Starting the day with optimal nutrition will have a beneficial effect on the rest of your day.
The food choices you make at the beginning of your day can and will affect mood, decisions, and your hormones for the rest of the day.
The majority of breakfast options are poor when referencing macronutrients. They are heavy with carbohydrates and massive glycaemic load. This is not the ideal way to start your day hormonally and the potential for further poor choices throughout the day increases. The optimal option is protein and healthy fats.
What is common isn’t always normal. Just because you have been eating cereal for 30+ years of your life doesn’t mean it’s optimal. If you’ve been doing something for 30+ years you’re hardly going to continue if you feel horrendous. After a while of doing things your body sees it as normal and then you start to believe you feel good, regardless of if it’s the case or not. Ask any smoker how their first cigarette tasted. They’ll tell you it wasn’t nice but now they can’t get enough of it.
Once you have breakfast under control and you are being consistent, it is only then I will then start looking at the rest of the day from a nutrient intake perspective.
Why Protein & Healthy Fats?
From a hormonal point of view, protein and healthy fats mitigate insulin response. Insulin isn’t bad, but everyone is on a different continuum of insulin sensitivity. If you’re more towards the end of being insulin resistant you don’t handle sugars well.
Although you more insulin sensitive at the beginning of the day, due to the overnight fast, by selecting a simple sugar breakfast you are likely to be hungry very soon after. The simple carbohydrate breakfasts are assimilated extremely quickly. This raises cortisol, the stress hormone, as your brain will need glucose to come from somewhere to further fuel it.
Insulin as a hormone is best utilised at post workout if you want to manage body fat levels adequately. Protein and healthy fats as a breakfast will also satiate you for longer whilst fueling your brain. Healthy fats support your cholesterol levels which is the pre-cursor to your sex hormones like testosterone.
On the subject of brain fuel, protein and fats immediately in the morning have been shown to also benefit neurotransmitter response. The two excitatory neurotransmitters dopamine and acetylcholine are raised in response to a protein and fats breakfast. This improve drive and motivation aswell as focus and clarity.
Simple sugar breakfasts such as cereals have the opposite effect as they raise serotonin, which is known as the happy neurotransmitter, but it is also an inhibitory neurotransmitter. As an inhibitor it has a calming effect on the nervous system. This can be hugely beneficial for some in the morning but often the effect is too calming and can decrease your performance whilst sending you into a daze.
Don’t skip breakfast, this is a tactic sumo wrestlers use to add bodyweight!
It must be the first meal consumed no matter what the time. If you have to wait 3 hours after waking initially then that is fine. You’ll find that as you get into a rhythm with the changes, you’ll get hungrier earlier.
If you train in the morning you must eat before you train. Research shows that when eating pre-workout, you consistently burn more calories during the resulting recovery period, rendering any counter arguments of burning fat whilst training on an empty stomach inferior!
Cook more the evening before. If you are stuck for time, then cook more of what you had the evening before or prepare all your meals on one day for the rest of the week.
Meat is the obvious and optimal choice
Consume any amount and ideally as much as possible. (Fact: those that eat more calories at the beginning of the day compared to the end, burn more body fat.)
Seafood or fish is a great option
Eggs are great, but only once a week (6+ eggs for a 90kg person)
Nuts offer variety and many micronutrient benefits (roast or blanch for easier absorption)
Organic options such as cashews, almonds pine nuts etc.
The amount is an open palm handful. (6-12 nuts on average)
Peanuts are legumes not nuts and rank very highly on food intolerance ratings,
If you are allergic to nuts an alternative is dark fruit with thin skin (e.g. blueberries) and rotate with avocados.
Rotate all foods on a 3 day rule to avoid and identify food sensitivities/intolerances/allergies. (If you had ‘X’ on Monday then you can’t have it for breakfast again until Thursday.)
Progress and not aiming for perfection. Some are totally dismissive of the above concept so as a consultant my goal is to exact change and work towards the optimal. In this instance I’ll try and find a starting point the client is ok with trialing and then make small changes weekly moving in the direction of optimal.
Below are options I have utilised when a client presents resistance to going straight to the protein and fats option for each and every day.
Protein shake with added liquid fish oil
Use sauces/condiments with the meat as for many this makes it more palatable to eat meat first thing in the morning. (Even these can be categorised into a progression)
Sausages although not optimal can be used initially as a gateway to getting used to other meats. (pork higher in fat, venison or boar)
Skyr is a popular Icelandic yoghurt that is high in protein
Offering a compromise regarding how many times per week or out of every three days is another great progression. It also helps distinguish the feeling when having for example a cereal option versus the protein and fat option.
Protein & fats: Week 1 consume once a week, then week 2 consume twice a week and so on
Rotate 1-2 easier options with 1-2 meat and nuts option
For those that find it easy to step straight into the meat and nuts options but are now getting bored try alternative/exotic meats. Venison is one of my favourites, and I also like buffalo, wild boar and ostrich.
One of my mentors Charles Poliquin brought the meat and nut breakfast to the forefront. He knew carbohydrates were needed for performance, but also that lower levels of body fat are equally as important. Take the longer term view into consideration.
Charles’ famous breakfast quote:
‘What you put in your mouth first thing in the morning, provided it is food, sets your neurotransmitters up for the rest of the day.’