Breakfast: Fuel the Mind and Body

Skipping breakfast has profound effects on the mind and body systems – a sluggish metabolism as the body shifts into” starvation-mode”, potential weight gain, lower energy levels, and weakened cognitive abilities ( poor concentration, problem solving, reduced alertness). The body physiologically needs calories to function optimally.

Both the mind ( brain function) and the body need both fats and carbohydrates. Glucose ( sugar) from carbs is needed to metabolize fat is and is the exclusive fuel source for the brain and red blood cells.

The liver’s stored glycogen supplies the body with glucose throughout the night. According to Enette Larson- Meyer, a nutritionist and author: ” When you wake up, blood sugar may be low and the liver may be running low in glycogen. This limits the glucose that is available for the energy needs of the brain and body.”

Larson- Meyers says ” You need glucose ( that comes from carbohydrates) for brain function and- if you exercise in the morning – as a substrate for muscles so that you can get an intense workout in and recover well afterward. Studies in children have shown that a little suger helps them think better and not be so sluggish.”

Breakfast should include protein, which is needed for muscle building and repair and maintenance of hormones and enzymes. Research indicates that protein is better absorbed and utilized if intake is spread throughout the day. In fact, if protein is eaten at several small meals, the body can use all nutrients more effectively and helps to lower the glycemic effect of carbohydrates.

Breakfast should also include fiber, vitamins and minerals.

According to Larson-Meyer you should still consume breakfast even if you aren’t hungry. ” Just because you don’t feel hungry doesn’t mean you don’t need the calories. It might mean you need them more than you think”. Diminished appetite is thought to be a protective adaptation when the body is experiencing a starvation response.

Dan Benardot, at Georgia State University, has studied how large energy deficits ( skipping breakfast) affects athletes. He found that athletes may have less lean body mass and higher fat levels as a result. According to Benardot: ” Both the low blood sugar in the long periods of not eating and the overly large meals that follow can lead to surges of excess insulin, an effect that encourages extra body fat.”

If your fuel tank is empty ( low calorie state) and you rev the engine, the body will demand more fuel in the form of glucose and fatty acids from the blood. If the fuel is not available, the body will break down muscle protein to meet the energy demands. In addition, by driving the body into a greater energy deficit, one might be more inclined to to get hungrier and binge later.

Endurance training requires ample stored carbohydrate. Both carbs and fats are needed. According to Larson-Meyer: ” Even if you are burning a slightly higher ratio of fat, with impaired performance you may not be burning as many total calories of fat as you could if you were well-fueled.

Breakfast should comprise 25-30% of the total calories needed. Ideally the morning meal should include carbohydrates and fiber ( fruit, oatmeal, cereal, vegetables), protein and some healthy fats( eggs or egg whites, low-fat milk or yogurt, nuts, beans, avocado).

Don’t be shy on being creative for breakfast. Ex: smoothies, soups, bean burritos.

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