Remember when your mum used to boot you out of bed bright and early because ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’? She had a point.

Eating breakfast has been linked with a lower risk of obesity and heart disease and higher levels of physical activity, says dietician Laura Tilt. ‘While skipping it can be indicative of a high-stress lifestyle and a tendency to eat on the run.’

But knowing when to eat that all-important meal can be really tricky. Is it bad if you don’t eat breakfast until you get to work, because the idea of eating right when you wake up makes you queasy? If you sleep in on Saturday, have you somehow missed out on the optimal breakfast time? And if you’re a morning workout person, when the hell do you eat? (You don’t really want to have eggs and bacon before you hit the treadmill – trust us, it’s not worth the stitch.)

Throw in the fact that intermittent fasting is one of the buzziest diets going (eg the 16:8 or 5:2 diet, which dictates how long you fast for per day – such as 16 hours of fasting, and 8 hours of eating), and it’s no wonder we’re all so confused about what and when to eat.

So, what makes breakfast so great?

A quick recap. ‘Following an overnight fast, your glycogen (stored glucose) levels are depleted. This can affect brain function, which is why breaking the fast improves memory, at least in the short term. Plus, research suggests consuming a bigger chunk of your calories earlier in the day (versus late at night) may benefit your metabolic health,’ says Tilt.

As for the contents of your first meal, there’s recently been a big push towards eating a savoury (not sweet) breakfast – mainly thanks to the likes of The Glucose Goddess and her cool 3.5 million followers – but Tilt reminds us that ‘comparing the effects of different breakfasts is complicated, so what you should be eating largely depends on the outcome you’re after, be that boosted brain function, managing appetite or fuelling a workout’.

What's the best time to eat breakfast?

‘When you eat is just as important as what you are eating,’ says Philadelphia-based registered dietitian Theresa Shank. She recommends eating within two hours of when you wake up.

‘Eating within this window sets the pace for a healthy appetite and stabilised blood sugars throughout the day,’ explains Shank. When your blood sugar gets out of whack, it often triggers hanger, cravings and over-eating — something most of us want to avoid at all costs.

And breakfast does actually jump-start your metabolism. ‘Once we’re awake, our bodies need to speed up and break out of a fasted state,’ she adds.

The two-hour breakfast window is mostly true for everyone. ‘However, if you have a health condition like diabetes, having stable blood sugar levels is even more important,’ says Maya Feller, R.D., of Maya Feller Nutrition in Brooklyn, New York. ‘In that case, you’ll want to make the window between waking and breakfasting shorter — aim for eating within an hour of waking up to keep glucose levels in balance.’

What if I'm going to the gym?

The question of whether to eat before you go comes down to how your body reacts to exercising after eating. ‘If you plan to workout in the morning, you need to identify if you perform better fed or fasted,’ says Feller.

For instance, if eating a simple pre-workout piece of toast leaves you clenching your stomach midway through Spin class, then it’s probs best to wait until you’re done. If finishing your weight workout on an empty stomach makes you dizzy and distracted, then you’re going to need a bite before you go. (Some simple carbs from half a banana can help power you through without feeling super-full.)

‘The best breakfast depends on the workout,’ adds Tilt. ‘To fuel a high-intensity sesh or an endurance activity, think slow-release carbs with a protein or fat (porridge plus PB or eggs on toast), but don't eat right before exercising – a couple of hours pre-workout is ideal to avoid gut distress.’

This can take some experimentation — but don’t get too stressed about it.

And if you’re short on time? ‘A banana an hour before will work,’ says Tilt. ‘If you're fuelling for a strength session, your workout will be shorter, so a small carb-rich snack – a piece of fruit or slice of wholegrain toast – is sufficient. The key is to consume 20-25g protein (a whey shake, an omelette, tofu scramble) post-workout to ensure muscle recovery.’

And, if you hate eating in the morning?

You should still eat something. (Sorry!) Skipping breakfast is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. And skipping a meal in general can cause brain fog, lower blood sugar levels, and a slower metabolism.

No one’s asking you to sit down to eggs, bacon, pancakes, and a pot of coffee every day. Just a little something is important. Drink a glass of water when you wake up to hydrate, says Shank, then grab something easy to take with you (like a Greek yoghurt cup, hard-boiled egg, or a piece of fruit). Eating something small will help your body adjust to the idea of eating in the a.m., Shank says — helping make daily breakfast a regular routine.

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Breakfast ideas to try in the AM...

2024-03-07T16:44:45Z dg43tfdfdgfd