The simple answer to this question is everybody. Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day. If someone were to suggest to you that as part of your regular nutritional intake you should go without food for 15 to 16 hours regularly; you would almost certainly consider them a crank. However for a lot of people in the UK this is the regular eating pattern. The main meal of the day is often the evening meal at about 7pm. They then drink coffee or tea in the evening go to bed and get up the next morning. There is time for a quick cup of coffee or tea and then straight out the door. Once in work by the time 10/11am comes round they have got the munchies. At this point they will either grab a chocolate bar or perhaps a bag of crisps. This is because the body requires glucose; sweet and fatty snacks are calorie dense and so fulfil this need. Why has this scenario come about? It is because breakfast was missed!
From 7pm the previous day to 10/11am the following day is approximately 16 hours. So what sounded like strange advice is, in fact, the norm for a lot of people. This simple scenario should be enough to convince anyone that breakfast is important, but what are some of the other advantages?
From a weight management perspective breakfast is very important. Studies have shown that individuals who habitually eat breakfast tend to maintain a steady body weight (Wyatt et al, 2002 – Obesity Research). This may well be because their blood glucose levels are elevated and so they feel more satiated. The eating centre in the hypothalamus monitors blood glucose levels and uses any drop in blood glucose as an indicator that food is required. By maintaining a steady blood glucose level you don’t feel as hungry. What type of foods should you be consuming? The ideal foods are predominately carbohydrate (CHO) based and of a low glycaemic index (GI) (Bjorck et al, 2000 – British Journal of Nutrition).
The GI is a tool that has been developed to measure the response in blood sugar levels to certain foods. The index is derived by comparing all foods to a reference standard, normally 50g CHO from white bread or 50g Glucose. A person is fasted overnight and then fed the reference food. The blood glucose response is measured and this is then used as a reference. The same procedure is then carried out for other foods and the response is compared to the reference foods response. Based on this response all foods are given a GI up to 100 (some foods have a larger number, as they produce a higher response). The higher the number the quicker the blood sugar rises, with white bread the peak occurs after about 30 minutes and then drops away over the next 60 to 90 minutes. Lower GI foods however, produce a more flattened response, but remain elevated for a lot longer, thus providing a steadier supply of glucose to the body over a longer period of time. Because the blood sugar remains slightly more elevated the hunger response is dampened and therefore you will tend to want to eat less. Low GI foods also have another benefit, in that they possess what is known as a secondary meal response (Bjorck et al, 2000 – British Journal of Nutrition).
This means that they have a knock on effect on the next meal consumed. If your next meal were to be predominately high GI CHO’s, because you have previously consumed a low GI breakfast the GI of the second meal will be dragged down; thus flattening what would otherwise have been a sharp peak in blood glucose levels. Because a food is low GI however, does not necessarily mean that it is a healthy food. Some low GI foods are quite high fat, so you need to be aware of this when making your selection. To get a listing of the GI of foods go to www.mendosa.com and search on glycaemic index. This website provides downloadable tables of the GI of foods that can be printed off to make up a useful little A5 booklet.
So what other advantages can be derived from eating a good breakfast? An elevated blood glucose level helps the brain function more efficiently. Your memory will work more efficiently as the brain can better manage complicated information gathering tasks. Your ability to concentrate is enhanced as the brain is properly nourished and functioning optimally. Thus you feel more alert and your mood is also elevated. As part of your breakfast you should also include a good intake of fluids. Most of us do not drink sufficient water throughout the day. By including water and fruit juices as part of your breakfast you achieve two goals. You properly hydrate yourself and the fruit juice provides a further source of CHO. Try to avoid drinking too much tea or coffee as these are both diuretics. This means that they force the body to excrete fluid, thus detrimentally affecting hydration levels. Finally breakfast cereals are one of the major sources of B vitamins in the UK diet. By missing out on vital vitamins at this stage of the day you may not replace them later on. B vitamins in particular are very important for the metabolic pathways involved in the metabolism and release of energy from all the macronutrients so good sources in the diet are important for good overall health.
Finally a lot of people are unsure whether they should eat breakfast before or after training. The answer to this question is both, before and after. If you are an early morning trainer you should try to take on some CHO before you start training. Ideally a low GI meal a couple of hours before training is a good rule of thumb. This may not be practical if you are getting up and going straight to the gym. In this scenario try taking on some CHO before you start training. If you find that you cannot tolerate food then fruit juice will at least provide you with some CHO. Failing that, consume a sports drink before commencing training and then drink another one throughout your session. Ideally whatever you eat or drink should have a high GI because at this point you want to get glucose into your blood stream quickly to sustain your training session (Burke et al, 1998 – International Journal of Sports Nutrition). Overnight your liver glycogen will have been depleted and if you do not refuel, this will have an adverse effect on your training performance. Straight after training you will require another 50g of CHO within the first hour and a further 50g of CHO within the second hour of completing your training. This refuelling after training is critical in order to replenish muscle glycogen which has been utilised whilst you trained. This becomes even more significant if you train more than once a day as there will be very little opportunity for your muscles to recover their glycogen stores before you commence your next training session.
Breakfast is important for everybody and even more so for a training athlete or somebody who leads a hectic physical and mental schedule. The word breakfast means just what it says “Break the Fast”, make sure that you do.