Nutrition

The Truth About Breakfast

For a meal touted the most important of the day, breakfast can leave athletes confused. Research tends to waiver on whether we should eat it before or after working out, whether we should skip it altogether if we’re trying to lose weight, and what the best breakfast food options are–eggs, oatmeal, avocado toast?

FACT 1: Skipping breakfast will not help you lose weight

The Truth About Breakfast

In theory, eating one less meal means shaving several hundred calories off your daily intake. But it’s more complicated than that: “When you wake up in the morning, you’re in a fasted state. If you don’t eat, your body will continue to break down your fat and carbohydrate stores for energy. Depending on your typical diet, this could leave you tired and hungry the rest of the day, explains Amanda Carlson-Phillips, VP, Performance Nutrition and Research at EXOS.

Beyond providing you with energy (to fuel your calorie-torching workouts) and staving off hunger pangs (the ones that could have you reaching for the muffins and doughnuts in the office kitchen), breakfast can also help set the tone for the rest of your day’s meals. It’s a prime opportunity to work in servings of vegetables and protein and encourage healthy choices from morning to night.

Finally, certain foods can help jumpstart your metabolism and help increase calories burnt throughout the day. For example, research shows that eating protein in the morning may help to improve body composition.

FACT 2: Eating before or after morning exercise depends on your workout

The Truth About Breakfast

OK, you need breakfast. But should your morning meal come before or after you hit the gym? The research goes back and forth, and it all depends on your goals, the workout intensity/duration and type, and how you feel in the morning.

An evolving body of research suggests that those who do easy to moderate cardiovascular exercise on an empty stomach in the morning may have better mitochondrial adaption (their cellular capabilities are getting better), improve their body’s ability to use fat as a fuel, and improve their body composition.

With that said, if you are doing high-intensity training in the morning-cardiovascular or strength-this type of exercise requires glycogen for you to be at your best. Most people tend to feel better and have the ability to train harder with some fuel before their workouts. If your workout is longer than 60 minutes and has you gasping for air, consider adding some pre-workout fuel to your routine. But if your workout is intense and short, you may feel fine without that pre-exercise meal.

Bottom line: Get in touch with how you feel during your workouts and match your nutrition to your goals and type of workout that you are completing. If you don’t have any pre-workout fuel before your session, make sure you are getting a great breakfast-one with a mix of carbohydrates and protein-within 60 minutes after your workout. If you had a fuel top-off before your workout, you likely have a little more leeway, but nonetheless, support your body’s recovery with a small morning meal.

FACT 3: A morning meal is good for more than helping you maintain a healthy weight

The Truth About Breakfast

Protein and fats at breakfast can help keep you satisfied, increase energy levels, and improve physical and mental performance,” says Carlson-Phillips. What’s more, “if you take complete multi-vitamins in the morning but skip breakfast (or eat one that isn’t balanced – especially with fat), your body will be less efficient in absorbing and fully utilizing some of the micronutrients in those vitamins,” she adds. Multi-vitamins contain water- and fat-soluble vitamins, which need to be consumed when drinking water or eating fat, respectively.

Think of it like this: Whether you’ve got a workout or a work presentation to crush, breakfast is the first chance you get to give your body the nutrients it needs to function throughout the day-so seize it.

That’s not to say you need to sit down to 1,000-calorie meal before the sun’s up. When it comes to maintaining energy and especially maintaining or gaining lean body mass – frequent eating is still a key strategy to deploy. Eat a small breakfast as soon as you can after waking, and continue to eat small meals every two to three hours or as your energy needs require, suggests Carlson-Phillips.

Your breakfast should match your nutritional strategy. If you’re balancing carbs, protein, and fat, a smoothie blended with protein (Greek yogurt, whey or vegan protein), berries, and flax seeds or oatmeal with a scoop of whey or vegan protein and topped with nuts and berries are two quick and easy options. Protein is one of the hardest things to get in the morning, but cooked or hard-boiled eggs, at 70 calories and 6 grams of complete protein apiece, are also a good idea: “They are a nutritional powerhouse and an inexpensive choice,” notes Carlson-Phillips.