Breakfast: Really the Most Important Meal of the Day?

Fried egg with baconHow many times has someone reminded you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? It’s one of those health bromides that most everyone knows — and ignores. We’re usually in just too much of a rush in the mornings to do anything more than grab a pre-packaged or frozen something and call it a meal. Lots of us skip this meal altogether.

Not the best move, nutritionists tell us. But why is breakfast so important anyway? And what makes a “healthy” one?

Why is Breakfast Important?

As the name suggests, breakfast is about breaking the fast that you’ve experienced since your last meal the night before. Depending on your schedule, this could mean that you haven’t eaten in 10 to 15 hours, a huge gap considering that during the day we eat about every four hours.

Although we generally don’t think of sleep as an active time, your brain and body are still hard at work. Muscles rebuild themselves and recover from the demands of the previous day.Food is digested so the nutrients can be processed and stored; the heart and lungs continue to operate.And all of this is overseen by the brain, which is busy processing information collected throughout the day.

All of this activity burns up a lot of fuel in the form of glucose. So, when we stumble out of bed in the morning, our brains and entire bodies are at a massive caloric deficit.

When You Skip Breakfast

For some people, skipping breakfast is the result of simple oversight or disorganization. But others make the decision consciously, believing that it will help them lose weight.

In some cases, these deliberate skippers will then workout on an empty stomach, trying to force themselves into a fat-burning calorie deficit. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine explored the efficacy of this approach by monitoring the biological responses of exercisers who had fasted versus those who had eaten. The researchers found that the subjects who ate a light meal before exercising burned more calories, specifically those from fat, for up to 24 hours following the workout.

It should also be considered that when you skip any meal and go for long periods of time without eating, your blood sugar drops dramatically. Because you are more hungry than you would be otherwise, you are more likely to eat a large meal which will cause an insulin spike. This hormone response will actually cause your body to store more fat.

This Balanced Breakfast

Science and experience have shown the importance of breakfast, especially for the physically active person. But what is a healthy breakfast?

The exact answer to that question is fairly controversial in the health and fitness realm, but most experts agree that breakfast should account for about 25 to 30 percent of your daily calories.

This means that a healthy person following an active lifestyle and using a standard 2000 calorie diet should have a 500- to 600-calorie meal to start the day.

According to the IDEA Fitness Journal, an ideal breakfast should incorporate complex carbohydrates like oats and cereals, fiber from fruits and vegetables, and proteins from beans or nuts. IDEA suggests that breakfast should be no-to-low fat, so if you use milk in your oatmeal, cereal or smoothie, consider low-fat options or alternatives such as soy or rice milk.

A healthy breakfast will help set the nutritional tone for the day and get your body off to a decent metabolic start. Find foods that you can easily fit into your schedule and enjoy first thing in the morning. Also, consider your activity for the day and adjust your meal to fit. If it’s a training day, you’re going to want to eat more complex carbs than otherwise. Some easily prepared complex carbohydrate foods include starchy vegetables, beans and whole grains. If you’re typically rushing out the door first thingin the morning, why not try preparing something the night before? With just a little planning, you could have no-cook refrigerator oatmeal ready to grab and go in the morning.

In an upcoming post, I’ll share an easy recipe for healthy breakfast bars that’s been my fall-back breakfast option for a long time.

How have you managed to fit a balanced breakfast into your busy schedule? Please share your tips with us in the comments.

Sources

http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/build-a-better-breakfast-0

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21411835

http://www.theyummylife.com/Refrigerator_Oatmeal

Treating Exercise-Related Hypoglycemia

According to diabetes experts, muscles are responsible for about 90 percent of the body’s use of glucose as fuel. Exercise also affects various hormones which have a direct impact on blood sugar levels. It’s not surprising, then, that non-diabetic hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is common in frequent exercisers and athletes.

If you’ve ever worked out on an empty stomach, you’ve probably experienced the dizziness, muscle weakness and exhaustion of a blood-sugar crash. Understanding how your blood-sugar levels are controlled, and what you can do to prevent these crashes, can help you avoid these symptoms.

How Blood Sugar Works

The sugar called glucose, which is stored in the muscles and liver, is the primary fuel your muscles use during strenuous activities. As part of a careful balancing act, two hormones are released to try to maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood, where it can be used readily.

Insulin is released into the blood by the pancreas when blood sugar levels are too high, where it bonds with specialized receptors on the cells. Insulin stimulates the cells at these receptors and tells them to absorb glucose. Once these cells respond to insulin, blood sugar levels drop.

When blood sugar is too low, however, the pancreas releases glucagon instead. This hormone tells the liver to releases some of its stored glucose into the blood so that can be used as fuel.

Exercise puts much higher demands on your muscles, forcing them to utilize more fuel — in much the same way as making your car go faster, or pull a heavy load, will increase how much gas it burns. Overtraining can even cause a permanent shift in this balance by increasing insulin sensitivity, which will make it much more difficult for you to maintain a healthy blood sugar balance.

Keeping Your Balance

Research suggests that endurance training, as opposed to strength training, can be beneficial in preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia. While strength training uses carbohydrates like glucose for fuel, endurance training uses fat as the primary source of energy. This will prevent blood sugar levels from getting too low.

The most effective method for preventing exercise-induced hypoglycemia, though, is by adjusting the timing and composition of your meals. Focus on complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes, which will give you several types of sugar and dissolve more slowly in your system. Try to have a large, carbohydrate-heavy meal at least three hours before your workout so that you have plenty of stored glucose when you start your exercise.

Throughout the day, eat six small meals and snacks rather than the traditional three large daily meals. These meals and snacks should also be made mostly of complex carbohydrates and proteins. Avoid simple sugars like sodas and baked goods, since these will cause a spike in insulin — a response to the quick release of sugar — which will, in turn, cause your blood sugar to crash.

Drinks like coffee that contain large amounts of caffeine can also cause a crash when the stimulant effects of the drink wear off. The symptoms of this “caffeine crash” can be very similar to hypoglycemia.

Most importantly, discuss your hypoglycemia with your doctor, since it can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as diabetes.

Have you ever experienced exercise-induced hypoglycemia? How have you managed it? Please share your tips in the comments!

Sources

http://diabetes.about.com/od/whatisdiabetes/a/How-Insulin-Works-In-The-Body.htm

http://www.alfediam.org/media/pdf/RevueBrunD&M2-2001.pdf

http://www.drugs.com/cg/non-diabetic-hypoglycemia.html

http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hypoglycemia-low-blood.html