There's no doubt that healthy eating and practicing portion control are important when it comes to weight loss. But the best time to eat breakfast after waking up is not as critical as your overall diet. The key is to make smart food choices so you can fuel your body for the day ahead.
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What you eat for breakfast is more important than when you eat. This meal can provide the energy your body needs to start the day.
Benefits of Eating Breakfast
According to a June 2014 article in Frontiers in Public Health, the standard definition of breakfast is the first meal of the day eaten before or at the start of daily activities within two hours of waking, typically no later than 10 a.m. in the morning, with caloric values consisting of 20 and 35 percent of total daily needs.
Eating a nutritious breakfast can jump-start your metabolism and replenish the glycogen stores that will help supply the energy your body needs to begin your day. The Mayo Clinic lists some of the potential health benefits of eating breakfast, including:
- Adds vitamins and minerals to your diet.
- May help you maintain a normal body weight.
- May regulate your blood sugar levels.
- May reduce your fat and cholesterol consumption.
- May help you perform better at work.
A May 2016 evaluation published in Advances in Nutrition reported that eating breakfast may improve cognitive and academic performance. Findings of 11 studies suggest that this meal has a positive effect on tasks requiring attention, executive function and memory for up to four hours compared to skipping breakfast.
However, its long-term effects are unclear due to insufficient studies and the need for more research regarding the impact of nutrition on specific cognitive tasks.
Breakfast and Weight Loss
Eating breakfast may not help you lose weight, but if you skip this meal, you'll likely feel hungrier during the day. This can make you more likely to overindulge in later meals, resulting in weight gain. Still, evidence has failed to conclusively claim that either eating breakfast or skipping breakfast has a significant effect on weight loss or preventing weight gain.
The study conducted by Frontiers in Public Health compared the effect of eating breakfast versus skipping this meal on total overall calorie intake. Breakfast-eating participants who had their last meal before 7 p.m. the night before consumed 244 fewer calories per day compared to those who didn't eat in the morning. Therefore, the first meal of the day may play a role in weight management.
Conversely, a meta-analysis published in the BMJ in January 2018 concluded that eating breakfast may not be a good strategy for weight loss. Scientists have found no evidence supporting the claim that skipping this meal makes you gain weight or adversely affects resting metabolic rate.
The conclusions concerning energy intake and weight changes may have limitations, though. Further studies of longer duration are needed to investigate the overall effect of eating or omitting breakfast.
How Breakfast Affects Athletic Performance
If you exercise in the morning, you may wonder what's the best time to eat breakfast after waking up — before or after your workout? Again, there is no compelling evidence that the body's response to exercise depends on when you eat breakfast.
An October 2019 study featured in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism suggests that if you are trying to lose some extra pounds, waiting until after your workout to eat breakfast may help you burn significantly more fat and improve glycemic control.
Overweight participants who exercised before breakfast burned twice the amount of fat than those who worked out after a morning meal. In addition, those who exercised in a fasted state had lower insulin levels during the activity.
Another review, which was published in the British Journal of Nutrition in October 2016, assessed the metabolic effects of fasting compared to eating breakfast before exercise. Researchers have found that aerobic exercise performed before eating breakfast (in a fasted state) induced higher fat oxidation than training after a meal.
However, a May 2014 review in the journal Nutrients reported that eating breakfast prior to exercise may enhance performance, despite increasing insulin levels and lowering fat oxidation. Several studies have shown that consuming a high-carb breakfast within 60 minutes before intensive exercise improved physical performance.
Eating a Healthy Breakfast
Whether you eat within 30 minutes of waking up or find that eating breakfast two hours after waking fits best into your schedule, it's your overall nutrient and calorie intake that matters most. Ideally, opt for a healthy combination of whole foods that are high in fiber and low in fat, sugar and salt.
Focus on the main food groups, such as whole grains, fruits and lean meat to feed your body with complex carbs, fiber, protein and a small amount of fat, all needed for health and satiety. The Mayo Clinic offers some suggestions for making your breakfast healthy, including:
- Whole grains, such as hot or cold high-fiber cereals, whole-grain English muffins or bagels
- Lean protein, including a breakfast of eggs or lean meat, legumes and nuts
- Low-fat dairy foods, such as milk, plain yogurt, low-fat cheese and cottage cheese
- Fruits and vegetables, including fresh and frozen, sugar-free fruit juices or fruit smoothies.
Read more: What 16 Nutritionists Eat for Breakfast
Your morning meal can consist of simple whole foods and it doesn't have to be time-consuming to be good for you. By keeping the breakfast basics in mind, you can set yourself up for healthier eating all day long.
- Frontiers in Public Health: "Breakfast: To Skip or Not to Skip?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Healthy Breakfast: Quick, Flexible Options"
- Advances in Nutrition: "The Effects of Breakfast and Breakfast Composition on Cognition in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review"
- BMJ: "Effect of Breakfast on Weight and Energy Intake: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials"
- Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: "Lipid Metabolism Links Nutrient-Exercise Timing to Insulin Sensitivity in Men Classified as Overweight or Obese"
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Effects of Aerobic Exercise Performed in Fasted v. Fed State on Fat and Carbohydrate Metabolism in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- Nutrients: "Pre-Exercise Nutrition: The Role of Macronutrients, Modified Starches and Supplements on Metabolism and Endurance Performance"
- BreakfastFirst: Healthy Food for Hungry Minds