Good ole breakfast. The scapegoat and solution to every health problem known to mankind.
Do your cholesterol levels suck? You must be slacking on your Cheerio’s consumption. Everyone knows that you need to have two enormous bowls to fuel your heart. One just doesn’t cut it.
Obese? Better start hitting up the local Dunkin for some donuts and a nice large cream filled cup of Joe. How else are you going to get your RDA recommended 300 grams of carbs for the day? You sure as hell can’t skip breakfast.
Struggling to lose those last ten pounds? Didn’t you know it’s a proven fact that eating breakfast speeds up your metabolism?
End of sarcasm.
It’s all nonsense. Not one single positive benefit associated with breakfast can be attributed to legitimate science.
It doesn’t speed up your metabolism. The refined carbohydrate garbage that is found in your cereal and every other common breakfast food actually worsens your heart profile, not improves it. And big shocker here….you don’t need that glazed covered pastry to power you through your morning.
I see no benefit in furthering the deconstruction of the typical modern breakfast. You and I both know that eating that bagel loaded with cream cheese is not healthy nor does it serve you any purpose.
What I am interested in is how to construct a breakfast that works for you. A breakfast that is not eaten because one think there’s some sort of magic eating an egg at 8 a.m. instead of at noon. No, a breakfast that subsists and becomes a daily habit because it makes you feel good and works for you.
How To Plan Your Breakfast
With that in mind, I have devised a checklist that you can use when constructing your own breakfast, or any meal for that matter.
1) How does it make you feel?
I could sit here and tell you that you need to carb load in the morning before you train everyday to ensure full glycogen stores; stimulate an anabolic environment, etc. I could easily make a case based on the literature that this will support your training.
Problem is, if after you carb load, you want nothing to do with training. You feel sluggish, groggy, bloated and overall apathetic to anything to do with moving weight. Your breakfast, while the literature may support it, does not make you feel good.
Scrap it. You don’t need a literature review, you need something that makes you feel good.
Maybe you will respond better if you trained fasted or had a breakfast that induces less of an insulin spike. Carb loading the night before might be a better strategy.
I guess I just inadvertently described my own personal experience. I respond much better training fasted (I don’t count BCAAs and caffeine). Carbs, especially an overload of them, make me feel terrible so I avoid them until after I workout. My breakfast, if I’m going to have one, needs to make me feel better than it would if I didn’t have one at all.
Find a plan or strategy that makes you feel good (the satisfaction that comes with devouring munchkins from Dunkin Donuts doesn’t count).
2) Is it healthy?
Look, I don’t think there’s ever a good time to throw shit in your body. Don’t get me wrong, I love 6 waffles and a double triple hash brown from America’s favorite diner…Waffle House in case you didn’t know. But I feel especially strong that breakfast of all meals should be made up of real food most of the time.
The reason is that when you wake up, your body is primed to tackle the day. Cortisol is at its peak, meaning that it’s a prime environment for your body to burn fat and your sympathetic nervous system is primed for a catecholamine release to turn you into a productivity machine (catecholamines: noradrenaline + adrenaline, make you more focused in a nutshell).
And what do most people do? They emphatically tell their body I HATE YOU when they dump a donut down the hole. I don’t want to feel productive; I want to crash with this surplus of carbs. I don’t want to burn fat; I want to use my increased insulin sensitivity in the morning to shuttle hella glucose into my fat cells (yes, insulin sensitivity works both ways, for both fat and muscle cells).
Your body is prime for nutrient absorption. Give it what it wants (if not what it consciously wants, please your subconscious).
“If man made it, don’t eat it.”
I don’t think this nutritional dogma needs to be followed all the time, but I think it’s essential in the morning. Your body is perfectly able to handle the demands of the day without breakfast (human evolution says so) so make sure your breakfast adds value to your day. Allow it to take your body to another level of productivity or health. Only real food and a coffee or several can accomplish this. Ok maybe a coffee isn’t necessary but I love me some coffee.
3) How does it fuel my body?
Your breakfast sets the tone for the rest of the day. How is it impacting you? Here are some things to consider:
How are my hormone levels being affected? Is my breakfast the start of a roller coaster ride for my insulin levels? What I mean is that in some imaginative world if your insulin went to Six Flags you want it to go on the kiddy ride suitable for an 8 yr old. No Superman or any other ride that makes 22 yr old Andy throw up. I don’t do roller coasters. Though a little thrill may positively impact my testosterone levels… hmmmm tradeoffs. May be worth it.
I’ve already brought this up, but does my breakfast stimulate my sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system? Basically, does it make me want to go tackle the world or crawl back into bed and dream about being productive?
If I had breakfast, did I use it to stimulate protein synthesis or fuel my gluttony for refined carbs? Some really smaht individuals like Layne Norton believe that in order to maximize protein synthesis, the effects of cortisol must be blunted in the morning with an anabolic pulse of protein. Does your breakfast work to build or maintain your lean body mass or does it make those starving bastard fat cells happy with some glucose first thing in the morning?
4) Does it line up with my goals?
Your goal is to gain 20 pounds of good weight in an offseason. Obviously, you can’t gain 20 pounds of muscle in less than six months but if a good deal of muscle comes along with some fat, you’ll be happy with that. Yet, your breakfast is three eggs and a piece of toast.
Your breakfast does not match your goals.
This includes the guy that wants to gain weight and practices intermittent fasting. Trust me, don’t do it. If you want to gain weight and you restrict your eating window to eight or nine hours, you will absolutely hate your life. I did and I came to hate food. The kitchen consumed me. For eight hours, I did nothing but eat. I gained weight, mostly good, but needless to say I was unproductive in life after I trained because of my constrained gluttony. Now you could make the argument that watching all seven seasons of Dexter in six weeks is not unproductive…kidding, it’s not a good strategy. Eat breakfast and eat a hearty breakfast if you’re goal is to gain weight.
The same can be said for the individual that wants to lose ten pounds but their breakfast is a pastry from Panera. Their breakfast does not bring them closer to their goal.
Identify a goal. Create a plan on how you’re going to get there and make sure your breakfast (or first meal of the day) is in line with this strategy. Set the tone from meal one.
There are plenty of other things to consider but if you take care of the first four, I’m pretty confident that your food choices are more than capable of handling the other needs of your body. Master the basics and the rest will take care of itself.
Come on, you know I wasn’t going to leave you hanging. You need concrete food examples, I get it.
1) No refined crap
‘Nough said on this.
2) More Saturated Fat
Yes, saturated fat. Not a typo. Before you start yelling heart attack at me, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in a meta-analysis of 21 studies concluded “Saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or coronary vascular disease. (cite)” Refined carbohydrates, not healthy saturated fats, have actually been found to adversely affect triglyceride and cholesterol profiles.
I understand that I haven’t come close to conclusively proving that saturated fat is the bee’s knees but performing a research review of saturated fat isn’t within the scope of this article. Maybe another time. For now, let’s focus on some benefits of adding more saturated fat to your diet:
a) Positively affects our hormonal profiles (a diet with higher fat intake leads to an increase in testosterone levels).
b) Saturated fats help your tissues retain omega-3 fatty acids better and help convert omega-3 to its final usable form (DHA) – if you can’t absorb your fish oil it’s useless.
c) Improve our immune system – Coconut oil contains an amino acid Lauric Acid, which is primarily found in mother’s breast milk. Lauric acid stimulates our immune system just as it does through our breast milk.
d) Strengthens the liver against toxins and injury
e) Contain fat-soluable vitamins and allow for their uptake
f) Help your cholesterol profile! I’m serious!
- Lower triglyceride levels
- Improve HDL levels
- Improve particle size of LDL
For a more in depth review of saturated fat, check out this article by John Meadows
What are some examples of healthy saturated fats?
a) Virgin Coconut Oil
b) Whole Eggs
c) Grass-fed Butter
d) Grass-fed Beef
e) Raw Milk
f) Red Palm Oil
g) Dark chocolate
3) Protein is a staple
The USDA recommends 80 grams of protein a day. 80 grams, which I guess is fine if you want to look sick, homely, and struggle to maintain whatever limited muscle mass you have.
I recommend at least a gram per pound of bodyweight. Yes, for most, that’s way more than the USDA recommends. A gram per lb/bw is a pretty standard recommendation for people in the know. Of course it’s not for those who want to look sick and weak but for those looking to maintain a body that exudes strength, vitality, and health it is essential.
Some people prefer to eat two meals and get all their protein in through large quantities. That has worked well for me in the past but that may also be because I’m a big eater when I want to be. You may prefer to break your protein intake up in three or four different chunks. Breakfast is an ideal time to start putting a dent in your total.
4) Earn Your Carbs
Carbs aren’t an essential macronutrient. What I mean by that is your body can produce glucose without you ingesting carbs. Is it ideal for maintaining or building muscle? No, it’s not but I like to think that I earn whatever carbs I’m consuming.
I earn my carbs through training, whether it be weight lifting or some variation of sprint work. Every time I train, I go to the bank and deplete my glycogen reserves. In order for me to continue training at a high level, I need to restore these glycogen stores. I earn my carbs after I train.
By that same logic, on days when I rest, I generally limit my carb intake to fruits and veggies. Yes I understand that restoring glycogen reserves can be a lengthy process (more than 24 hours), but I feel I eat enough on training days where I don’t deserve nor earn any carbs on days that I rest. I already made sure my stores are near capacity ready to go for my next training session.
Earn your carbs. If you know you have a hard workout ahead of you that day, include carbs like oatmeal and hashbrowns (not cooked in vegetable oil) in your breakfast. Use it to fuel your training if you respond better with carb peri-workout.
If you’re mostly sedentary that day or in general, I highly recommend you scale back on the carbs, particularly in the morning. I understand that going sans carbs all day can be quite difficult which is why I’m a big fan of Nate Miyaki’s intermittent feast strategy where you have lighter meals throughout the day in order to “feast” at night. Your brain operates on a sacrifice/reward system so accomplishing this is easier than you think.
Some advantages to earning your carbs:
a) Better insulin sensitivity – You won’t constantly be overloading your pancreas to produce insulin. By doing so, you improve insulin sensitivity and avoid creating pancreatic exhaustion which increases your chances for developing metabolic syndrome as you age.
b) Better nutrient partitioning – You eat carbs when your muscles need them and avoid feeding your fat cells when your muscles are idle or full of glycogen.
c) You’ll look better – When your carb intake is low, insulin remains low, and lipolysis (fat burning) is upregulated. That’s a fancy way of saying you’ll burn more fat.
5) Eat more greens
Everyone knows green vegetables should be a staple in your diet, yet how many people get enough? I’m guilty of it. Vegetables aren’t sexy. They’re a pain to cook and there’s no real satisfaction in eating them. Sure, they make me healthier but I don’t feel tangibly better in the moment like I do from eating a pizza or ice cream.
Breakfast is an easy time to get your greens in. Whether you mix it in with your omelet or throw spinach in your shake (you don’t taste it I promise, kudos to Tony Gentilcore for this quick tip), the options for variety are endless.
My Sample Breakfast
I have a confession to make… up until about three or four months ago, I never had breakfast…ever. It didn’t matter what I had going on that day, I always seemed to enjoy doing without breakfast. I became an intermittent faster and I loved it. It fit my goals at the time. I was 205 lbs, had fallen into a routine that I liked, and it worked for me. Fast forward six months and 20 pounds later and my priorities changed. I no longer could sustain my weight eating only in an eight-hour period. My body needed a crazy amount of calories during that window of adaptation in order to acclimate to my new weight.
Breakfast is an every day part of my routine now. Here’s what a sample morning looks like for me:
A) Heaping teaspoon of Athletic Greens with 6 grams of Omega 3 Fish Oil with 5000 IU of vitamin D. Chad goes into more depth with each of these supplements in this post as there is always a method to the madness.
B) 6 whole eggs scrambled or over well cooked in one tbsp of extra virgin coconut oil w/ 8 oz of steak cooked in one tbsp of extra virgin coconut oil with a glass of whole milk
C) If I don’t have a steak with my eggs, I’ll make myself a six egg omelet with spinach and peppers thrown in there.
D) I typically avoid any and all carbs including fruit
E) I’ll make myself a pot of coffee, mix in a teaspoon of coconut oil, and be out the door.
It’s not perfect but it accomplishes everything that I want to get out of breakfast. It makes me feel good, it’s healthy, it adequately fuels my body, and it fits my goals. Your breakfast may look very different and that’s ok. As long as you align your breakfast with my brief guidelines I recommended, I don’t think you can steer yourself wrong.
Granted, I know most people’s breakfast options are limited, particularly when they’re trying to eat healthy. In order to help your cause, Karine Losier and Dave Ruel have created an excellent product Metabolic Cooking. It’s a fantastic resource that has more recipes than you could possibly imagine making eating healthy sexy, fun, and tasting good. You won’t be disappointed.
Chad and I have some availability in our online coaching program to make people hot, strong, look good naked and anything else you can possibly imagine.
Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Look Better Naked” and we can get cracking.