How important is breakfast?

There's a lot of confusion surrounding what the topic of breakfast.  Should I eat breakfast? What should I eat? What if I'm working out? How much? What if I'm not hungry?  Let's take these one thing at a time and examine them.

Should I eat breakfast?
The answer, unfortunately, is that it depends.  While we can get into other aspects with the remaining questions, it mostly comes down to this question.  Will eating breakfast help you have a more productive start to the day, and will it help you make better food decisions throughout the day? If, based on your own experiences, the answer is yes then do it.  If you're just as productive and make the same food decisions (be honest now!) without eating it, then the answer is probably no.

What should I eat?
Think about this for a minute: how much bacon, orange juice, breakfast cereal, bagels, donuts, eggs, and milk would you eat if you didn't eat breakfast?  There are entire industries built around the idea of breakfast that would lose a lot of money if people weren't eating breakfast.  Not to say that all of these are bad things, but a lot of these are sugar bombs that don't really provide you with much nutritional content.  Any idea how much sugar is in a glass of "healthy" orange juice? Almost the same amount as in a can of coke!  In reality, breakfast is just another meal.  If you can get it out of your head that there are specific foods that you can only eat for breakfast, it will really open up your world.  If you insist on eating only breakfast foods, then here are a couple of my favorites, eggs and oatmeal.  Eggs are a complete source of protein, vitamins, and healthy fat.  Oatmeal is an awesome source of complex carbs and fiber that will digest slowly and keep you full until your next meal.  Add some whole fruit to change it up!

What if I'm working out?
Let's say you go to the gym in the morning.  6 am. If you're up at 4 am, then it'll probably be just fine to eat breakfast.  For most people, about 2 hours is enough to be able to digest their breakfast to the point where it's not sitting in your stomach.  This is personal, however, as some people have a higher tolerance for this feeling than others.  The amount of food you eat should be proportional to this tolerance and the proximity to your workout.  4 am? You're probably ok to eat a fair amount of food. 5:30 am? You're probably going to want to eat a little bit less if at all and what you do eat should be quick digesting (bananas or toast is great!).  If you choose not to eat, then you should also realize you will not have quite the same performance you would following the digestion of a meal, due to less quickly available energy.

How much should I eat?
Ok, assuming you are not working out early in the morning (which was answered in the previous question), how much is appropriate?  This is going to be relative to what we discussed in the first question.  How much do you need to keep from making a sugary soda or coffee run in the middle of the morning?  How much do you need in order to have stable energy levels and make better decisions not only at lunch but also at dinner?  One study gave its participants the same amount of calories during an experiment: one group with more for breakfast and less at dinner, and the other with less for breakfast and more for dinner.  All other parts of the day were identical.  The study found a greater amount of weight loss in the group that ate more for breakfast and less for dinner.  What if losing weight faster was that easy?

What if I'm not hungry in the morning?
There are two schools of thought here.  If you are determined to incorporate breakfast as part of your daily routine, then start small, and build up the amount you are eating until you start to experience the desired benefits that we talked about previously.  Your body will adapt and start to expect food as part of its routine in waking up (think Pavlov's dogs), and you will start to get hungry.  The other school of thought is related to the idea of fasting.  Back in our hunter/gather days, there were no consistent sources of food in the way there are today.  The body is adapted to not eating, or eating less for periods of time and then eating more in times of plenty.  While actual fasting has some interesting features, it's not really a viable option for most people.  Perhaps I'll write another article someday on it someday.  The more modern day equivalent is called intermittent fasting.  It basically suggests eating all your calories within a small window of the day to better allow your body to use up excess glucose and start burning off it's fat reserves.  I'll review the intermittent fasting protocol later in our diet reviews.

Breakfast is often said to be the most important meal of the day.  It probably was at one point, but most of the packaged breakfast foods out there are nothing but giant sugar bombs.  Quality breakfast foods like oatmeal and eggs can provide a great jumpstart to your day that helps you feel energized and make healthier food decisions throughout the day.  I've come to realize that it is far from essential though.  Like most things it all comes down to the quality of the food you are putting into your body.  If eating breakfast helps you eat better overall, then do it.  If you're still able to get the amount of fuel and nutrients you need out of two meals, and still make healthy decisions, then I don't see that as being a problem.  Listen to your body and eat whole, minimally processed foods and you'll get yourself closer to your goals, whether that's by eating breakfast or not.