I’ve had an interesting relationship with breakfast, the oft proclaimed most important meal of the day. It may be but it also may not be necessary for certain individuals.
My abandonment of breakfast came as I became a Leangains disciple and soon-to-be zealot for intermittent fasting. I even wrote a book on it. For a 21 year old, it was pretty good. Today, I don’t view it as such, but that is neither here nor there.
What’s important is how we tackle this meal to set you up for peak performance. I am no longer an athlete chasing Big League dreams but I am obsessed with maximizing performance and implementing the right tools at the appropriate time in adequate doses.
Breakfast is a tool, albeit an important one.
If your job is cognitively demanding, it’s incredibly important. Your brain may feel better in the morning fasted but pay attention to your performance as the day drags on. What you notice may surprise you.
If you’re chronically stressed, breakfast is imperative for you to function.
The why and why not of breakfast is an article for another time. Today, I’m under the assumption that breakfast is an integral part of your routine.
Let’s discuss how to optimize it.
Breakfast and Mindset
Admittedly, I don’t view breakfast as an integral component to losing fat. It can be done with and without and the answer to “Should I eat it?” depends entirely on you and your story.
I obsess about performance. I don’t perform, I don’t get paid. It’s the nature of sales and it’s imperative that I am always “on.”
Breakfast is apart of my morning routine. Morning routines aren’t magic as self-help guru’s have mystified it is but the manner in which I put my feet down in the morning when I wake up has a strong correlation to how the rest of my day goes.
How you do one thing is how you do everything.
I don’t “have” to eat breakfast but I also don’t “have” to perform that day. It’s a choice we have to make everyday. By integrating breakfast, it’s the first step to getting myself on the highway in the high-speed lane. Without it, I may get there but having to stop for gas along the way slows down momentum, the importance of which cannot be overstated.
Cognitive performance may not be your aim. If it relates to your job, it should be but I don’t walk in your shoes each day.
A new fat loss journey may be underway.
In this sense, breakfast is not just about macros and hitting appropriate calorie targets. It involves answering the burden of change as the sun rises. It is actively steering your ship to its destination amidst rough seas. The monsters that await you throughout the day will be far less formidable if you slay the small demons early and often.
Winning begets winning.
What To NOT Eat For Breakfast
I envision the start of each day like a Ferrari on a wide-open racetrack. Everything is in place to floor it and let it ride.
Cortisol peaks, catecholamines (1 of the go signals in your brain, think adrenaline) are high, testosterone is high, dopamine rages.
Your body is primed to tackle the day.
Food as fuel is a worn out aphorism but that is how it must be considered. The decision to eat breakfast is a start but that alone is not good enough. What constitutes the meal is the actual fulfillment that accepts the burdens of the day head-on.
What to eat for breakfast is pretty simple. It’s even easier if you frame it within the context of these two questions:
- Am I eating like an adult who cares about his or her well-being?
- Will this help or hurt my brain become a performance machine?
This automatically eliminates 99% of what most people have for breakfast.
Donuts, pastries, munchkins, bagels, and leftover pizza are out. Anything that involves a large volume of processed carbohydrates is out. I’d even conservatively suggest leaving fruit and oatmeal off the table as well.
Even though it’s fairly obvious why the former shouldn’t be considered, the latter may cause cognitive dissonance with some.
My goal for breakfast and for everything I eat, along with clients, is I want to keep blood sugar stable and insulin low.
Imagine you’re on a kiddie ride at an amusement park. There are not sudden drops, high-speed acceleration, and vomiting inducing turns. It’s smooth, balanced but gives your kids just enough novelty to enjoy themselves.
Food and blood sugar levels are the same. Our body needs fuel but the right fuel.
Stopping at Dunkin Donuts for two doughnuts does a couple things to you and none of them are advisable.
It floods your body with carbohydrates and induces a blood sugar spike.
Picture getting to the top of Superman at Six Flags. It’s really high up. But what goes up must come down. Give it some time and your blood sugar will crash. This is an intense stressor for your body and it’s not pretty.
The sudden drop in blood sugar will cause your brain to YELL at you to find more fuel to pacify it and raise it again. Your brain knows that simple carbs, like the doughnut you just ate, is the quickest way to do this.
Repeat this cycle, ad nausea. Not only will you feel like shit by staying on Superman all day but also rewarding your brain with a couple thousand extra calories just to be calm.
There’s a better way.
What TO Eat For Breakfast
Just as what not to eat for breakfast is simple, what to eat is simple, but admittedly not easy.
Last time I checked, Starbucks doesn’t serve 3 eggs cooked in grass-fed butter. On the go options are limited. It’s the nature of convenience. It’s easy, efficient, and satisfies the present but hurts the future.
It’s an interesting paradox if you think about it. One would assume that grabbing the pastry off the shelf of Starbucks does actually save you time. Waking up 15 minutes early to cook breakfast isn’t incredibly time consuming but more time is “lost” given the convenience of buying breakfast.
But this is a fallacy. It’s like compound interest and investing. Invest today, have less liquid money in the present moment, but have much more in the future because of compound interest.
The same can be said with what you eat for breakfast.
Eating the pastry satisfies your present hunger but it doesn’t compound. In actuality, it will make you feel worse throughout the day, resulting in much more lost time than fueling your body appropriately.
Eating like an adult costs you time but rewards you in the future. Your body will not have Yo-Yo blood sugar moments. Everything will be stable and even-keeled. Your brain will be able to concentrate on the task at hand more efficiently and for longer if you choose adequate foods over convenience.
A good breakfast revolves around lean, dense protein, healthy fat, and vegetables. They keep your blood sugar stable and provide the building blocks of neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, catecholamines), which will allow your brain to work a full day.
Examples are as follows:
6 eggs scrambled cooked in coconut oil, olive oil, or grass-fed butter
3 eggs over-easy cooked in coconut oil w/ a side of bacon
4-6 oz of grass-fed beef with an avocado
6 egg omelet w/ spinach and garlic cooked in coconut oil or grass fed butter
I will stop there because the possibilities are endless if you have basic, proficient cooking skills, are willing to invest some (minimal, really) upfront time, and base your food choices off of protein, healthy fats, and vegetables.
Simple, but not easy, and certainly not sexy. Success isn’t sexy either. The building blocks of worthwhile pursuits are eerily similar if you take the time to deconstruct them.
Your Goals And Different Outcomes
An optimal breakfast is context dependent.
Building muscle and extreme cognitive performance are not mutually exclusive but what you eat for breakfast will be affected by your priority.
As a lean, 230 lb male, building muscle would take an inordinate amount of food.
Back loading these calories in an effort to accompany mental performance early in the day would be next to impossible. It would simply be too much food in too short of a time window. It’s in part why I don’t generally recommend intermittent fasting while building muscle. They tend to work against each other.
Keep your goal as your priority.
If your work is cognitively demanding and performance is a necessity, having a large breakfast isn’t the best idea.
It’s just not.
Even a large breakfast composed of protein and healthy fats will demand resources diverted to digestion. It may not but more than likely this will hinder how well you can think and perform. A lighter breakfast makes more sense in light of this priority.
Along those same lines, if muscle is the priority, eating a light breakfast doesn’t necessarily fulfill the demands your goal requires. A 3 egg and spinach omelet doesn’t really move the needle. It’s like 100 calories. I generally eschew carbohydrates until later in the day but here, it may make sense. You can’t build a bigger engine without the requisite pieces.
For fat loss, skipping breakfast may make the most sense.
There are a lot of tools to use. Context matters. Figuring out which ones are appropriate only becomes clear once you identify where you are today and where you want to go.
Best way to decipher the pieces to the puzzle? Hire a coach. Hire us. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get into our rigorous, 12-week fat loss program.
The results below are not uncommon.