The majority of us grew up in households where the mantra, ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ was regularly spouted to encourage you to grab a slice of toast while rushing out the door to school. This is a synopsis of a recent brilliant research paper which has questioned whether this age old saying is actually scientifically correct or whether it is another myth in the ever expanding field of nutrition and health. Consuming breakfast, has long been touted to improve concentration levels, energy levels but more importantly championed to help maintain a healthy body weight. Whereas fasting or not having a breakfast is associated with a gain in body fat due to increase hunger levels later in the day, which leads to over-eating, and weight gain. Furthermore, fasting is also associated with a slower metabolism which may lead to fat gain.
‘The omission of breakfast compared to regularly consuming breakfast had no effect on body weight/composition or metabolic rate in participants’
The Bath Breakfast Project was a series of well controlled studies which primarily aimed to determine the effects of eating breakfast or fasting until midday on body composition and/or weight. This comprehensive collection of studies found that omission of breakfast compared to regularly consuming breakfast has no effect on body weight/composition or metabolic rate in participants. Interestingly, although those in the fasted group ate less food in the morning compared to those that ate breakfast this did not lead to weight loss. This was because they either moved less during the morning so used less calories or compensated for not eating breakfast by eating these ‘breakfast’ calories later in the day, however they did not over eat either. Conversely those that ate a breakfast of 350 kcal (a large bowl of porridge with milk & berries) did not gain weight compared to the fasted group. This was because they used the calories that ate as they moved more in the morning and/or ate less throughout the day compared to the fasted group. Either way they consumed the same amount of calories that they expended throughout the day maintaining their weight. The study concluded that eating breakfast or not has no association with body composition and fat gain is based on the simple equation of calories consumed = calories expended. If your total calorie intake throughout the day is more than you expend through normal daily living with or without exercise you will not gain body fat. The study also found that the omission of breakfast did not slow down the participants metabolism.
‘The study concluded that eating breakfast or not has no association with body composition and fat gain’
The study speculates that perhaps the most important question surrounding breakfast is a more individual and personal question and should focus on what we as individuals define as ‘important’ and why we think or feel it is more important or not than the other meals we eat daily? Although, this study focused mainly on the effect of breakfast on body composition; people eat or do not eat breakfast for other important reasons. If for example you delight in the prospect of breakfast, are hungry when you wake and personally prefer breakfast then breakfast is for you if not the most important meal of the day, a pretty important one. Similarly, if you train in the morning breakfast is definitely an important meal to both fuel you (in the majority of instances) and help you refuel and recovery after the session. Also, if your performance goal is to gain muscle mass breakfast could be an important meal to ensure you consume enough calories to support muscle growth throughout the day.
‘The most important question surrounding breakfast may be more of an individual and personal question’
The importance of breakfast is not that straight forward to answer and needs to take into account the context of why the question is being asked. Each one of us has a different reason why breakfast may or may not be an important meal depending on personal preferences, feelings, health goals and/or exercise schedule. For me, however, it is without doubt my favourite meal of the day, I love everything about breakfast, the food, the social occasion and the energy I feel it gives me. But is it one of my most important…that depends on what I define as important on each particular day 🙂