[YOU’VE BEEN LIED TO] Why breakfast isn’t the most important meal of the day…
“You should always eat breakfast”
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”
“If you don’t eat breakfast, you’ll gain weight”
We’ve heard it all before, and it’s time to put a stop to this once and for all. Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. The belief has long stood that breaking the prior evening’s fast (hence, “breakfast”) is THE key to weight loss, higher energy through the day, and a way to start on the “healthy” path for the day.
However, the truth is, like everything else health and fitness related, it’s a highly individualized answer. Will eating breakfast help YOU lose weight? Will eating breakfast give YOU more energy throughout the day? And if you choose to start your day with a healthy breakfast, does that ensure you’ll stick with healthier choices throughout the day? I don’t know! Flat out, that’s something YOU have to figure out on your own. In my professional experience, there are many other factors worth considering – individualized caloric/macronutrient goals, performance-related aspects (meal timing against periods of high stress/activity), and personal preference to name a few. If breakfast doesn’t practically fit into your lifestyle, then there’s no reason to start forcing yourself to consume it every single day.
So then, which meal holds the title of “Most Important Meal of the Day” – is it lunch? Dinner?! Snacks?! What else is there? No, my friends – the most important “meal” of the day falls into peri-workout nutrition – what you consume before, during, and after your “workout” (whatever that may be). Your pre- and post- workout nutrition are unequivocally related to how you feel during, as well as how well you recover from your workout.
So what makes a perfect pre-workout meal? Well, that really depends – it’s a matter that’s highly specific to you and your goals, as well as when you’re working out during the day. For those of us who are a part of the 0530 AM Club, training fasted isn’t a terrible idea and doesn’t really net any different result than training with some sort of meal beforehand. However, if you’re going to train first thing in the morning, I would strongly encourage you to use a BCAA supplement (fair disclosure: I do NOT make anything if you buy the product at the link – it’s simply one of my favorites for a good energy boost + amino acid complex). This will help prevent muscle loss during your workout. Having gone through periods of training fasted first thing in the morning, versus training un-fasted later in the day, Training fasted does have a bit of a negative effect on maximal strength, but is great for fat loss! If you’re able to wait a few hours after waking up to hit the gym, read on…
For those of us with the luxury of working out a little later on in the day, keep your carbohydrate intake pretty sparse until just before your workout takes place. Sticking to higher fat and protein content in the first part of the day is what works best for me, with a steep ramp in carbohydrate consumption prior to the workout! It should be noted that while macronutrient (carbs/protein/fat) distribution throughout the day isn’t nearly as important as getting adequate amounts of each, there are a few tricks to getting better results in the gym, and one of those is to elevate your carb consumption both pre- and post- workout. I’ve found great strength/lean mass results consuming ~30-40% of my daily carb intake between pre- and post-workout meals!
As an example, if I’m consuming 200g of carbohydrates a day TOTAL, 40% of 200 is 80g – split that in half, and intake roughly 40g of carbohydrate pre-workout, and 40g post. Make sense? This doesn’t mean you need to necessarily be totally stringent about getting exact amounts, but if you’re taking active interest in your nutrition, plan ahead to get more before you do more! As I mentioned before, if you’re trying to lose fat, dialing in adequate caloric intake to create a deficit is step #1, worrying about timing is a totally secondary matter.
There’s also the matter of exactly what your workout consists of – if you’re going for a low to moderate intensity cardio workout, you don’t need as much in terms of carbohydrates beforehand. If you’re performing at a higher intensity and planning on sweating hard for an hour or so, you’ll need more! So be sure to scale accordingly!
Okay, okay, enough throwing around numbers and talking macronutrients, since we’ve determined that pre- and post-workout nutrition are important, and that you need to eat something before and after working out – What should I eat?!
As a general guideline, depending on how you eat throughout the rest of the day, you should consume some food within 30-90 minutes of working out, pre- or post- regardless of what it is, it should be light and non-volatile to your system. This means no hot wings or no Mexican food before you hit the gym…
As an additional “no-no,” citrus should also be avoided before a workout!
For those of us eating ~90 minutes or so before the workout, feel free to eat a light meal. I typically prefer any of the normal foods I’d eat, just about 1/2 the serving size. More food = more digestion = more likely upset stomach while training. Advisable light meals before a workout:
- Baked/broiled/grilled chicken with asparagus and sweet potato
- Oatmeal (I love to put peanut butter in my oatmeal, but then again I’ll put PB on anything!)
- Cottage cheese and fruit
- Hard boiled eggs (maybe… depending on how intense your workout is, some people have a bad time with this…)
- Whole grain bread + “dead animal” (turkey, chicken, etc) + vegetable
- Smoothie – for a foolproof recipe, slice up your favorite fruit, add some granola, Greek yogurt and protein powder
If you’re eating <30 minutes prior to your workout (this is me usually), you’ll want to be even more careful with what you intake – make sure that it’s not something that’s going to weigh you down or have you feeling bloated/gassy. My preferences:
- Fruit (usually an apple or banana) + peanut butter
- Granola/protein bar (I try to stay away from “gas station health food” but it’ll do in a pinch)
- Liquid fruit blend (sometimes sold in pouches for kids’ lunch)
- Rice cake + peanut butter + honey
As far as post-workout nutrition goes, well… pretty much anything goes – you can essentially mirror your pre-workout plan, except MORE! Personally, I’m usually sticking around at the gym to train my clients after training myself, I’ll usually have a whey protein shake (once again, I don’t get paid for this -> this is a protein I’ve taken before and had great results with – the chocolate peanut butter is to die for) in addition to ~5g of creatine monohydrate. Since that normally fills me up pretty adequately, I’ll return to my typical food intake within an hour or so of working out. Others will find themselves hungrier quicker, and that’s fine too! Don’t go too crazy on your food immediately after an intense training session, but definitely eat something within 90 minutes! Don’t fall for the “anabolic window” craziness either (stating that you must have something immediately after working out, or your workout was a waste), as that has been shown to be far from definitive.
While pre- and post-workout nutrition are paramount to your performance and recovery from intense training sessions, it’s important to remember that fitness and nutrition should seamlessly integrate into your life. You don’t need to find yourself obsessing, worrying, going super far out of the way to make sure your pre- and post-workout nutrition are on point- they are a matter that needs to be paid attention to, just like the rest of your intake!
If you need help figuring on what to eat, building a healthy food and exercise plan, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the form on the Coaching page!