“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Without a doubt, I am sure you have heard this before. However, time and time again it is all too common to hear “my mornings are too crazy to squeeze in breakfast” or “I want to savor every minute of sleep I can get!”
So why is this meal so important? – Quite simply, a good breakfast sets the tone for your day. It helps you to focus and concentrate on the day’s tasks ahead. More importantly breakfast also affects your cortisol and blood sugar levels. Cortisol is an essential hormone in your body that gives you energy, is involved in the body’s normal stress response, plays a role in managing your blood sugar levels and also affects your sleep patterns. If you are getting plenty of good quality sleep and managing your stress levels then your cortisol will be high in the morning and gradually decrease over the day, which is exactly what you want! However, your cortisol levels can be a bit temperamental and start causing you issues, such as a lack of energy during the day, poor sleep and increased fat storage around your mid-section, if you don’t pay attention to them.
There are two ways this can happen. Firstly, your cortisol levels may be chronically elevated, meaning they gradually decrease over the day as they should but remain higher than normal at all times. More on this in a little bit. The second is where your cortisol levels start off low in the morning and increase over the day, which is exactly the opposite of what you want! If you are one of those people who get a second wind in the evening then your cortisol levels may be the culprit!
What does this have to do with the importance of eating breakfast? – When you sleep you are essentially fasting. By the time you are waking up it has been 8+ hours (if you are getting this much sleep!) since your last meal. Having a meal first thing in the morning means your blood sugar levels won’t dip too low and your body won’t be under additional stress to produce extra cortisol to give you energy. This extra cortisol in the morning leaves your overall cortisol levels higher than they should be for the entire day. And it doesn’t stop there. Other factors throughout the day also raise your cortisol, such as caffeine (yes without breakfast that morning liquid gold is driving your cortisol levels even higher!), missing another meal and stress – be it work, family, traffic, you name it – leaving you with cortisol levels through the roof and a hard time getting to sleep at night.
Research has shown that eating breakfast, not only gives your body a break from having to pump out extra cortisol to get you going in the morning but it also helps to bring your cortisol levels down from the morning peak(1). Eating breakfast will help to keep your blood sugar levels more balanced and may help you to stay on track throughout the day with the rest of your meal choices. And you may find you have less sugar and caffeine cravings…winning! Balanced blood sugar levels over the day may also help you to better deal with stressors that come your way, which is great for keeping those cortisol levels in check!
So, what should be eating for breakfast to reap all these benefits? – Let’s first talk about what is not going to be a good option. Breakfast options such as your traditional bowl of cereal with milk or toast and jam are far from ideal choices. These options cause a rapid spike in your blood sugar levels, which will then fall just as fast, leaving you feeling hungry within a short space of time and your body having to pump out the same amount of cortisol had you skipped breakfast. Definitely not ideal!
What do I recommend? – A high protein, low carbohydrate breakfast with moderate to higher fats. An example would be poached eggs or smoked salmon with avocado, asparagus, spinach and mushrooms or a small beef patty with stir-fried greens and nuts, if you are feeling adventurous, would be perfect options!
The protein from the eggs, salmon or red meat will help to keep your blood sugar levels stable and keep you feeling fuller for longer and the fats will help
you to digest the carbohydrates from the vegetables more slowly so you have a nice steady release of blood glucose across the morning. If you are looking for a sweeter option or something a little more indulgent in the morning, why not try some sugar free pancakes made using coconut or almond flour, naturally sweetened with Perfect Sweet and topped with some blueberries…yum!!
Sitting down to a well-balanced, high protein breakfast will do wonders for your health and helps to keep feeling on top of your day ready to tackle your daily tasks!
Strength Coach & Nutritionist
Shredded Strength Institute