for that matter? A meal containing protein and fat will slow down the body's insulin response to the starches it also contains. It turns out a lot of people feel better eating smaller meals throughout the day. Think of smaller meals as a way to keep your "energy furnace" going steadily as opposed to burdening it with a lot of calories (a big meal) all at once. Ideally, a meal will keep you going with steady energy for 3-4 hours.
With that in mind and regardless of what time you eat breakfast, here are some balanced first meal suggestions:
- Eggs, chicken apple sausage, sliced tomatoes over mixed greens with olive oil and balsamic, and a piece of whole grain toast.
- Oatmeal with butter or ghee, cinnamon, walnuts, and maple syrup, followed by a small protein smoothie.
- High protein yogurt with nuts and berries.
- Whole grain toast with avocado, turkey, and arugula.
- Cottage cheese with berries and nuts.
All these options feature a combination of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Some are higher in carbs, some are lower. Everyone's different so you have to figure out what works for you regarding macronutrient proportions. The same goes for how much you eat; it depends on your metabolism, current weight, and body weight goal.
For fun (and in the name of research), I asked clients what they ate this morning before coming in for their workout:
- Selma just had coffee, but Swedish pancakes with jam were on the horizon.
- Ken had breakfast cereal with milk, and coffee.
- Hank had coffee, granola with yogurt and a sliced banana.
- Rob had a ready-to-drink high protein shake.
- George had avocado, blueberries, and a protein smoothie with fiber and fish oil added.
- Sara had scrambled eggs, rice, and kale.
We have an interesting range of morning meals here. Which breakfast is a balanced meal and which could use some help? Hint: they are listed in order from not so great to best.
What did you have for breakfast, and was it a balanced meal?