Breakfast - The most important meal of the day?
All of us are familiar with the concept of breakfast being the most important meal of the day. However, calorically speaking, how can one meal really be ‘more important’ than another? Let’s take a closer look.
On one side of the argument, calories are calories. 1g of protein at breakfast equates to 4kcal. This is also true if that 1g of protein is consumed as part of your lunch, dinner, snack or post-workout. Basically, calories do not change from meal to meal, they count the same no matter what time of day they are consumed at! OK – we could delve into the thermic effect of feeding and state that you actually use more calories to digest protein than you do for carbohydrates and fats, but calories are still calories and each macro-nutrient does not differ in itself from meal to meal. So the question arises: How could a 400kcal breakfast be ‘more important’ than a 400kcal lunch or a 400kcal dinner? Well, going off the ‘calories are calories’ concept, it simply couldn’t. At the end of the day, all of the calories we consume throughout that day add up and equate to either a caloric deficit, maintenance or surplus. We cannot say ‘’those 400kcal were at breakfast so they only count as half’’ – that is simply ridiculous! This is a perfectly fine and legitimate concept. The basics of nutrition and exercise is that to lose weight we must be in a calorie deficit and to gain weight we must be in a calorie surplus. However, here at Science Fueling Fitness we like to look a little more in depth. It is no secret that we refer to breakfast on social media platforms more than any other meal. This is because we believe breakfast well and truly can be the most important meal of the day! We always advise that you plan your breakfast the night before and always try to base it around a protein source (eggs, yogurt, whey protein, protein milks or cheeses, turkey rashers etc.). There are four main reasons we suggest this!
1. Protein promotes satiety and a feeling of fullness more so than carbohydrates or fats. Greater satiety means you are less likely to overeat for the rest of the day! With the majority of people out there looking to lose weight rather than gain weight, satiety becomes more and more important in a diet. With that in mind, promoting satiety as early in the day as possible is key. In addition to protein, taking in some fibre at breakfast can also help promote the feeling of fullness, so a piece of fruit or some leafy vegetables are other great options at breakfast! The knock-on effect of a protein/fibre-rich breakfast is potentially a reduced caloric intake at lunch and subsequently throughout the rest of the day. If this results in a daily reduction of as little as 200kcal, this would equate to a weekly reduction of 1400kcal – a meaningful deficit when looking at the big picture!
2. A protein-rich breakfast puts you on your way to hitting your protein intake goal – something a lot of people struggle with. People who are aiming for a caloric surplus will naturally have a high daily protein goal. However, for those aiming for a caloric deficit, a protein intake of 2.2g/kg – 3g/kg of body weight is advised, for the purpose of maintaining as much muscle mass as possible whilst losing weight (mainly fat mass). Hence, be it in a caloric surplus or deficit, a high protein intake each day is advised and necessary for maintaining or gaining muscle! For a person of 80kg, aiming to consume 2.6g of protein per kg body weight, they would have to take in 208g of protein on a daily basis! Let’s say they have a typical low-protein breakfast of porridge and fruit (roughly 15g of protein), this leaves them with 193g of protein to consume for the remainder of the day. Is it realistic that they will maintain such a high intake over the course of several weeks, months and even years? Probably not – which is why we advocate for high-protein breakfasts with all of our clients. A breakfast containing 35-40g of protein would leave this person with 168g of protein to hit for the remainder of the day, a much more realistic target!
3. A breakfast high in protein stimulates MPS (muscle protein synthesis) early in the morning, putting your body in a muscle-building state. As we know, stimulating MPS is a vital process when looking to maximise our ability to build muscle. It is known that it takes roughly 2.5g-3g of leucine to optimally stimulate MPS, which equates to a 25g-30g serving of protein (depending on the quality of protein). It is advised stimulating MPS several times throughout the day is the optimal approach. With this in mind, stimulating MPS with a protein hit at breakfast gets you off to a great start each day and gives you a better chance of getting more ‘protein/MPS hits’ in throughout the remainder of the day. Another reason it is important to stimulate MPS early in the morning is because your body has been in a muscle protein breakdown (MPB) state throughout the night as you slept and so, getting back into a MPS state as early as possible each day is key. The longer you spend in a MPS state, the better your chances of building muscle mass!
4. A high-protein breakfast gives you the ‘flexibility’ to have more carbohydrates and fats later in the day and at night. We have already detailed above how a high-protein breakfast means you have a lower protein goal to aim at for the remainder of the day. In addition, this also means you have a higher carb and fat goal to aim at for the remainder of the day, due to a lower carb and fat intake at breakfast! This really helps with adherence as we all know it’s a lot easier to consume high quantities of carbs and fats than it is protein. Snacking on carb-rich foods late at night is no longer a big issue because you have so many carbs left to hit. People new to dieting or tracking macros often reach for carbs and fat as ‘treats’ and instead of trying to immediately cut this out completely, why not just be smart about your breakfast and by doing so you are ‘making way’ for the evening treats!
With the above rationale for a high-protein breakfast in mind, we can now conclude that breakfast well and truly ‘can be’ the most important meal of the day! And let’s be clear – it can be, it is not automatically the most important meal of the day, but it can be if you are smart about it and approach it right. For the person who wakes up every morning and puts little thought into their low-protein, high-carb, cereal breakfast and the knock-on effects this can have throughout the day, then breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day to them (or maybe it is in the wrong way, as it promotes another day of over-eating with little protein consumed). But for the person who wakes up every morning already knowing what they are having for breakfast – a good protein source providing upwards of 25g of protein, some fibre in the form of fruit or even vegetables, and some added carbohydrates depending on their daily needs – then breakfast really is the meal of champions!