Everyone has heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Last week I published a post on intermittent fasting. This is another perspective (and, spoiler alert, the one I put more faith in).
Every body needs a certain amount of fuel to perform the most basic functions, like breathing, circulating blood and oxygen through the body, adjusting hormone levels, and growing or repairing cells. The more you ask of your body (as in, the more exercise you do), the more fuel it needs. During sleep, your body performs all of these functions as it repairs and rejuvenates your body. And depending on when you last ate and when you wake up, you can go anywhere from 8-15 hours without eating. This leads to decreased glycogen stores and make your morning workout or routine harder.
Current research, including a review of studies dating back to the 1950’s, shows that eating breakfast is associated with better concentration, memory, and school achievement in children and adolescents compared to skipping breakfast. The brain is fueled primarily by glucose, the simple sugar also used as the body’s most readily available source of energy and found in most complex carbohydrates. Without an adequate supply of glucose, the brain does not function optimally, and skills like memory, alertness, and understanding of new information are negatively affected.
Eating breakfast habitually has been shown to reduce risk of overweight and chronic disease in children, adolescents, and adults. One study found that men who skipped breakfast were 20% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than men who didn’t, and people who ate breakfast had lower rates of heart failure through their lifetimes. In addition, people who eat a nutritious breakfast are more likely to make healthier food choices throughout the day.
Athletes need breakfast to help them maintain a balanced energy intake and fuel the brain and body for a day of training and school or work. Breakfast is especially important if you workout in the mornings, as exercising after over 8 hours of fasting will result in lower energy levels, decreased performance, and poorer concentration. Basically, you won’t be able to go as hard, move as quickly, or focus as well as you would if you had some fuel in your body.
Eating before a morning workout can be challenging, but if you had a recovery snack and good dinner the night before, your glycogen stores will be better off, so even a small amount of food will make a difference. Because you often wake up as late as possible and are short on time, the key is finding something that provides enough energy, is portable, and that you tolerate well. Your daily breakfast should contain carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and fat, but an early morning, pre-workout breakfast should be lower in fiber and fat because these two can cause stomach discomfort if eaten in high amounts right before exercise. Some good options include a banana and a few almonds, apple and deli meat or jerky, dried fruit, a fruit smoothie with protein powder, or a Lara bar. But remember that you can eat anything for breakfast, so don’t feel limited to “breakfast foods”. If you want last night’s leftovers at 7 am, go for it. The best choice for your pre-workout breakfast will depend on how much time you have between eating and training and how well your body tolerates fat and fiber close to exercise.