“I only eat when I’m hungry. I don’t get hungry in the morning.” - Me, sometime in 2009
“I wake up too early to make breakfast, and I don’t want to make unhealthy choices at school.” - Also me, probably in 2013
“Intermittent fasting is the best way to lean out. Seriously, I looked it up.” - Still me, in 2014
Guys. I was so wrong.
The positive effects of eating breakfast are well documented. Breakfast is associated with improved attention and energy levels, lowered risk of heart disease, improved metabolism, and a reduced risk of diabetes (among other benefits). Most of these are associated with the fact that breakfast eaters are less likely to be obese.
Still, for years I wasn't sold on the idea. I never woke up hungry, and while I dabbled in breakfast here and there, I never noticed the benefits. Then, all of a sudden, I did.
Instead of throwing statistics at you, I’ll just share my own experience. Here’s why I evolved from a breakfast-skipper to a breakfast-lover.
I didn’t think breakfast gave me an energy boost because I wasn’t eating enough of it.
On the days that I did eat breakfast, I had a granola bar, or piece of toast with a bit of jam or peanut butter, or a smoothie. Something quick and easy.
Those options are all extremely low calorie. I was eating a sub-200 calorie snack and calling it a meal.
When I started educating myself about nutrition and weight lifting, I realized how much more volume I needed to eat in order to keep up with my training. That meant bigger breakfasts.
It wasn’t until I was eating 400-600 calories in the morning that I started to notice the difference. I became more alert, and able to focus for longer periods of time. I also stopped feeling jittery and distracted after my morning coffee (thankfully, because we all know I can’t give that up).
I didn’t think I needed help with my metabolism
The thing is, I’ve never been particularly concerned about my metabolism. Even at my least fit, I wasn’t overweight, and could eat a lot of food without noticeable weight gain.
However, my hunger levels (and my weight) were constantly unstable. Irregular eating habits had screwed with my natural hunger cues. I rarely felt truly hungry, but also had a hard time determining when I was full. I would forget to eat for hours during the day, then have huge meals before bed.
I was also constantly fluctuating between 130 and 140 pounds. Since I’m relatively tall, the weight gain (and loss) wasn’t visually noticeable. Still, I could feel the toll it took on my body. When I began getting more serious about CrossFit, I knew that the inconsistency was making it hard to see the sort of progress I could otherwise be making.
When I made the decision to start eating breakfast, I made sure to include a balanced meal of all my favourite things so I’d actually stick with it. That meant (still means) scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, and a few pieces of toast with almond butter and banana or strawberries (or, oats with fruit on the side).
Eating that variety of protein, carbohydrates, and fat encourages your body to initiate thermogenesis. That’s the metabolic process of digesting food and using it for energy, not fat storage. It stabilizes your blood sugar and provides your body with fuel to use throughout your morning.
For me, it also began to normalize my appetite and natural hunger cues. A full breakfast kickstarted my metabolism, so I could more easily tell when I needed to eat again. It provided the base layer for a consistent, healthier diet. As a result, my weight is much more stable - almost always within a pound or two.
I didn't believe breakfast would help my performance
When you first start CrossFit, everything is a PR. You get stronger and fitter, quickly. For me, that lasted almost throughout my first year (with the exception of when I broke my wrist).
After that period of newbie gains, my progress was tapering off. How frustrating is that?!
Since I train at 6:00am, I wasn’t in the practice of eating before my workout. I wanted to compete, though, so I knew I needed to dial in all of the external factors - like rest, mobility, nutrition - that I’d be ignoring.
Incorporating a protein shake with a cup of coconut water before my workout (as well as the big breakfast after) provided me with a longevity that I didn’t have before. I could access energy reserves that I couldn’t on an empty stomach.
Plus, I was building lean muscle faster. Whether that can be attributed to the fact that I had increased my overall protein intake, or the pre- and post-workout nature of my protein intake, I’m not sure. I just know that my strength went up as my protein intake went up, and my energy skyrockets when I get in a good dose of simple carbs and protein before I train.
(That said, I’m generally in the camp that believes post-workout protein is important. It just makes sense to ensure your body has enough protein available for protein synthesis to occur, so it doesn’t fall behind breakdown. After all, muscle growth relies on protein synthesis being greater than muscle breakdown.)
You don’t know what works until you try
At the end of the day, eating breakfast may or may not work for you. Until I gave it the good old college try, I thought I was doing fine. It took committing to breakfast (for better or worse, in sickness or health, etc. etc.) to realize all of its benefits.
Do your research. (Be careful, though; don't trust studies like this, which is commissioned by Kellogg's and actually encourages frozen waffles and orange juice for breakfast. Don’t do that.) Figure out what your body likes, and stick to it. Simple.
If you need me, I'll be eating my bacon and eggs.