Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?
Do we need to eat breakfast to get into the shape of our lives?
These questions may come as a little bit of surprise if you’re at all familiar with what we do at Ultimate Performance.
However, one of the qualities which keeps us ahead in the personal training industry is our relentless pursuit of excellence for our clients.
In the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all fitness world we live in, many trainers have forgotten that the most important person in the room is, and always will be, the client.
Trying to enforce one way of thinking onto a client will always leave them frustrated, non-compliant, and very quickly looking elsewhere.
For the majority of our clients, breakfasts are a staple. The multi-billion pound breakfast cereal industry has brainwashed many into believing that highly processed ‘foods’ found in cardboard boxes are essential to starting the day.
So when these clients swap a bowl of Cheerios for two fillets of grilled salmon and vegetables, they’re going to feel great.
But what if you don’t like breakfast? Or what if skipping it altogether made you feel even better?
Scientific ‘experts’ have drilled into us for years that skipping breakfast is an obesity and disease statistic waiting to happen.
The perception that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ has been so engrained into society that anything countering that would be sacrilege.
Worryingly, this belief has affected scientific research looking at the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity, which has concluded on numerous occasions that a correlation does exist (correlation does not mean causation though!).
A meta-analysis recently examined this, and found that the ‘belief’ of the benefits of breakfast ‘exceeds the strength of scientific evidence’. Digging deeper, the analysts found some serious problems in the work being done; one being a strong research bias when interpreting results.
When it comes to the research surrounding breakfast, more often than not we have to take it with a pinch of salt. Poorly conducted studies and contradictory results and opinions means there’s no clear answer.
Now, this is not at all to say that we’ve done a 180 turn on the subject – it’s to highlight the need to remain open-minded when it comes to finding a method of eating which fits YOUR needs.
Nutrition is always debated and argued about. And it’s not necessary. It’s actually the simplest part of body composition. Create a calorie deficit, eat the right foods and then stick to the plan.
This latter point brings us to the first and most important advantage to skipping breakfast.
Individual Breakfast Choice
The hardest bit about getting in shape is sticking to the diet. Any way we can make it easier for the client, we’re going to do it. For some people, this may be skipping breakfast.
UP trainers are in a fortunate position to be part of an ongoing internal research lab, so we know what works and what doesn’t across a vast population.
For a minority of clients, skipping breakfast really does work well. And more importantly, it makes them 10 times more compliant in the long run.
Some clients are never hungry when they wake up, so breakfast can be forced, which is uncomfortable.
Others don’t enjoy it, and it makes them feel sick.
For some, it’s their schedule and productivity levels. They feel productive first thing, so want to capitalise on it and eat later.
Fat Loss Benefits
Overall calorie intake is the number one factor to consider (providing we’re eating the right foods) when chasing fat loss. That said, one of the indirect effects skipping breakfast has is reduced energy intake, providing you’re not gorging the rest of the day.
Second, anyone who’s dieted for a long period of time knows that if there’s any trick to reduce hunger, it’s worth doing.
For some people, skipping breakfast and eating a little later could help with hunger. The idea here is you’ll eat the same number of meals, but in a small time frame. The benefit here is primarily psychological, yet one which will enhance adherence.
The Health Benefits
The reported health benefits for skipping breakfast or extended fasts present a very convincing case.
Reduced markers of inflammation, oxidative stress and blood pressure.
Improved cardiovascular function, increased cell repair and higher growth hormone release.
It all sounds very good.
The problem with these findings is you can also find an equal amount of research which show the same thing eating in a normal calorie deficit.
Perhaps the most discussed and relevant health benefit of extending your overnight fast is in anti-ageing.
Specifically, improving the natural process called autophagy, which is the ‘removal of cellular junk’ from your body, a form of detoxification.
An easy way to think about it is ‘house cleaning’ for the body. Autophagy clears out faulty parts, cancerous growths and metabolic dysfunctions, and aims to make our bodies more efficient. It is essential for healthy ageing, and becomes more important as you grow older.
Besides exercise, extended fasts are one of the best ways to accelerate autophagy, as it gives our body time to clear out the debris.
So What Should You Do?
The intention of this article was not a call for everyone to ditch their breakfasts. Far from it. It’s been written to open minds to the possibility that breakfast is not essential in all cases.
The majority of our clients do eat breakfast, and love the boost in energy and focus it gives them. However, personal training is about individualising the process to the client. If the client feels better eating breakfast later, then by all means go for it.
One thing that should serve as a word of warning here is to not fall into the trap of labeling the exact time frames you should or should not be eating in.
Many of the popular ‘intermittent fasting’ protocols can trap you into thinking you must fast for 16 hours, and can only eat when the clock strikes midday.
In reality, to reap the benefits of a delayed breakfast, it’s about experimenting and finding what works for your individual preference, needs and goals.