Should You Eat Breakfast When Trying To Lose Weight?
Here’s a guide to help you decide if breakfast is going to be an important factor in reaching your goals:
Eating for fat loss:
Losing body fat requires that the total volume of energy you eat and drink is less than the total volume of energy used in both exercise and daily life.
One of the researchers at Bath University (my old stomping ground) Javier Gonzales focuses his studies on the relationship of how much energy your body uses and breakfast.
Some of the key points he and his team have discovered are:
Total energy consumption remains the most important factor above whether or not you have breakfast.
In one study two groups were given the same amount of calories and the same amount of protein, fat and carbohydrate relative to their body weight over a period of 6 days. One group was given three meals per day and the other six.
They were asked how hungry they were on a scale of 1-10 before and after each meal.
The six-meal group reported they were more hungry than the three meal group which would suggest they would be more likely to overeat if calorie controls weren’t in place.
Where people in trials were instructed to skip breakfast they didn’t tend to “make up” the calories they lost from breakfast.
If trying to reduce total intake is the most difficult part of dieting for you then a fast in the morning could work.
An aside here, is that you need to seek advice about whether the intake you are trying to get down to is in fact right for you; remember its about intake vs expenditure and if you are trying to consume too little energy you will lose both the thermic effect of the food (see below) and you will reduce the expenditure both in training and just sitting, walking around and the rest of daily life.
Eating whole foods increases the thermic effect of food. This means that it requires energy to digest foods. Put another way you burn calories digesting food. The macronutrient which causes the greatest thermic effect is protein.
Energy expenditure in non-exercise (i.e walking around the office etc.) is slightly lowered in trials where people were asked to skip breakfast.
The amount of fat burned in exercise is lowered by 20-30% in those who have eaten a carbohydrate rich breakfast prior to morning exercise vs those who have fasted. This would of course be irrelevant if that person were to be consuming too many calories per day and not create a deficit.
A common question here is “will I breakdown muscle tissue if I do fasted sessions?”
If this a concern for you; you can take some amino acids or whey protein or indeed eat a whole protein source like scrambled eggs. The level of carbohydrate in these would be unlikely to send your insulin levels high enough to block fat burning.
Remember that depending on how lean or overweight you are you will use different levels of fat as fuel for your workout. Lean people tend to have less active genes, proteins and enzymes (for example CD36) that encourage the use of fat to fuel workouts.
This makes perfect sense when you think about it. If somebody has excess fat to be used our bodies help us mobilise it. So if you are relatively lean you may well find that you breakdown muscle when training fasted particularly if the training is intense. It’s important to realise that this isn’t likely to be the case in overweight people.
Eating breakfast (or a first meal) helps you manage your blood sugar better at your second meal.
If managing your blood sugar is an important part of your diet and losing weight (like for example if you have been told that your glucose tolerance is low) then eating breakfast is a good idea and has been shown to aid blood sugar management.
So what’s the verdict?
Well in fact both eating or not eating breakfast can both work when trying to lose weight. If you struggle to eat breakfast it isn’t the end of the world, your metabolism won’t completely shut down and you can still be successful in losing weight.
Likewise if you love nothing more than a good hearty breakfast you can still get excellent results too. The key is to create a sustained increase in the amount of energy you burn above the total amount of energy you eat and drink.
Remember to take into account the thermic effect of food, so a relatively high protein intake will help here; and how much energy your body will allow you to burn. If you drop your calories too low you can reduce your output and therefore not create a deficit despite eating very little.
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