The commonly-held tradition, particularly in the western world, is that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Your grandparents will probably have told you that, your mother most certainly will have, but how true is it in today's society?
When we're talking about breakfast, we're talking about the first meal of the day, eaten in the morning. The etymology of breakfast comes historically from Christians who would use the first meal of the new day to break their nocturnal fasting period, i.e. the time between supper taken at the end of one day and the first meal of the next.
Fast forward to today and breakfast is eaten all around the world, although the commonly consumed foods can vary wildly. We're not all eating a 'full English', traditional breakfast foods range from oats and grains through to noodles, rice and salt-fish and almost everything in between.
If you're training, you may have been programmed never to miss breakfast, but what are the real implications of doing so? Many of those who don't eat breakfast miss it because they simply aren't hungry first thing in the morning or feel nauseated. If that's the case, you're better off listening to the messages your body is sending you and react accordingly.
The common belief is that eating breakfast will give your metabolism a boost and that not eating will mean that it slows dramatically. It's true to say that the calories you intake will affect your metabolism (and your energy), but it's the composition of the calorie; whether it's protein, carbohydrate or fat, is what really impacts your metabolism. Eating the wrong food can be just as harmful as not eating at all. Saying that, if you fast for too long then there may be negative effects such as storing body fat and using the glucose stored in your muscles as an alternative food source.
As I said, many of us are brought up to believe that missing breakfast is a big no-no, but that isn't believed by all nutritionists. Some argue that the metabolic benefits of breakfast have been greatly exaggerated by the mainstream media, particularly in adults. Links between missing breakfast and weight gain, the more popularly-held belief, is purely behavioral rather than a scientifically proven reaction to not eating breakfast. Skipping breakfast won't automatically make us reach for a donut later in the day.
As we've already talked about, breakfast is there to draw a conclusion to the fasting from the night before. Just its name, fasting, seems to have negative connotations, but there are benefits to it. If you only occasionally skip breakfast, intermittent fasting reduces your insulin levels. This might not sound like a great idea, but what it does offer is the ability to increase your insulin sensitivity allowing you to practice better blood sugar management. Pushing breakfast too late can be a struggle and I find it much more beneficial to have an early dinner as well as a slightly later breakfast.
Breakfast does have a positive effect on reducing one of the body's stress hormones, cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol influences, regulates or modulates many of the changes that occur in the body in response to stress including blood sugar levels, Fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism to maintain blood glucose and Immune responses to name a few. Eating breakfast helps your body bring down your cortisol levels, which are at their highest early in the morning. If you have chronically high cortisol levels then skipping breakfast may not be the best option for you. If you are looking to include some fasting periods it may be worth looking at adjusting your evening meal time as well as your break-fast meal.
The next time you're in a rush and can't decide whether to have an early breakfast or not remember, what you have is more important than what time you have it. Go for protein, healthy fats and slow release carbohydrates to get your day started in true health and fitness style.