Thursday, August 25, 2011
The Breakfast Myth
That breakfast is the most important meal of the day is a common saying in the western world. Over at the Fitness Nerd, Denis deconstructs the topic, first coming clean that the slogan originated from someone’s marketing department but also extolling the virtues of eating first thing in the morning. It’s an important read for inquiring minds. So if the title of this post caught you eye, read it first, and then come back for my addendum. I’ll wait.
Is Breakfast for Champions?
There is one flaw in Denis’ piece. The part where he says that I don’t eat breakfast. I do. When I need to. This leads to part II of the topic; times you might want to consider skipping breakfast.
I’m seconding Denis’ post in saying that most people should eat in the morning. If you’re following a sensible nutrition plan you probably ate lightly at dinner and didn’t eat for a few hours prior to going to sleep. This means it’s been 10 or 12 hours since you’ve eaten a meal that hopefully wasn’t carb heavy. And although your body doesn’t burn calories rapidly when its asleep it’s busy repairing all the damage you did to it the previous day. By morning the light dinner is probably pretty well used up. Breakfast allows you to top off your body’s glycogen storage, which is used for physical activity but also brain function, so you’re ready to face the day with a full compartment of nutrients. Sounds pretty smart.
When I have an active day, like a long day out climbing or a race I always eat in the morning, mainly to ensure that my limited glycogen stores (we can only store enough for 1-1.5 hours of hard activity) are topped up. So when I need my body to perform to its maximum I eat breakfast and, in general, follow most of what we recommend in our Beachbody diet guides. However, on my work days I don’t eat breakfast. And here’s why.
I have to begin the previous evening, because I tend to eat close to bed time. This isn’t optimal but it can work (almost any diet can be made to work within the parameters of your lifestyle, which is why Beachbody’s diet philosophy is that there is no one diet that’s perfect for everyone). I eat late because I exercise after I’m finished with work, which is usually later in the afternoon or early evening. If I finish training at, say, dark, then eat (especially if dinner is slow and social), it’s pretty late. My dinner is also, by far, my largest meal of the day. Generally more than half of my calories (again, unless I’m active all day when I eat constantly). So I go to bed still digesting and wake up with a fully tapped glycogen, meaning breakfast simply is not necessary.
Furthermore, going long periods of time without eating teaches your body to be more efficient as using fat for fuel (Denis points this out). As an endurance athlete this function is vital, so I train it pretty much every work day. Furthermore, there is some hormonal advantage to what’s called intermittent fasting. A lot of bodybuilder types are championing this as scripture but the advantages are technically small. Still, it’s more ammo for not eating.
So, anyway, on a work day I don’t eat breakfast. And it gets worse. I get up pretty early, drink some water—usually two or three glasses—and try to do some short activity to awaken movement patterns; easy yoga is my preference. Then I make some coffee (or tea), drink more water with some supplements (no cals but this isn’t a supplement post so not going into it), then sit down with my coffee and get to work. So I have replenished some nutrients, just not calories because I want to keep training the fat mobilization process.
I work until I start to run out of steam, usually a four to seven hour stretch. Then take the dog out for his “morning” exercise. This is usually an easy hike with ball throwing when I also do a functional warm-up (like the warm-up of P90X2) and, depending on the day, some running drills. While this is warming up for the day it’s also further training fat mobilization. I follow this with breakfast, even though it’s “lunch time”. And, yes, your math is right. I often fast for more than 12 hours daily.
I then go back to work until I’m finished, which varies according to deadlines and the training schedule. I do generally have a pre-workout snack, like Shakeology, an hour or two before my training session. And that is my daily eating regimen on work days.
Of course it’s not set in stone. It varies all the time, especially since my job requires that I experiment with various diet, exercise, and supplement protocols. But it’s important to note that there are many paths to success. I’ve been eating like this for most of my life. I’m 50, have a resting heart rate in the low 40s, can push my heart to over 200 bpm, and can score over 100% on the most rigorous military fit test. My strange protocol works and you can certainly find something unconventional that will work for you, too.
My point in passing on this information is for you to question dogma and, more importantly, eliminate excuses. In training, life, and nutrition absolutes simple do not exist other than the rather holistic eat well, sleep well, and get some exercise. Everything else can be adjusted for your personal lifestyle.