Written by guest blogger Tim McCune, professsional sports nutritionist and personal trainer
Breakfast is touted as the most important meal of the day, and it sets the tone for your metabolic flexibility through the rest of the day, either for success, or for endless blood-sugar swings.
The term metabolic flexibility refers to the body’s ability to burn the appropriate fuel at the appropriate time; throughout the day whilst sedentary or performing low level activity the primary fuel source is fat, either ingested or stored. During higher intensity activity, the metabolism shifts towards greater glucose use.
The composition of the breakfast meal is the determining factor when it comes to whether your body will have the ability to shift between these two fuel substrates.
When we awake our stress hormones are highest, providing us with the kick to get out of bed and get on with the day. Liver glycogen has been depleted somewhat, and insulin sensitivity, the ability of the cells of the body to take up glucose, is high. These points in mind lead many to recommend a high carbohydrate breakfast; replenishing glycogen placed high on the list of priorities. During the overnight fast however, muscle glycogen is not depleted and there are still ample stores provided the previous day’s intake was sufficient.
Insulin sensitivity will remain elevated until carbohydrates are consumed; failing to ‘take advantage’ of this period does not mean a missed opportunity, far from it, and withholding carbohydrate feeding reduces the need for insulin throughout the rest of the day.
Catecholamines, the stress hormones of the body, are working to liberate free fatty acids for use as energy, it is therefore an ideal time to maintain low insulin states and allow the body to maintain a state of fat oxidation. Keeping carbohydrates low at this time will, over time, improve catecholamine sensitivity; less of the stress hormones will be required to liberate energy stores as they are not competing against the hormone insulin which sits on the other end of the see-saw. This is beneficial for body composition, insulin sensitivity and adrenal health.
Finally, neurotransmitters play an important role in the way that we feel, and the behaviours that result. On the stimulating end of the spectrum we have dopamine and acetyl choline which provide motivation and focus, on the other, serotonin and GABA which allow relaxation and restful sleep. With the consumption of carbohydrates comes an increase in serotonin and the desire to go back to bed; not ideal for the first meal of the day.
So, if not a bowl of oats, what?
Taking carbohydrates out of the equation leaves us with protein and fats, allowing blood sugar levels to remain more stable and providing important amino acid precursors to the neurotransmitters above.
Changing breakfast does require a shift in mind-set; through advertising we have been lead to believe that there are certain ‘breakfast foods’ when in reality it is just another meal of the day.
Whole food protein sources are an excellent choice; cooking large quantities of animal protein at the weekend or cooking extra when preparing your evening meals are convenient ‘go to’ options when there is inadequate time in the morning. This can be combined with a small handful of nuts or avocado to provide the fat necessary to meet energy needs. The time invested in preparation will be more than accounted for with the increased productivity resulting from a clearer mind and more stable energy levels.
Preparing a few different options to rotate through the weak ensures that you provide the body with a variety of different amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and helps to avoid food sensitivities that can occur from chronic consumption of the same foods.
Regardless of how the rest of the day looks, a breakfast such as that described above will set you up for success both in attaining your desired body shape, and in your professional life.