People that are either malicious or ignorant hold the diet and health industry, and even government agencies hostage. If I had an overwhelmingly positive view of humanity, I’d assume the best and go with ignorant, but I don’t.
They use the logical slight-of-hand of exchanging observation for proof. Ten men in a bar might all observe the lady in the corner with silicone enhancements, crimson lipstick, fishnet stockings and stilettos, but unless one of them tests the hypothesis that she is a woman, none of them will ever find out that he’s a transvestite. Observing something doesn’t make it true, and sometimes, depending on the depth one explores, no one wants to admit the reality — it might be a little embarrassing.
Observation creates a place for all scientific research to begin. From Plato to Einstein, observation has gotten science started down some extraordinary paths — started. Once on the trail, scientists dream up explanations (step 2) and test these explanations for validity (step 3). They’re either right or wrong and proceed as necessary. In the health and fitness world, the process often stops at observation. This is where we find ourselves with myriad training and eating protocols, but I want to tackle one that’s entrenched more than any other, breakfast.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and makes people healthy, thin and smart.
All metabolic arguments aside, scientists have witnessed that healthy, smart people eat breakfast; therefore, breakfast must be key. (Of course, from here, there are endless theories on why it’s so important: the body’s been starving all night and needs food to function; if you eat a lot of food in the morning it sparks metabolism and you burn off all the food and some fat; since the brain needs carbs to function, supplying the body with a low-fat breakfast gets the mind working at peak performance; etc.)
The only reasonable conclusion the facts support is that breakfast sucks.
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of breakfast. When working with a new client in a physique or strength sport or the average person trying to lose a few pounds, more often than not, the first thing I say is, “stop eating breakfast.” Brian Carroll loves the excuse to skip breakfast as do a large number of people I work with. Like I once thought, they believe that breakfast is critical to mental and physical performance and they force themselves to eat it whether they want to or not.
Here’s a brief synopsis of hormonal-happenings around 7 AM for the average person. Cortisol levels elevate naturally through the night1-9 and peak2, 9-14. Uh oh, cortisol is catabolic and without food, the body’s going to start eating all that hard-earned muscle, right? Wrong. Catabolic only describes the process of something being broken down for energy. Cortisol, when acting without elevated insulin levels and in a natural manner — so without being constantly elevated like during chronic stress — triggers the breakdown of triglycerides into free-fatty acids (FFAs) for metabolization and triggers lipolysis1, 2, 14-28. Cortisol, in the morning, accelerates fat burning.
Ghrelin, the main hunger-control hormone32, is released in a pulsatile manner through the night with a peak occurring upon waking29-31, which incites hunger. Ghrelin not only causes hunger, but also potently stimulates growth hormone release33-44. As growth hormone levels raise the body releases more fat to be burned as fuel45-49 and decreases the destruction of protein for use as fuel50. Growth hormone levels peak roughly two hours after waking without breakfast51.
Every day the body starts as a fat-burning furnace. Even during exercise, without eating breakfast, the body burns far higher levels of fat than normal52, 53 and causes up regulation of the enzymes necessary to burn fat, allowing fat to be metabolized faster54.
Now contrast with what happens as soon as you eat breakfast, one that contains around 30 grams or more of carbs. As is well known, insulin levels raise with the rise in blood sugar, kick-starting a downward spiral: the early-morning release of insulin reduces fat burning for the entire rest of the day55; while cortisol levels remain high, the insulin release causes new empty fat cells to be created56-64; and the insulin lowers levels of ghrelin and growth hormone29-31, 51.
From the facts above—this is not what I think happens, this is what happens — one would come to the conclusion that maybe we should hold breakfast off for a bit when we get up, at least until cortisol levels return to normal and growth hormone levels fall naturally, which takes a few hours. Skipping breakfast looks like a way to lose body fat faster, or at least to keep it off.
At this point, you may think, “well, you’ve hobbled together a lot of research to explain your theory, but where are the results?” I’m not so obtuse as to think that a thorough understanding of anything means prediction is possible…a famous mathematician showed that you can know everything about how a system works and still not predict how the damn thing might act. Luckily for me and my hobbled together studies, researchers did test the idea that maybe breakfast isn’t so great.
If what I assume from the facts is true, then skipping breakfast and eating more food at the end of the day rather than the beginning should lead to more fat loss when trying to lose weight, especially if eating breakfast impairs fat burning for the entire day.
So what happened when researchers studied two groups, one that ate most of their calories in the beginning of the day, to simulate the no-eating-after-seven routine, and the other that skipped breakfast and ate most of their meals in the latter half of the day? Damn if I shouldn’t be embarrassed: the group that ate most of their calories early in the day, including a big breakfast, lost more weight than the other group65.
Hold on: there’s more to this story. The researchers also looked at body composition before and after. The morning group lost more weight but lost a lot more muscle and a lot less fat. The night group lost almost exclusively fat and preserved muscle65-69. Who knew, maybe there is something to this science stuff after all?
No matter what I say about fat loss, someone will say that skipping breakfast turns people into mental sloths. Does it really? You think so? I disagree and when I do in a public forum, someone always says — which I actually don’t believe — “Well, I design tests for grade schools and the kids that eat breakfast always perform the best; I have the studies but I don’t have the time to show you.” Even if they have them, they’re observation studies. They’re not experiments. Do experiments prove that breakfast improves cognitive abilities? Yes, if the person is malnourished70-73.
What about healthy kids? I know, it doesn’t seem right to take food away from kids in the morning, but some mean group of bastards did just that — and several more bastards did the same thing. They withheld breakfast from one group of kids, letting them eat at lunch, and the other group had a balanced breakfast. When kids skip breakfast they pay attention, behave, and perform better throughout the entire school day72-83. That’s the difference between observation and experiment. There must be some other factor relating eating breakfast to academic performance: both vary in the same way with socio-economic status84.
I can imagine the comments now saying I ignore the importance of breakfast because of this observational study or that observational study or some other justification that has no relevance to this discussion. The only point here is that breakfast is definitely not the most important meal of the day and can be detrimental. There are many reasons and ways to incorporate breakfast effectively. Carb Back-Loading™ is one example and Carb Nite® is another. When using either of these strategies for fat loss, I still tend to delay my first meal of the day until 11am or noon
Someone in a forum also referenced an article stating that skipping breakfast primes the body to get fat and slows fat burning, which is the opposite of the truth, but the article goes on to say that all of this can be avoided by adding some branched-chain amino acids in lieu of breakfast and suggests leucine, isoleucine and valine. This is probably a bad idea, as the amino acid leucine stimulates insulin release without the presence of glucose85-86 and may cause the same reactions as a carby breakfast.
As far as strength is concerned, there is little effect as long as glycogen stores remain adequate87-88, hence the application of Carb Back-Loading™ to strength, power and physique athletes.
Eating breakfast impairs fat burning, can aid in fat storage, lowers growth hormone levels and doesn’t offer cognitive benefits. What else can I say? Stop eating breakfast. You’ll thank me in the morning.
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