What should we eat for breakfast?
To promote health and help us to reach our fitness goals
The first thing that needs to be considered is your fitness and training goal and the predicted energy expenditure for the day ahead. For example an individual who is about to go off for a run in the morning, followed by a day of lifestyle chores or active work will benefit from a higher calorie breakfast than an individual who is about to spend the next 8 hours sat at a desk. Already we can see that eating plans are never generic.
This blog is more about what food choices you could look to have for breakfast, once you understand this it is then easier to work out if your breakfast should be higher in carbohydrate or not (dependant on the days activities). Note: Breakfast should always contain a good amount of protein (and fats are also fine).
What macronutrients should be included?
It is very easy to have a breakfast that is predominantly made up of carbohydrate – cereal, toast, breakfast bars, fruit. This is not the ideal macronutrient to focus on (though this can be utilised if you are planning to go out for a long run). Due to commercialism and marketing (thank you Kellogs) as a nation we generally have the habit of starting the day with a high carbohydrate breakfast that is generally low in protein and healthy fats.
The interesting thing here is that as a fitness professional who is trying to educate an individual/client about eating a breakfast that is higher in protein and fats and lower in carbohydrate, the general consensus is that it seems completely abnormal to start the day with a meal made up of meat and vegetables (I am sure that some of you have already turned your nose up at the idea but bear with me).
The reason for promoting and consuming a breakfast that is high in protein and healthy fats is that these are the building blocks that our bodies depend on (building muscle, cells, hormones, nerves) and they generally come packaged with the required vitamins and minerals as well – effectively mother nature has provided us with everything that we need from meat and vegetables to survive and thrive – why ignore this for a breakfast and instead reach for the bowl of Special K.
Again, as a fitness professional or as an individual who wants to eat better for their health, it does not provide much education from me in just saying ‘eat meat and veg for breakfast and you will be better off for it’, as with all education you must explain why and give examples.
Why focus more on protein and healthy fats?
Not only does protein based food sources come packaged with vitamins and minerals, they also contain amino acids which are the bodies building blocks (and this does not just mean promoting growth to our muscles). Vitamins, minerals, amino acids all play a major part in improving our muscles, cell/nerve growth and reproduction, hormone manufacturing and so much more. They also ensure that we do not get any spikes in high blood sugar which can generally lead to a slump in our energy levels and mood.
In summary, protein and fats give us what we need to have a clearer mindset, more regulated blood sugar levels, improved mood and energy, and it promotes a healthier hormonal balance.
Too much carbohydrates on the other hand will give a massive spike in our blood sugar levels, which results in releasing insulin to be able to bring our body sugar levels back down to a nominal level and cortisol will also be released to assist with this. Nothing wrong with insulin and cortisol but when the body is constantly put under unnecessary stress it can promote fat storage of these carbohydrate calories.
This spike in blood sugar will also have the external effect of feeling tired, sluggish, lethargic, moody and in general not very motivated.
To understand this simply try it for yourself…. compare one day on a high carbohydrate breakfast to a day on a high protein breakfast…
What breakfast foods are high in protein?
Again mass marketing from multi billion companies has forced us to feel that we should only eat cereal or toast for breakfast. The thought of meat and veg for breakfast can, for some, feel like a very odd choice to start the day. But having a meal that resembles your dinner for breakfast is perfectly fine and so much healthier for you to do so. It is all about changing the narrative and learning about what foods will actually benefit our bodies for the better.
Foods that are high in protein and that come packaged with fats, vitamins and minerals are as follows:
From this list, it is easy to create a vast array of different and tasty breakfast choices.
Let us start with a meat based breakfast. Just like the good old tradition of a Full English Breakfast (when done correctly this is a great way to start the day).
Meat choices is a great way to start the day – great for promoting growth of the body (as mentioned earlier) and increasing mood, energy and focus. Options are chicken, steak, and good quality sausages. Place these on a plate next to some spinach, broccoli, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, green beans…. What is not to like?
Fish is also a great breakfast option, full of protein and essential fatty acids and healthy fats. Consider salmon or kippers (as my nan would feed me – this generation really knew how to eat a good breakfast). Have these with some vegetables and even on the same dish as some eggs (Salmon with eggs in the morning again is a very nutritive breakfast).
Dairy food sources such as eggs, yoghurt and even milk (in a protein shake or on your oats) are also high in protein and comes packaged with vitamins, minerals and fats. Eggs are so versatile and can be coupled with your meat, fish or even great on their own – scrambled and on a slice of toast (yes you can still eat carbohydrate for breakfast – the point is to not have meals every day that are high in carbohydrate and low in protein and fat). Yoghurt is great with some berries, granola and honey, and milk can be used to mix up a nutritious smoothie – milk/unflavoured protein powder/frozen berries.
Oats are also a natural food source that provides protein, fats and carbohydrate. As a meal choice for breakfast oats can be accompanied with nuts, peanut better, even cooked with a protein powder.
One thing to ensure is that you always buy from a good source so that you always get the best quality of foods for our bodies – local butchers, grocers and fish mongers.
How to add variety?
My advice when trying get more balance in your breakfast to promote healthier choices would be to add variety and rotate these types of breakfasts.
Day 1 – Meat based
Day 2 – Egg based
Day 3 – Fish based
Day 4 – Yogurt or oat based, or even a smoothie.
This way you are getting a wide range of different amino acids, vitamins and minerals – giving your body everything it needs in this first meal of the day.
What should you drink?
Let’s be fair, we all need to have a coffee or a cup of tea in the morning, and this is perfectly fine. Just make sure you compliment this by drinking a couple of glasses of water in the morning as well – especially as soon as you wake up to rehydrate the body after a nights sleep.
Ensure that water plays a staple part in your diet throughout the day.
What should you do next?
I hope this gave you some idea of what you could do to make some healthier breakfast choices. The next step is to plan what breakfasts you are going to have for the next week, then to go to your butchers, grocers and fishmongers (supermarkets if needed too) and buy all of the good quality ingredients that you need.
Don’t just do this for one week and stop, try to really make some positive habit changes to your first meal of the day. Give it a few weeks and you will definitely feel the difference.
When planning do some research, look online for recipes – none of these foods should result in boring or bland breakfasts. Food should be tasty, enjoyable and importantly it should give our body exactly what is needs to be in a state of optimal health.