How To Master Breakfast - Don't Let Breakfast Ruin Your Results
Author - Stephen Griffith C.S.C.S.
Breakfast is the worst meal of the day. That's right, I said it. Rather than breakfast being a meal of sustenance meant to nourish and prepare you for the upcoming day, it does the opposite. It leaves most people tired, hungry, bloated, and fatter. The typical American breakfast is a glorified dessert masquerading around as the "most important meal of the day". It is full of processed foods high in calories, added sugars, and low in nutritional value. This is no way to eat let alone start the day. In this article, I will show you how to avoid common breakfast mistakes and put breakfast back on its pedestal.
The reason breakfast is terrible is that most of the foods we consider "breakfast foods" look more like desserts than an actual meal.
Take a look at the worst offenders -
- French Toast
- Cinnamon Rolls
- Sugared Cereal
The next list of breakfast foods is sneakier. There touted as being "Healthy" but the reality is many of them are still highly processed. The ones that aren’t such as fruit are often eaten by themselves without the balance of other foods.
- Sweetened Yogurt
- Orange Juice
- Granola Bars
- A piece of Fruit
- Oatmeal/ Grits
- English Muffins
The biggest issue in this list is the high sugar and carbohydrate content. While carbs are not bad as I will explain below, having them in excess and having them in an unbalanced meal can be.
Some foods on this list can be good such as oatmeal, and yogurt. However, the processed versions we eat in the morning are often stripped of nutrients and filled with sugar.
Lastly, let's not forget about our breakfast meats: Bacon and Sausage.
Of all the choices of meat we can choose from, bacon and sausage win out as the breakfast meats of choice. Bacon and sausage while undoubtedly delicious are not prime cuts of meat lauded for their health benefits. Both are highly processed and loaded with fat, salt, and other additives.
The overall result of breakfast becomes unwanted fat, unstable energy, and grumbly stomachs. But why does that happen?
‘The first part of the weight gain equation is calories. Excess calories equal weight gain and many of the foods above are high in calories. But adding fat to the body isn't just a calorie issue. The other issue is that these meals are disproportionately high in carbohydrates. While carbohydrates are not inherently bad, an excess of them can be. Carbohydrates are used as an energy source within the body in the same way gas fuels a car. However, the number of carbs should be proportional to the how much energy you burn during the day. That's where many people go wrong. Take for example If your car burns 5 gallons of gas a day, it would be silly for you to fill the tank up with 10 gallons a day. If you did, the tank would overflow and you would have a mess. The same thing happens to the body when we put more carbs in our fuel tank than we burn during the day- the tank overflows with the excess carbs being stored as fat.
Not all carbs are created equal - carbs that come from natural sources contain more fiber than processed sorces. Fiber helps slow digestion. This slower digestion means the carbs digest slower and release sugar gradually into the bloodstream. A slow release is beneficial because it won't overload the gas tank in the same way simple sugars do.
Lack of Fullness
Speaking of slowing down digestion with fiber, other nutrients such as fats and proteins also slow digestion. Why might you want your food to digest slow?
One reason mentioned above is so your blood sugar doesn't spike. The other reason is if your food digest slower, you will find yourself less hungry. The issue with the breakfast choices above is they lack any significant source of protein or fat and sometimes fiber. When your meals lack protein, fats, and fiber, you're likely to find yourself hungry shortly after a meal. When you're hungry you will eat too much and when you eat too much you gain weight.
Crashes in Energy
If the examples above describe your breakfast then you may have experienced a crash in energy shortly after eating your meal. This phenomenon is called Reactive Hypoglycemia, and it refers to a rapid drop in blood sugar following a meal. Meals high in simple sugars cause blood sugar to spike. This spike is followed by a sharp spike in insulin(the hormone responsible for maintaining steady blood sugar). The insulin quickly acts to reduce your blood sugar by storing it as fat. It does such a good job the body may overcompensate and remove too much blood sugar leaving you below normal. Signs and symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia may include hunger, weakness, shakiness, sleepiness, sweating, lightheadedness and anxiety.
“I think I have reactive hypoglycemia. How can I address my symptoms?” Link to the MAYO clinic response(2-minute read)
What’s the Fix?
The fix is achieving a balanced breakfast that includes protein, fats, and fiber.
The first step is reducing the number of processed foods you consume. If it comes in a package and isn't a whole natural food then give it a second thought. This includes most flour-based products, but also any foods whose ingredients list includes something other than the food you're buying - such as high fructose corn syrup found in yogurt.
Second, add in quality protein sources such as eggs, fish, yogurt or lean meat.
Lastly, look to add whole natural foods to complement our proteins, such as veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, and unprocessed grains such as steel cut oats.
- Drop the processed foods
- Focus on nutrient dense foods
- Get more protein
- Reduce calories - primarily from excessive carbs
I’d like to reiterate that carbs are not the enemy. It's the quantity and source of them that cause issues. The rule of thumb is that carb consumption should reflect how active you are throughout the day. Those looking to lose weight or tone up will find cutting back on carbs will help drop their excess fat mostly because those carbs were being consumed without protein and in a processed form. You will look to instead get your carbs from fibrous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, spinach, or even beans.
Those who are active throughout the day or looking to bulk up should follow the same guidelines. However, you will have more leeway with the number of carbs you can consume. For you, adding in fruits and minimally processed grains may be beneficial to help fuel your activities during the day. Or adding those carbs in around workout times when your body is better able to make use of them.
What are my options?
I'll take a bet you are a busy individual and like many others, your mornings are short on time. I understand, my mornings are equally busy and lacking time to cook a full on breakfast. That is why all my suggestions are with convenience in mind and are all meals my clients have had the great success with.
The best place to start is eggs. Eggs are a staple breakfast food low in calories, unnecessary carbs and high in nutritional value and protein. Eggs also offer variety. Because of their neutral flavor, they act as a blank slate to be seasoned at your whim. They may also be prepared in several ways such as an omelet, scrambled, fried, hard-boiled, or poached. Lastly, you can pair them with a number of different foods including meats and veggies.
Here are a few of my favorite ways I recommend preparing your eggs
Omelette or Scrambled eggs with Veggies(added meat optional)
This is my #1 way to prepare eggs because of how easy it is to prepare and how easy it is to sneak veggies in. Simple dice any veggie or meat of your choice and throw it into the pan either before cooking or at the same time as the eggs. The timing depends on your preference, for example letting minced onions carmalize before you throw the eggs in is delicious. Altogether you will be looking at a low carb protein packed meal full of nutrients and sure to keep hunger at bay.
One of my favorites is onions, peppers, broccoli, kale, buffalo chicken and or leftovers from the night before. But you're only limited by your imagination. I'll often use whatever produce I have on hand.
Here is a list of some options to consider
- Buffalo Chicken
- Black Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Baked Beans
- Pinto Beans
- Garbanzo Beans
- Great Northern Beans
- Lima Beans
- Baked Beans
- Green Beans
- Avocado (also a fruit)
- Dried Herbs- Oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, dill weed
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Chili powder
- Red pepper flakes
- Black pepper
- Ground spices - cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cumin, paprika, turmeric
- Garlic Salt
- Hot Sauce
- Salsa w/o sugar
- Olive Oil
- Macadamia Oil
How to make it easy
It doesn't take much longer to cook 12 eggs than it does 3 so make a big batch and place the leftovers in a Tupperware container to eat in the following days.
Eggs stay well and will last a few days in the fridge.
For me I take 20 minutes on Sunday to cook a large batch that will last me the first half of the week.
In a time bind? Use your microwave. In less than 5 minutes you can have breakfast whipped up. Great for avoiding the pastries on those hectic mornings.
A quick guide to get you started - http://www.wikihow.com/Microwave-an-Egg
Fried eggs over veggies
If Scrambled eggs get old, try it sunny side up. Simply cook a bowl of veggies - stir-fry or steamed likely work best or use leftovers from dinner and throw an egg or 2 on top. Now let the yoke bring it all together. You can substitute a pack of frozen veggies for more convenience. When Cooking the eggs only lightly oil the pan.
Here's Another egg over easy variation if you like - avocados; Slice an avocado in half, remove the pit and place the fried egg right where the pit used to be. Grab a spoon and enjoy.
The simplest and most portable way to cook an egg - boil water, place eggs within, wait till cooked then add salt or season as desired.
Greek yogurt is another high protein snack that's popular here in the states, however beware as many have lots of added sugar. My recommendation is to buy a plain Greek yogurt from a quality brand such as Chobani or Fage as they have higher protein content at around 17gs a serving. While I recommend having it plain, I understand that its taste may not be appealing to everyone. If your someone who prefers the taste of a sweet yogurt I recommend adding a modest portion of fruit such as berries - Or have a power yogurt(below). Below are a few suggestions.
- Apples and cinnamon
- Mashed raspberries or blackberries
- Frozen berries and fruit also work great
For a crunch or additional calories, you may add a few nuts
Make it a Power Yogurt and add in a scoop of protein powder. It will add flavor and more protein to keep you full and help you recover. I prefer a vanilla powder because vanilla goes well with different flavors. Chocolate is a great standalone and can pair well with a spoon full of powdered peanut butter.
This is my favorite suggestion for those who love their oats. First, pick oats that are minimally processed like steel cut oats. The more it’s processed the fewer nutrients it has. Rather than boiling them in the morning you will apply the ingredients and let it soak and soften overnight. This approach works well because you can throw in a cup of plain low-fat yogurt to give your meal a source of protein. Just like our power yogurt, these recipes work great with a scoop of protein powder. Just add the ingredients as desired and in the morning it will be ready to grab on your way out the door. The same ingredients that work well with yogurt also work great in this such as powdered peanut butter, cocoa powder, protein powder, fruits, nuts, and seeds. This meal can become high in calories and carbs, so I recommend it in moderation and for those who are active throughout the day.
A Shake and a Bar
While I will always recommend whole natural foods above supplements, a protein shake or protein bar can be a lifesaver on a hectic morning. Many shakes and bars present themselves as healthy but are really glorified candy bars. Be sure to read the nutrition label and ensure there are no to minimal carbs or added sugars.
Another quick go to morning breakfast is to make yourself a smoothie. Not as quick as a protein shake but can be a fantastic way to start the morning with nutrients. A smoothie can also be great for those who don’t like to start their morning with something heavy in their stomachs.
An important note - The tendency for making smoothies is to make them sweet. Sweet smoothies are usually based on juice or fruit and will have too many carbs for starting the day. For this, I recommend switching out some of those fruits for vegetables.
For every smoothie make sure there is a source of protein. A few suggestions can be a certified blend of quality protein, plain kefir, plain greek yogurt or powdered peanut butter
Here are a few lists. Many of the smoothies may be on the sweeter side so substitute and reduce the carbs for your needs. Use the list to help you generate ideas and then experiment.
When and how to add carbs back into your breakfast
Until this point, this article has been geared toward those looking to lose weight and tone up by placing an emphasis on reducing your carb/sugar intake. Carbs, in fact, can be very beneficial as they provide an easily digestible source of energy to the body. The three rules we should remember for carb intake are
The amount of carbs should be proportional to the amount of energy spent during the day.
Carbs should come from natural, nutrient-dense sources.
They are best consumed after a workout when your body is most receptive to them.
If you’re an athlete, an intermediate or advanced lifter, or you work a demanding manual labor job you will enjoy having the right carbs in your diet.
When adding in remember to:
- Use whole natural sources - such as fruits and veggies.
- For grains make sure they're minimally processed such as steel cut oats or sprouted grains.
- If added, they should accompany your protein based breakfast. Example: You may also consider making your scrambled eggs into a breakfast burrito by adding beans and wrapping it in a whole wheat tortilla.
If I could make one last point it's to not limit yourself. One of the biggest thought traps I see is believing that only breakfast foods can be eaten for breakfast. The reality is you may eat whatever you like whenever you’d like. The American breakfast is severely lacking in vegetables and lean proteins, and the only way to fix this is to break free of these self imposed limitations. Salmon over roasted veggies is a healthy meal no matter what time of day you eat it. To be your best, hold breakfast to the same standards as any other meal of the day. If you focus on whole natural foods that are full of nutrients, you will not only look great but feel great. So I Implore you to change things up, break free of breakfast dogma and redefine what one can have for breakfast.
I always enjoy seeing the creative ways people find to make meals delicious and healthy. Comment below If you have your own breakfast solutions you feel others could benefit from.