Doc’s Corner

The benefits of Eating Breakfast

For years, nutrition experts have said that a healthy breakfast is a key start to the day. Not only do we think and perform better on the job, it supports our well-being in many other ways. Science research has shown that there are good reasons to eat breakfast. In fact it is best to consume all or at least most of our calories prior to “sun down”.

Fuel and Nutrition

The basic formula for breakfast: Pair carbs with proteins. The carbs give your body energy to get started and your brain the fuel it needs to take on the day. Protein gives you staying power and helps you feel full until your next meal.

It can be as simple as a combo of:

Whole-grain cereals or bread for carbs
Low-fat milk, yogurt, or cottage cheese for protein
Fresh fruit or veggies, again for the carbs
Nuts or legumes for even more protein

Should you eat before your session at Elite?

If you’re the kind of person who wakes up hungry, try a snack before your morning workout. It will help you improve your performance and stave off fatigue and shakiness.

I suggest you eat at least something, keep it light though. Your digestionslows when you exercise, and a full meal will slosh around in your belly. That can make you bloated or queasy, especially when you’re doing a high-intensity workout. My personal preference prior to an intense early workout is to ensure adequate hydration and eat a banana combined with a handful of about 25 almonds. This routine provides an easily digestible carbohydrate with fiber and potassium and 6.5 grams of protein (about the same as in a large egg).

More important, eat something post-workout. A normal breakfast with some good carbohydrates and protein should be fine. 

The most common mistake we make is not enough protein at breakfast. Studies show adults need 20-30 grams of protein in the morning, which varies by gender and how active you are, to keep up our muscle mass and metabolism. That translates into a 6- to 8-ounce portion of Greek yogurt with a couple of spoonfuls of flaxseed, or an egg and a few links of turkey sausage.

The post work out nutritious protein shakes with fruit freshly prepared by the coaches at Elite Fitness Plus provide quickly available nutrition that helps with building muscle and is much preferred to highly processed food such as a protein bar.

My personal preference, since I have time to eat a full meal after my sessions, is a cup of Coaches Oats (steel cut oats sold by Costco), cooked in a cup of soy milkplus raisins.  Add protein powder, chiaseeds, cinnamon, walnuts, pecans, blueberries, raspberries and banana with a piece of whole gain toast and coffee. Preparation time is under 10 minutes.

Weight control tends to be easer when you have eaten a nutritious breakfast. If you haven’t, you are more likely to become hungry. That may lead to overeating later in the day and tends to make unhealthy food choices, such as doughnuts someone left behind in the break room, more likely.

In 2017, a review in the journal Circulation found “an abundance of data” to show a link between skipping breakfast and being overweight. Researchers at Cornell University a few years earlier, though, reported that breakfast skippers, despite their hunger, did not overeat at lunch or dinner. Perhaps twice as many Americans aren’t eating breakfast now, compared with 40 years ago. Some people may be skipping breakfast due to a trend called intermittent fasting. That’s when they pass on meals to take in fewer calories and lose weight. There’s a lot of hype about it, but there’s little evidence it works in the long run. Since your metabolism changes from morning to night, the same calories eaten earlier in the day are actually less fattening. The bulk of the science favors a healthy breakfast.

Eating breakfast helps keep your blood sugar steadier throughout the day, whether you have diabetes or not. For people with normal glucose test results, this might help you avoid insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes. Drops and spikes in your blood sugar can also affect your mood, making you more nervous, grumpy, or angry.

If you have diabetes, “Don’t skip breakfast,” says Osama Hamdy, MD, PhD, with the Joslin Diabetes Center. He says when people with diabetes miss their morning meal, they’re more likely to get low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia.

It can make you tired, anxious, irritable, or shaky. More serious symptoms include an irregular heartbeat and seizures.

His advice for people with diabetes is a breakfast that’s easy on the carbs with balanced amounts of protein and fats. He suggests milk and oatmeal, or eggs and a piece of whole grain toast. The American Diabetes Association recommends including lots of fiber in your breakfast, about 7-10 grams, and limiting yourself to 400-500 calories.

People with diabetes should check their blood sugar to see the effects of their breakfast choices. For example, while some people do fine with oatmeal, it may cause spikes for someone else.

Good for Your Heart

Recent studies show a link between breakfast and heart health. In 2017, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that people who skip breakfast are more likely to have atherosclerosis. That’s when your arteries narrow and harden because of the buildup of plaque. It can lead to heart attack and stroke. These people were also more likely to have bigger waistlines, weigh more, and have higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Maybe that’s related to higher blood sugar, which, over time, can raise your odds for heart problems. Or maybe without breakfast you’ll have a harder time getting the recommended amount of daily fiber.

Another study that found breakfast skippers have a higher risk of heart disease also pointed out that they were more likely to smoke, drink more alcohol, and exercise less, too — unhealthy habits that can lead to heart problems.

Which raises a question: Is missing breakfast bad for you, or are people who don’t eat breakfast worse off for other reasons?

Iva Smolens, MD, a thoracic and cardiac surgeon, says the current research doesn’t fully answer that. She believes skipping breakfast is one of many cultural changes over the past few decades that have hurt our health.

“We’re all leading these crazier lifestyles,” she says. “We run out the door. We don’t eat breakfast. You eat fast food in your car. The next thing you know, you’ve gained 20 pounds. Is it skipping breakfast that caused that, or is it everything combined? I think it’s everything combined.”

So eating breakfast may not solve the problem, but it’s a good place to start.

Better Performance

“The other reason we tell people ‘Don’t skip breakfast,’ ” Hamdy says, “is when you kick-start your day, you need your metabolism to be up and working.”Regularly eating a healthy breakfast helps us pay attention, remember, and perform better. Children and teens concentrate better at school, get higher scores on tests, and are less likely to be tardy or miss school days.

Without breakfast, your body goes into conservation mode, Hamdy explains. That’s when your brain slows everything down because you don’t have enough energy.

Research is ongoing into how breakfast affects the way our brain works.

Set Yourself Up for Success

Remember, pair carbs with protein, like a bowl of whole-grain cereal with milk and fruit. Don’t have time for a meal at home? Pack a breakfast you can eat on the go, like a banana and trail mix with a carton of milk.

If you keep it simple and plan ahead, eating a healthy breakfast shouldn’t take much time. Think in terms of “investing in your health and well being”. Lifestyle choices require some of our time, but the discipline of making informed strategic choices pays large dividends that increase over time.  

Ref: Web MD, Neha Pathak, MD, December 27, 2018

For more reading: What To Eat When, Michael Roizen MD, and Michael Crupain, MD, MPH, 2019.

Paul R. Block, MD, FACP, FCCP

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