Published on May 19th, 2011 | by Graeme
Carbs for Breakfast? Big Mistake
Several years ago, I had one of those epiphanies that dramatically altered my approach to, and understanding of, nutrition and exercise science. In a nutshell, the lesson I learned was:
“Assume everything we know is wrong“
Ever since adopting this outlook, my understanding of nutrition and metabolism has grown by leaps and bounds.
Now before you get too excited, just because I approach every new (or existing) piece of knowledge in the exercise science domain as incorrect, that doesn’t mean I reject it. Quite the opposite actually. Lots of what we think we know does appear to be correct… but an alarming amount of what we pass around as “fact” doesn’t hold up at all to scientific scrutiny.
Case in point: breakfast.
One of the most significant turning points in my career came after I read an article entitled “Logic Does Not Apply Part II: Breakfast” by John Kiefer over on the Elite FTS website.
The crux of this piece was how when it comes to improving body composition, one of the best strategies seems to be skipping breakfast.
I think you probably need to read that last line again… I know I went over it 3 or 4 times myself when I first read it.
Obviously my initial reaction was one of “this guy is a total knob. Everyone knows that breakfast (outside of post-workout nutrition) is the most important meal of the day. In fact, if you don’t eat within 30 minutes of waking up cortisol levels will skyrocket and muscle tissue get broken down for fuel…” yada, yada, yada.
In fact, I was just about to close his “ridiculous” piece when I happened to notice that he’d referenced over 80 peer reviewed papers in putting together his argument.
Now I appreciate that not everyone loves properly referenced science, but when someone goes to those lengths to justify a blog post, I just had to dig deeper. And as I started to go through the articles he’d quoted, I was astounded with what I found.
Without question, there seems to be an utter lack of convincing data that shows breakfast eaters improve their body composition moreso than do people who skip breakfast (assuming they both eat the same diets). In fact, while breakfast eaters do appear to lose more weight than their non-breakfast eating companions, it turns out that more of this extra weight loss comes in the form of muscle mass.
Clearly, not something we want to have happen at all!
Every since that day, I’ve totally readjusted my thinking when it comes to the need for breakfast consumption for my clients. Which isn’t to say I forbid it… but I just am quick to point out grabbing a bite to eat immediately upon wakening isn’t necessarily someone’s best route to success for improving body composition.
In fact, yet another study was just published last month which supports the “avoid breakfast” idea. In the most recent edition of the journal Obesity, a group out of Isreal headed by Siegal Sofer showed that “Greater fat loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner“.
In this particular study, two groups of obese police officers (average body fat ~38%) were followed for 6-months. Both groups followed the same low-calorie diet providing 1300-1500 kcal; 20% protein, 30-35% fat and 45-50% carbohydrate.
The only difference between groups was that one group of cops got the majority of their daily carbohydrates with dinner, while the other group consumed their carbohydrates throughout the day.
A quick look at the breakfasts for these two group reveals significant differences:
Dinner carb group: coffee + 1/5 cup milk and 7 walnut halves
Breakfast carb group: coffee + 1/5 cup milk + 2 slices bread + cheese
Then each subsequent meal for the breakfast carb group contained either a fruit or a starch, whereas the dinner carb group got a big load of carbs (i.e. 4 slices bread or 2 cups rice) with dinner.
Now based on conventional thinking, we would assume that “back end” loading your day’s carbohydrates to be a bad idea (particularly since there wasn’t any exercise component to this study)… only that’s the opposite of what the found.
The “carbs for dinner” group actually:
- lost more weight (11.6 kg vs 9.06 kg)
- lowered insulin levels to a greater extent (-32% vs +22%)
- increased HDL-C more (40.8% vs 26%)
- improved TNF-a levels (-9.2% vs +16.2%)
- increased adiponectin (43.5% vs 13.9%)
and showed strong trends towards improving:
- greater body fat losses (6.98% vs 5.13%)
- and superior protection of leptin levels (-20.6% vs -26.2%)
To top it all off, the “carbs at night” group showed vastly superior hunger control by the end of the study!
Seeing awesome results like these strikes a chord with me, the hunger Nazi. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times – control someone’s hunger and you control their long-term success on a calorie restricted diet!
Now I’m more than happy to discuss/debate the idea of breakfast avoidance further in the comments section below, but keep in mind that this strategy works best if you are:
- looking to lose body fat
- no longer growing (i.e. not great for kids)
- currently over-fat and have clear evidence of insulin resistance
- don’t train intensely early in the morning
If you train for triathlons from 5-7 AM each morning, are a 14 year old boy hitting puberty or have been rail thin your entire life… then by all means, make sure you hammer down a large serving of carbs shortly after waking up. For everyone else, beginning the day with a bowl of cereal or a bagel will get the day started off on the wrong foot.
But that’s just my opinion… one that just happens to be backed by a lot of hard science
Till next time, train hard and eat clean!
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