Breakfast is Overrated

Common dogma held by fitness gurus suggests you eat a big breakfast – often referring to it as the most important meal of the day – in order to have energy to fuel your day and the workouts to follow.

And if you look at a typical North American’s diet, it’s carb-loaded cereals and breads that rule the roost first thing in the AM, while later meals are calorie-dense fat-heavy meals.

Even though the food choices are cleaner, this is also what fitness experts tell you to do when attempting to diet. Get up and eat your oatmeal to fuel up, then drop carbs and add fats in the evening, because you don’t want glucose (carbs) in you right before bed when you’re settling down to sleep. But that view simply doesn’t fit with the normal circadian rhythm humans have abided by for centuries.

“Consumption of a high carbohydrate diet during the beginning of the day impairs metabolic plasticity. Furthermore, consumption of a calorically dense, high fat diet at the end of the active phase [in the evening] leads to accelerated weight gain,” a study, Time-of-Day-Dependent Dietary Fat Consumption Influences Multiple Cardiometabolic Syndrome Parameters in Mice, suggests.

Alternatively, “Consumption of a high fat waking meal is associated with increased ability to respond appropriately to carbohydrate meals ingested later in the waking period, while a high carbohydrate morning meal appears to sway metabolism toward carbohydrate utilization and impair the ability to adjust metabolism toward fat utilization later in the waking period.”

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Cliff Notes:

What does that all mean? The take home message is avoid insulin-spiking foods (carbs) in the early part of the day, especially so if you work a sedentary desk job, and then fill up on carbs at night after exercise when your body is primed to absorb them properly—in muscle cells.

Further still, eating carbs increase serotonin and make you sleepy, which would suggest the best time to eat them would be a few hours before bed time, right? I’m sure you’ve experienced this phenomenon after a heavy work lunch at Earls, with your afternoon productivity less than ideal that afternoon as a result.

Meals early in the day should consist of lean meats, eggs, and fibrous veggies (don’t neglect fibre here!), think egg omelette with spinach, and in some cases low glycemic carbs such as berries, while your sit down meals in the evening can include more carb-laden delights.

There may be an argument to include carbs in the earlier part of the day if your workouts are early in the morning, or you work an active job, but much of the research suggests a carbohydrate load the night prior will be more than enough fuel to keep you energized through a weight lifting workout the next day.(2)

Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? post-exercise nutrient timing, a 2013 study conducted by researchers Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld, recommends consuming 0.4-0.5 g of protein per kg of lean body mass in the absence of carbs at both pre- and post-exercise to negate any potential performance shortfall or muscle loss. That said, they also add if your morning exercise is a prolonged endurance activity (say, a 90-minute hockey practice) then carbohydrate intake prior and/or during should be considered for optimal performance (2).

1) Bray et al., Time-of-Day-Dependent Dietary Fat Consumption Influences Multiple Cardiometabolic Syndrome Parameters in Mice., International Journal of Obesity (London). 2010 November; 34(11): 1589–1598.

2) Aragon, A. & Schoenfeld, B., Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? post-exercise nutrient timing, 2013 January.

My experience with this:

I used to religiously get up early to do morning cardio five days a week. Ever since implementing a no-carb morning regiment, I’ve dropped all of those cardio sessions and now just do intervals after weight training or play the odd men’s league hockey game as my only forms of cardio. I’ve gotten noticeably leaner and my strength in the gym is better than ever. Anecdotal evidence to be sure, but I don’t miss all that cardio or the early alarm, and in fact less cardio = more muscle fullness in my case. Besides, from a mental clarity perspective, I’m more engaged at my day job. Take that for what’s it worth.

My hunger curbing tip in the AM:

I recommend delaying breakfast by a few hours upon waking to increase fat burning and get your body primed for the calories to follow later in the day. If you deal with hunger pains early on, try drinking a cup or two of black coffee. Or, if you simply cannot drink it straight, my suggestion is to add a tsp of coconut oil and half a scoop of whey protein to it. Mixes well, tastes good I swear, and doesn’t have any carbs, meaning your productivity won’t slow down at the office! Almond milk and stevia might work here too, but be careful not to use an almond milk brand with added sugar. That would defeat the purpose.

Ultimately, if fat loss is your goal, delaying breakfast is one small adjustment that can yield positive results.

Before You Go…

For a comprehensive guide on all things nutrition, breaking down each macronutrient, vitamins and minerals, nutrient timing, and hydration, check out this review from Sports Fitness Advisor


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Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.