Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Eat clean and get lean with our dietitians, Erin Macdonald and Tiffani Bachus. Their online course, A Whole-Life Guide to Lasting Weight Loss, is available now.
How many times have you heard the old adage: “breakfast is the most important meal of the day?” There’s a reason this advice has been passed down for generations. Split the word “breakfast” into its two parts – “break” and “fast” – and that’s exactly what you are doing when you eat your morning meal. You’ve likely been fasting for at least 8 to 10 hours while you sleep. When you wake up, your blood sugar and energy levels are low and in need of a metabolic boost, which only a nutritious and balanced meal can provide.
What to Eat?
Does it really matter what you eat for breakfast? Isn’t some food better than no food at all?
Yes, it does matter.
A typical breakfast of a bagel and cream cheese, toast with jam, or pancakes with syrup will provide you with calories and a quick burst of energy from the high level of fast-acting carbohydrates. The problem with these breakfast choices is what happens inside your body as a result of them. High levels of quick-release carbohydrates cause a large amount of insulin to be released from the pancreas. Insulin’s main job is to shuttle the sugar from your bloodstream into your cells where it will be used for energy. Unfortunately, insulin is also a fat-storage hormone, so high levels of insulin will prompt your body to shuttle the sugar into fat cells, leaving you hungry again soon after you eat.
A better breakfast is one that has a balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat. Carbohydrates, which provide energy, should come from fruits, vegetables, whole grains or starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes. Protein takes longer to digest, which keeps you feeling fuller for longer and slows the rise in blood sugar from the carbohydrates, giving you a steady stream of energy. Good protein choices include eggs, plain Greek yogurt, chicken, fish, and beans. Studies show that breakfasts that have 30 grams of protein are ideal for achieving success with weight loss as well as cravings for carbohydrates later in the day. Healthy fats, which also provide energy and take longer to digest, are important to provide your essential fatty acids and promote satiety. Best choices for fats include nuts, seeds, unrefined coconut oil and eggs.
When to Eat?
Not everyone is hungry the moment they wake up. The first thing to do upon rising is drink 8-16 ounces of water. This will serve to hydrate your body and brain and start the digestive juices. A meal should come during the first hour of being awake. For those who really aren’t hungry in the morning, a smoothie that contains a balance of macronutrients is a great choice. If you enjoy sitting down to a hearty meal, consider an omelet with vegetables, sautéed in some coconut oil, and a bowl of berries. Yes, both coffee and tea are acceptable morning beverages, as they contain antioxidants and caffeine for a little boost and mental clarity. Just be careful about what you put in to your morning brew, as creamer and sugar are nutrient-poor.
See also When to Eat.
We love breakfast so much, we wrote a whole cookbook devoted to it! No Excuses! 50 Healthy Ways to ROCK Breakfast! was born to help combat all of the excuses our clients would give us as to why they didn’t eat breakfast in the morning: “I just don’t have the time,” “Healthy eating costs too much,” “Carbs make me fat.” Do any of these sound familiar? Well, you do have time and healthy eating actually costs less than you think. And no, carbs won’t make you fat, especially if you balance them with protein and fat.
Watch this video of one of our favorite make-ahead breakfast recipes and discover how easy it is to eat healthy!