Do You Really Need Breakfast?

I’m a sucker for a good breakfast.

Eggs Benedict please, with a side of French toast. Real maple syrup. Second breakfast? Why not? I’ll take a cinnamon roll and a fried egg with my third cup of coffee. My addiction to breakfast foods runs deep. I’m even known to keep a little breakfast chocolate in my purse. You know, just in case.

My morning indulgences don’t cause me any shame. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Years of observational research have shown associations between eating breakfast and being leaner and healthier. Skip it and you derail plans to eat healthy for the rest of the day.

But we might be wrong about the health benefits of breakfast. New studies show that skipping breakfast doesn’t necessarily lead to weight gain. In fact, contrary to popular belief, eating breakfast doesn’t boost your metabolism, suppress appetite or reduce overeating later in the day.

A University of Colorado, Denver study observed more than 300 overweight adults who were given dieting techniques and advice in two separate groups. One group ate breakfast and the other skipped it. Both groups lost some weight, but there was no difference in weight loss or changes in eating habits between the breakfast skippers and the breakfast eaters.

Brunching with friends photo by Ali Inay on Unsplash

A second recent study yielded similar results as the University of Colorado research. James Betts of Baths University advised two groups of healthy, lean adults to either eat breakfast or skip it. Betts found that eating or skipping breakfast makes no difference in metabolic or cardiovascular health. Also, there was no evidence breakfast kick-starts metabolism or reduces snacking habits.

But never fear breakfast lovers, Betts’ study done doesn’t doom the pro-breakfast cause. While there was no difference in overall health, the breakfast group was much more physically active than the fasting group. Breakfast eaters were far likelier to engage in morning activity such as taking the stairs or walk, while those who fasted remained mostly sedentary before lunchtime. Eating breakfast may not have a direct impact on overall health, but it can dictate how much activity we perform. And as we know, a healthy lifestyle is an active lifestyle.

As a morning exerciser, breakfast is critical. First thing in the morning, you may not want a big pre-exercise meal. Too much food before a workout can feel heavy and uncomfortable. However, just 100 to 300 high carbohydrate calories can boost your blood sugar enough that you’re running on fuel, not fumes. It can enhance your performance and reduce the perceived effort of a workout.

Breakfast feast courtesy of Pixabay

On the other hand, muscles are most receptive to replacing depleted glycogen stores post workout, regardless of whether we feel hungry. If you had an early workout, breakfast (or second breakfast) is an opportunity to refuel, which will optimize recovery and ensure adequate energy for the rest of the day.

A hearty breakfast can benefit those who exercise in the evening and afternoon too. Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark tells her clients to eat a substantial breakfast regardless of when they workout. In her Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Clark says athletes who eat breakfast and then engage in early afternoon exercise were able to work up to 20 percent harder.

While breakfast’s overall health benefits may be less than previously believed, it definitely increases physical activity and can enhance the quality of a workout. The bottom line is athletes need all the extra fuel we can get. While skipping breakfast won’t harm your overall health, it may stunt your workout or recovery.

So, in my book, breakfast is still the most important meal of the day.