Skip the fast food and bacon. Opt for eggs, carbs and water. These foods will fuel you and get you ready for your day in the gym.
Breakfast is one of those topics that, like religion and politics, can divide a room.
It’s the dark horse of the food world. No one quite seems to have it figured out and there are many debates surrounding its importance. Yet, of all the meals, breakfast emerges as the most significant when maintaining a healthy metabolism.
The first meal of the day can look like a variety of things for many people, and far too often it’s simply nothing at all. A reported 20 to 30% of American adults do not routinely eat breakfast. The meal is often skipped as a method for losing weight or as a consequence of busy mornings rushing to work or getting the kids to school.
What Do The Studies Say About Skipping Breakfast?
Research shows that people who skip breakfast have a higher body mass index (BMI) than those who eat at least cereal in the morning. And, those who don’t eat breakfast have a 4.5 times increased chance of being obese.
As well, it has been suggested that preparing breakfast at home instead of ordering out reduces the risk of obesity by 50%.
Apart from the threat of gaining weight as a result of not eating in the morning, skipping breakfast prolongs the fasted state that your body experiences overnight as you sleep. This leads to complications such as increased blood pressure, high blood insulin concentrations and high cholesterol.
A recent study by Harvard University found that men who don’t eat breakfast are 27% more susceptible to heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, skipping a meal causes fluctuations in metabolism that produce an inability to burn calories efficiently.
Eating a healthy breakfast helps maintain healthy blood lipid and hormone concentrations, and thus assists in avoiding metabolic disorders such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Old Way: Skipping Breakfast
New Way: Eating A Nutrient-Rich Breakfast
Eating a healthy breakfast is particularly important to those who wish to burn fat and build lean muscle mass. Ideally, you should have a couple hours in between eating and exercising. If you tend to exercise early in the morning, wait at least 30 to 40 minutes after breakfast before beginning a workout routine.
Waiting is important for a couple reasons. First, your digestive system requires increased blood flow to break down and process the foods you put into your body. This blood flow is interrupted by the exercise process, in which your muscles in effect steal a portion of the blood supply (and subsequent oxygen and nutrients) of your digestive system to perform optimally. This effect slows the digestive process and can even result in nausea and cramping.
As well, the parasympathetic portion of the nervous system is responsible for stimulating the rest and digest activities of the body after eating. When you are exercising, your body is in the opposite, sympathetic state, responsible for fight or flight responses. A body in the sympathetic state doesn’t digest well, and thus does not absorb the needed nutrients for metabolic processes. For this reason, we must give our bodies ample time to digest and absorb a meal before beginning tough exercise.
Change The Way You Approach Breakfast…
Breakfast is often the meal in which comfort or ease overtakes proper nutrition. With breakfast foods such as pancakes, bacon, bagels, donuts and sugary cereals having been burned into the psyche of the average American.
By replacing these foods high in refined sugar and processed flour with nutrient-rich breakfasts full of protein and whole grains, you can stave off hunger and reduce the calories consumed.
Columbia University recommends consuming about 25% of your caloric intake at breakfast, which amounts to roughly 350 to 500 calories. With 10 to 25% of those calories being from protein and 45% from carbs. Studies show that eating 20 to 30 grams of protein at breakfast is essential for building and maintaining lean muscle mass. In other words, try a breakfast consisting of toasted whole grain bread with nut butter, a banana and a glass of milk. This contains about 25 grams of protein and 50 grams of carbs.
Old Way: Bring Home The Bacon
New Way: Lean, Heart-Healthy Proteins
The best sources of breakfast proteins are those high in nutrients and low in unhealthy saturated fat. Animal proteins in large portions are often implicated for the prevalence of obesity in the United States, where men consume 181% and women 152% of their Daily Reference Intakes for protein.
Diets high in animal protein and saturated fat are associated with cardiovascular disease, kidney stones and cancer. For this reason, it’s important to consider the types of protein you eat for breakfast.
Processed meats such as bacon, breakfast sausage and ham should be avoided for their high levels of sodium and saturated fat. Instead, try lean animal proteins such as chicken, turkey, fish or plant proteins found in nuts and legumes.
Another concerning factor of processed meats is their high sodium content. A typical serving of four slices of bacon contains approximately 750 mg of sodium – almost half of the average daily limit. Too much sodium over time causes hardening of the arteries and excessive water retention.
When combined together, this can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
Replace typical breakfast meats with leaner, heart-healthy options. Opt for ground turkey, black beans and nut butter to reduce your sodium and saturated fat intake while still fueling your body with muscle-building protein.
Are Eggs Really A Healthy Option For Breakfast?
One of the most highly disputed—and most misunderstood—breakfast foods are eggs. Commonly believed to cause high cholesterol, eggs are often consumed without the yolk or not at all by health-conscious people.
While eggs are indeed high in fat, they’re of the good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated variety. This type of fat serves to level your blood cholesterol levels.
Besides being heart healthy, eggs are high in protein, with one hard-boiled egg providing up to six grams of protein. Eggs are a great source of vitamin D, which regulates your body’s absorption of calcium and keeps your bones and teeth strong.
If you exercise early in the morning, a breakfast consisting of eggs, fruit, whole grains and nut butter will supply your body with the needed protein, carbs, electrolytes and vitamins to restore lean tissue.
Should You Add Oats To Your Breakfast Menu?
Another excellent source of both protein and carbs are good, old-fashioned oats. Steel cut oats contain seven grams of protein per ¼ cup (uncooked), are loaded with essential minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and selenium, and are rich in beta-glucan, a specific type of fiber known to lower high cholesterol.
Oats can be prepared by simmering in hot water or soaking overnight in water or nut milk. This reduces the levels of phytic acid, an antinutrient present in some plant foods that interferes with the absorption of essential minerals.
Adding fresh nuts, nut butter, seeds or fruit to prepared oats further increases their nutrient content and energy value. Oats can also be included in smoothies with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt, thereby increasing the levels of vitamins, protein and dietary fiber.
Old Way: Pancakes, Pastries and Bagels… Oh My!
New Way: Alternative Whole Grains
While they’ve been given a bad rap over the years for their presence in some of our guiltiest pleasure foods (pasta, cakes, pizza), carbs are the most important source of energy for your workout. Because your body breaks down protein to use as energy in the absence of adequate carbs, limiting your carbohydrate intake can hinder your ability to form lean muscle tissue.
The body breaks carbs down into simple sugars that are absorbed and converted by metabolic processes into ATP, the body’s primary energy source. Excess glucose is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver for later use. Once these reserves fill up, the extra glycogen is stored as fat. For this reason, it’s important to be conscious of your carb intake, as well as how many calories you are burning through exercise.
It’s also very important to consider what kinds of carbs you’re consuming. In fact, the type is more important than the amount. Unhealthy carbohydrates, such as refined white bread, pastries and French fries, are considered simple carbs, and are basically broken down and used by your body for energy in a similar way to sugar.
These easily digested carbs contribute to rapid weight gain and interfere with weight loss plans, not to mention their link to heart disease. Starting your day with off with simple carbs, such as a bagel, muffin or white toast, will cause an initial energy spike that eventually wears off and leaves you fatigued.
A healthier source of carbs is unprocessed whole grains that contain complex carbohydrates. While all carbs break down into glucose eventually to supply the body with energy, complex carbohydrates take longer along this process and offer fiber and vitamins for absorption along the way.
Whole grains are unrefined grains that include the outer bran layer, inner germ and endosperm of the grain itself. These unprocessed grains retain their naturally-occurring phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins and minerals that promote good health. Several vegetables, usually of the root variety, also contain healthy complex carbs and are easily enjoyed at breakfast.
Oats, quinoa, beans, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, millet and rice are all good examples of smart breakfast carb choices. Sweet potatoes are an extremely versatile food that can be enjoyed at any meal, but particularly at breakfast. They can be made into a hash to be eaten with eggs, or they can be peeled, baked until tender and blended into a smoothie much like a banana.
Old Way: Coffee, Juice and Protein Shakes
New Way: Water, Water, Everywhere
Few things are more American than a glass of orange juice with breakfast. But, as is true for other food groups, moderation is key when it comes to this popular breakfast drink. Juice in large quantities throughout the day isn’t recommended as high fructose (the simple sugar found in fruits) intake is associated with metabolic disorders such as obesity, high blood pressure and insulin resistance.
In the case of athletes, on the other hand, fructose has been shown to stimulate fluid and nutrient absorption in the small intestine and to increase carb conversion into ATP (energy) during exercise. When it comes to juice, the debate is left to whether or not your exercise routine demands the amount of sugars and carbs contained in your beverage.
Are Protein Shakes A Good Idea For Those Trying To Lose Weight?
Another popular breakfast drink for weight loss is the protein shake. Unfortunately, the benefits of these drinks are grossly misunderstood. The body’s primary fuel source is carbs, then fats, then proteins, meaning that proteins are the last of the macronutrients to be burned off.
The body stores excess protein as adipose tissue (fat). So unless you’re exercising vigorously, and especially if you are drinking protein shakes as a supplement instead of a meal replacement, they’ll actually make it harder to lose weight. Also, replacing meals with protein shakes displaces nutrient-rich whole foods from the diet.
Is It Better To Drink Coffee Or Water Before A Morning Workout?
Coffee, a morning staple for 54% of Americans over the age of 18, should be avoided pre-workout. Why? It’s a diuretic that causes fluid loss, and can thus lead to light-headedness and cramping during exercise. Caffeine also raises blood pressure and reduces blood flow to active limbs during vigorous physical exertion.
Instead of coffee, drink water. For those who exercise first thing in the morning, hydrating with plenty of water is important. All the activities of body cells depend on fluid balance for proper functioning.
Upon waking, your body is in a state of dehydration and it’s necessary to reintroduce water to the system. Dehydration can negatively affect your mood and make you dizzy. This makes exercise uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. At the end of the day, there’s no better breakfast drink than a tall glass of water.
You have to eat breakfast! There’s no way around it. But, your old ways have to change. Pass on the bacon and the quick and easy to prep meals or fast foods. Instead, try to eat eggs, fruit and whole grains.
Remember: You need to view this meal as fuel. If you fuel your body with all that it needs, it will perform. If you don’t, you won’t be able to do your best at anything. Be sure to get lots of protein and nutrients in your diet. And, don’t forget to drink lots of water.
– Lillian Dumont
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