You've heard you should skip breakfast to get in good shape. Problem is, you really enjoy breakfast. Does it really matter to find out the truth? Let's find out together.
What always pops in my mind when I hear such a question is: ''Should you skip breakfast FOR WHAT?''
Why are you wondering if you should skip breakfast?
Are you trying to skip breakfast to improve your insulin sensitivity, lose fat, have more spared calories in the second part of the day?
Having grown with the mantra ''Breakfast is the most important meal of the day'' and being sceptical I thought of digging deeper into the scientific evidence and find out the truth.
In this article, you will learn the basic nutrient timing principles so you will be able to decide if you should or should not skip breakfast and why.
When people who normally have breakfast are asked to skip breakfast they generally tend to lose fat and when people who don't normally have breakfast are asked the opposite they tend to lose fat too!
Ouch, is it really that complicated?
Let's find out.
One of the main challenges people might encounter when making their decision is that they have to deal with different chronotypes, which are natural patterns of waking and sleeping as well as daily alertness and energy which are largely genetically determined and they change with age.
Different chronotypes might explain why some people have more energy in the morning than others and why some people wake up super hungry and other people not hungry at all.
This might explain why some people do very well training in the morning and others in the evening and possibly explain different eating habits.
What does science say?
This study shows that eating breakfast was associated with a significantly lower risk of developing heart diseases.
It's Important to notice that in this study people who skipped breakfast ate more at night.
Overeating leads to gain weight and fat, which is in turn associated with a higher risk of developing heart diseases.
This study supports the findings of the study just mentioned that skipping breakfast leads to weight gain.
This other study, instead, shows that eating breakfast makes subjects eat more calories than people who skip breakfast.
The bottom line is: eating 3 or 6 meals a day have no difference in terms of impact on your body composition.
I have worked with many people who like eating breakfast because they just like breakfast food and breakfast in general. Others find that a hearty breakfast helps curb hunger throughout the day, which in turn helps prevent overeating or find it energizing.
On the other hand, many others prefer to “save” those calories and eat a larger lunch or dinner or both in the second part of the day.
Both people do equally well in the end if they eat a diet aligned with their goal at the end of the week.
What happens when you eat 1 or 2 meals/ day or 7-8 Meals/day?
In both cases, you can potentially run into adherence issues.
With 1 or 2 meals, say, lunch and dinner, will push you toward an intermittent fasting strategy, which might be good in terms of hunger and in terms of satisfaction at each meal, but it could also lead to digestive issues and an unhealthy relationship with food in some cases.
With 7-8 meals, instead, you might encounter the opposite problem, being constantly focused on food, since those little 8 meals don't satisfy you so much.
A really interesting part of the matter is that inconsistent meal structure across the week can lead to a decrease energy expenditure (we burn less calories) and insulin sensitivity (we are less responsive to insulin). (3)
Are you a natural and intuitive kind of person and you are concerned that you won't follow a tight structure in the long term?
Great! Structure doesn't mean rigidity.
A structure means that you might have 3 meals a day with 1 protein serving at each meal at roughly the same time every day.
For instance, you can give yourself a 30 minutes window to have your meal (say breakfast between 9 and 9:30 AM) to start with and be flexible with your protein choice.
If you don't stick to it for a few days, observe when instead you have the first meal and consider switching to that time if you can stick to it in the long term.
Being intuitive doesn't mean that you can eat in a Surplus and still lose weight.
Can't have breakfast because you are always late?
I have bad news for you.
Research shows that lack of sleep and poor nutrition are linked with overeating processed food.
If you wake up tired, late, in a rush, you grab a coffee and run to your desk, you might have to battle with cravings later on that day compared to when you a minimum of 7 hours of good quality sleep.
Are you considering skipping breakfast because you need to lose fat?
Just know that to lose fat you need to be in a caloric deficit.
You should eat 200+ calorie less than what your body needs to sustain all your activities in a given period of time.
Skipping breakfast will allow you to squeeze your food into a smaller period of time and will therefore allow you to eat larger meals compared to your usual meals. Why?
Because If you usually have 3 meals of 600 calories (1800 calories in total) and move to eat only 2 times a day, you'll be able to have 2 meals of 900 calories.
Many people, who proudly defend intermittent fasting as a cure-for-all strategy, believe that if they don't fast for a certain amount of hours they will ''interrupt the fast'' and lose the fat-loss benefits correlated with it.
Unfortunately, It doesn't work like that.
Skipping breakfast in terms of body compositions goals (such as fat loss) can be beneficial for many people because it allows some people who can do it consistently to improve their hunger management.
Skipping breakfast will usually make you quite hungry for the first meal of the day after having fasted all night, but will also yield the benefit of having larger meals in the rest of the day.
Will skipping breakfast cause your metabolism to slow down?
No, your metabolism doesn't slow down that easily.
After all, this study shows how skipping breakfast in healthy lean individuals, is associated with a greater energy intake but no difference in Resting Metabolic Rate.
So what to do?
1)Consume somewhere between 3-6 meals/day but if you have a positive experience with eating 1-2 or 7-8 meals/day feel free to do it as it's not going to negatively impact your journey.
2) Choose the strategy that adapts to your lifestyle and not the other way around. What can you be consistent the most with?
3) If you're currently satisfied with your current strategy, it's not socially stressful or inconvenient and it works for you, don't think you should change it.
4) Be consistent with your eating pattern and habits. This study shows how skipping meals tend to make people overeat later on that day. Having consistent eating patterns and habits will make you more satisfied with each meal and will feel easier to stick to in the long term as after a few weeks it will feel effortless.
Does structure mean boring? Absolutely not!
Remember we are talking about the number of meals/day not about the variety in your diet or your total calorie intake.
Question for you: Apart from the number of meals /day which other habit can you do consistently at each meal?
5) Make a decision based on the Data. Whether you decide to have breakfast or not, take a look at how is the current strategy working for you. Why should you change? Making an emotional and reactive change will not help you understand what works for you.
Science can be misleading sometimes but as you could see, there's no right or wrong when it comes to eating breakfast.
Some people just do well when they have it, other people, the opposite.
Choose the option you can be the most consistent with and make minor adjustment as you practice.
Have you ever been recommended differently?
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1) Precision Nutrition, The essentials of Nutrition and coaching Unit 2 | Chapter 14 p.246
7) The Muscle & Strength Pyramid : Nutrition P.97-98.