Snapshot of Takeaway Points
- The majority of breakfast options are poorly designed
- Just because you have been eating cereal for 30+ years of your life doesn’t mean it’s optimal
- The optimal option is protein and healthy fats, which is why the meat and nuts breakfast is so popular
Starting the day with optimal nutrition will have a beneficial effect on the rest of your day. The food choices you make at the beginning of your day can and will affect mood, decisions, and your hormones from there on. It is much harder to get back on track once you have made a poor choice.
The majority of breakfast options are poorly designed with reference to macronutrient ratios. They side heavily with that of carbohydrates and huge glycaemic load. This is not the ideal way to kick off your day hormonally and renders you a target for further poor choices throughout the day. The optimal option is protein and healthy fats, which is why the meat and nuts breakfast is so popular. It has these two macronutrients in abundance and in high quality.
What is common isn’t always normal. Just because you have been eating cereal for 30+ years of your life doesn’t mean it’s optimal. As I say often, feeling is a perception and your body ignores constant stimuli. If you’ve been doing something for 30+ years you’re hardly going to continue if you feel horrendous. After a while of doing things your body sees it as normal and then you start to believe you feel good, regardless of if it’s the case or not. Ask any smoker how their first cigarette tasted. They’ll tell you it wasn’t nice but now they can’t get enough of it.
When looking to achieve a change in body composition it is imperative that this is where you start. Often, the remainder of the day is generally good from a nutritional standpoint and often easier to make changes to than breakfast. Once I’ve got this under control with a client I can then move on to the remainder of the day in its entirety.
Why Protein & Healthy Fats
From a hormonal point of view, protein and healthy fats will mitigate insulin response. Insulin isn’t the devil by any means but everyone is on a different continuum of insulin sensitivity. If you’re more towards the end of being insulin resistant you don’t handle sugars as well.
Although you are indeed more insulin sensitive at the beginning of the day, due to the overnight fast, by selecting a simple sugar breakfast you are likely to be hungry very soon after. The simple carbohydrate breakfasts are assimilated very quickly. This can then raise cortisol, the stress hormone, as your brain will need glucose to come from somewhere to further fuel it.
Insulin as a hormone is best kept to being utilised at post workout if you want to manage body fat levels adequately. Protein and healthy fats at breakfast will also satiate you for longer whilst fuelling your brain and providing pre-cursors to your all-important sex hormones. Healthy fats support your cholesterol levels which is then the pre-cursor to your sex hormones like testosterone.
On the subject of brain fuel, protein and fats immediately in the morning have been show to also benefit neurotransmitter response. Namely the two excitatory neurotransmitters dopamine and acetylcholine are raised in response to this breakfast. This helps improve drive and motivation but also focus and clarity.
Simple sugar breakfasts such as cereals have the opposite effect as they raise serotonin which is known as the happy neurotransmitter but it is also an inhibitory neurotransmitter. If it’s inhibitory it has a calming effect on the nervous system. This can be hugely beneficial for some in the morning but often the effect is too calming and can decrease your performance whilst sending you into a daze. Not exactly how your boss is going to want you to start your day!
Eat as early as possible. Don’t skip breakfast, this is a tactic sumo wrestlers use to add bodyweight!
It must be first meal consumed no matter what the time. If you have to wait 3 hours after waking initially then that is fine. You’ll find that as you get into a rhythm with the changes you’ll get hungrier earlier and this will fix itself.
If you train in the morning you must eat before you train. Research shows that when eating pre-workout you consistently burn more calories during the resulting recovery period, rendering any counter arguments of burning fat whilst training on an empty stomach inferior!
Cook more the evening before. If you are stuck for time then cook more of what you had the evening before or prepare all your meals on one day for the rest of the week.
- Meat is the obvious and optimal choice
- Consume any amount and ideally as much as possible. (Fact: those that eat more calories at the beginning of the day compared to the end, burn more body fat.)
- Seafood or fish is a great option
- Eggs are great, but only once a week (6+ eggs for a 90kg person)
- Nuts offer variety and many micronutrient benefits
- You want to select organic options such as cashews, almonds pine nuts etc.
- The amount is a handful. Not a grabbed handful, but an open palm. (6-12 nuts on average)
- Not peanuts as these are legumes rank very highly on food intolerance ratings
- If you are allergic to nuts exchange for dark fruit with thin skin (e.g. blueberries) and rotate with avocados.
- Rotate all foods on a 3 day rule to avoid and identify food sensitivities/intolerances/allergies. (If you had ‘X’ on Monday then you can’t have it for breakfast again until Thursday.)
I’m a big believer in and proponent of progress not perfection. Some are totally dismissive of trialling the above concept so as a consultant my goal is to exact change and work towards the optimal. In this instance I’ll try and find a starting point the client is ok with trialling and then make small changes weekly moving in the direction of optimal.
Below are the options I utilise when a client presents resistance to going straight to the protein and fats option for each and every day.
- Protein shake with added liquid fish oil
- Use sauces/condiments with the meat as for many this makes it more palatable to eat meat first thing in the morning. (Even these can be categorised into a progression; ketchup being the least favourite option and something like hummus at the other end of the continuum.)
- Pork options like bacon or sausages although not optimal can be used initially as a gateway to getting used to other meats.
- Skyr is a popular Icelandic yoghurt that is high in protein
Offering the client a compromise regarding how many times per week or out of every three days is another great progression. It also helps the client distinguish the feeling when they have for example a cereal option versus the protein and fat option.
- Protein & fats: Week 1 consume once a week, then week 2 consume twice a week and so on
- Rotate 1-2 easier options with 1-2 meat and nuts option
For those that find it easy to step straight into the meat and nuts options but are now getting bored I can’t emphasise how beneficial it is to consume alternative/exotic meats. They offer variety which is psychologically refreshing and ensure you avoid food sensitivities building up. Ostrich and kangaroo are two of my favourites! Here are two great websites for this:
Credit goes to my late mentor Charles Poliquin for highlighting and promoting the importance of protein and fats at the start of the day. His forward thinking put him at the forefront of many things and this was one of them.
He knew that carbohydrates were needed for performance but he also knew that lower levels of body fat are equally as important. It’s all about taking the longer term view into consideration which is what many people miss when they analyse his teachings.
Charles’ famous breakfast quote:
What you put in your mouth first thing in the morning, provided it is food, sets your neurotransmitters up for the rest of the day