When you should eat breakfast
Since childhood, we’ve constantly been told that breakfast—compared to all other meals—is by far the most important one. But research hasn’t always shown that to be true, leading many researchers and dietitians to suggest that whether or not you eat first thing in the morning is more about personal preference and less about getting a nutritional advantage. So, when should you absolutely eat breakfast and when can maybe skip it? Here’s what we know.
Though research on the impact of breakfast has focused on short-term effects, rather than long-term impacts, as of now, there’s no conclusive evidence that skipping the meal is damaging to your health.
However as a whole, our body’s responses to breakfast are mostly positive, says Kristin Gustashaw, a clinical dietician at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center who says that most people would benefit from eating something in the mornings.
Aside from this generality, there are certain groups of people from whom breakfast is key. For athletes who need to boost their exercise performance, for those taking an exam—or anyone with tough a cognitive day ahead of them—and of course, if you wake up hungry, breakfast makes a difference.
In a recent study published in the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers compared the effects of eating breakfast versus fasting prior to an hour’s worth of cycling in 12 healthy men. They found that those who ate a meal of porridge with milk burned, digested, and metabolized carbohydrates better than those who extended their overnight fast.
According to researchers, this is the first study looking at how our bodies respond to morning meals before exercising. “A lot of what we know about exercise is from the fasted state. We don’t know [much] about what the impact is after breakfast,” he says. “That’s a problem. We need to see how breakfast impacts health in other ways.”
How could eating breakfast optimize performance? “Burning carbohydrate as a fuel has a number of benefits over burning fat as a fuel for many endurance performance events,” Gonzalez says. “Carbohydrate is a more ‘rapid’ fuel and can be used to generate energy almost twice as quickly as burning fat.” In addition, using carbohydrates is more oxygen efficient; fat requires about 10 percent more oxygen to produce the same amount of energy.
So, people who need to improve their body’s capacity to be active longer, such as performance athletes and even people in physically strenuous jobs, would likely benefit from eating breakfast.