Breakfast can be a contentious issue.
There are arguments for skipping breakfast – but equally, there are overwhelming advantages to eating breakfast first thing in the morning.
So here we’re going to explain the Ultimate Performance stance on what’s known as ‘the most important meal of the day’ – and it’s a stance that has delivered exceptional transformation results for thousands of personal training clients with us.
As with all things related to body composition, it really does come down to the individual.
Without sounding like a broken record, everyone who has been successful at getting and more importantly, staying in shape all have one thing in common: they do what works for them!
It really is that simple. The same rule applies to breakfast. Our stance on breakfast is this:
Eat a quality, high protein breakfast at the time that fits best to your lifestyle, your goals and your preferences.
Who is breakfast for?
Most of our clients at UP do eat breakfast. For our specific clientele, who are typically busy, stressed-out executives, we actively encourage breakfast. These clients need to be focused, productive and on top of their game.
In fact, if you live this lifestyle, we think breakfast should be a staple.
Breakfast sets the tone for the day, keeps hunger at bay and squashes any mid-morning cravings that may conveniently appear when the sandwiches get passed around the meeting room.
Further, long fasts can be a stress on the body. Coupling this with already high cortisol levels is a recipe for disaster, and something definitely worth avoiding.
While this is not suggesting you must eat within 10 minutes of waking, leaving it until 1 pm is probably not wise.
Of course, there will be exceptions to the rule. For the most part, however, our experience tells us breakfast is a must for these clients.
The other population we will always recommend breakfast to is anyone whose goal is building muscle.
The catch here is that we believe everyone should always be striving towards this. Even if your goal is fat loss, if you tick enough of the right boxes, you can still gain some muscle tissue.
During an initial consultation with a client, we will almost always be asked how to develop certain body parts. For women, this may be glutes, for guys it’s usually chest, shoulders and arms.
To develop, ‘tone’, or ‘shape’ a body part there’s only one way: build muscle and lose body fat.
If this is the case, and we’re faced with a short timeframe of only 12-16 weeks, then it only makes sense everything we’re doing is geared towards building muscle and losing fat. This means eating breakfast.
If we can eat breakfast upon rising, it means we have one more chance to activate protein synthesis each day.
If we add those days up over 12-16 weeks, we’re potentially left with more muscle in the right places (providing the correct training is in place) and a happy client.
Source: Leidy, H. J., Hoertel, H. A., Douglas, S. M., Higgins, K. A., & Shafer, R. S. (2015). A high protein breakfast prevents body fat gain, through reductions in daily intake and hunger, in “Breakfast skipping” adolescents. Obesity, 23(9), 1761-1764.
Who is breakfast not for?
Despite the benefits, the best programme is always the one you will follow week in, week out over an extended period of time.
For some, this means not eating breakfast.
At UP, a minority do skip breakfast. It’s almost always down to one of the following:
- They’re not hungry upon waking
- They feel nauseous or sick when eating in the morning
- They feel better and more energetic delaying it until later
These clients will still get great results.
For the most part, all the debate that surrounds nutrition is futile. Arguing over what and when you should eat really is a reflection of the childishness that goes on in certain sections of the fitness industry. Amongst all this noise, the most important person in the room, the client, has been all but forgotten.
If a client hates breakfast, it’s simple; skip it and eat later.
The bigger picture will always be about mastering portion control, eating high-quality food and reaching your protein goal.
If I prefer to skip breakfast, how do I do it?
Make your first meal anywhere from 10 am to 1 pm. The key is you want to make sure you have at least three meals in the day. Saving all your food for just one or two meals isn’t optimal by any means, due to the lack of protein distribution.
In fact, a study in 2014 in the Journal of Nutrition examined this and found that even distribution of protein throughout meals stimulated 24-hour protein synthesis more effectively than skewing protein intake towards one meal only.
Regardless of what time you eat breakfast, you must always prioritise hydration upon awakening. This is key to get your body working efficiently and optimally from the start of the day.
What makes a good breakfast?
The number one rule of breakfast is that it must be high in protein.
For many of our clients, we’re fans of breakfasts consisting of protein and fat for its ability to improve focus and productivity early in the morning.
It may also increase fat loss due to longer periods of reduced insulin release, and the theory of metabolic flexibility, which refers to the body’s ability to switch efficiently between fuel sources. By staying low carb, your metabolism may preferentially burn more fat for fuel later in the day.
Another more practical application is that if you’re chasing fat loss and eating fewer carbs, you would probably rather save them for the end of the day at dinner, where it may help with relaxation and sleep.
Of course, whether you go low carb or not at breakfast is an individual choice. Clients with aggressive muscle building goals may need to add carbs to breakfast, while others may just feel great with a bowl of porridge to go with their steak!
What if I train in the morning?
A common question we always receive is how to structure your eating if you train early in the morning.
We’re not fans of fasted weight training, as it’s not conducive to productive, energetic sessions, or to building muscle.
There are a few options:
- Have a whey protein shake with a little bit of fat. A teaspoon of nut butter or coconut oil, or a small handful of nuts is a good example.
- Get up extra early and eat as normal!
- If neither of these appeals, then the last resort would be to drink 10-15g of essential amino acids while you train.
Here are some key protein sources that you can look to add to your diet…
Nick Mitchell’s Thoughts
A lot of people ask me “what’s the best breakfast?”, any regular reader of mine will know that I am most likely to answer “The Meat and Nuts Breakfast”.
If you want a few more details then make sure you subscribe to my Newsletter because I do tend to waffle on a bit about my version of the best breakfast and why it’s so good (carbs lower cortisol and raise the neurotransmitter serotonin that makes you feel more relaxed and chilled out, think about this and decide if that is how you want your breakfast to make you feel or whether this would be better at supper time).
Putting the (in)famous concept of meat and nuts as “what’s the best breakfast” to one side for a moment, if you’re like me then in moments of weakness you’d rather have Coco Pops and (maple) bacon sandwiches for your breakfast than anything else.
But whenever I succumb to temptation I spend the rest of the morning in a sluggish , slothful state and my productivity and energy drops to about 6% of its normal rate.
Now, I appreciate that not everyone is the same and I suspect that when I was a youngster and naturally more insulin sensitive I could “get away” with eating anything I wanted at breakfast.
My advice is always to try out a few different ways of eating out. As I’ve said many times, if you feel good (a real “feeling”, not a temporary sugar/caffeine high) eating something then it usually suits you.
Conversely, if you feel bad then (for some reason – sometimes digestive and that may need addressing, sometimes just your plain old biochemistry) then avoid that food(s), even if people like me normally tell you to eat them!