In my previous post, we looked at breakfast, and whether it should be part of your daily eating routine.
In short, we concluded that it is best to listen to your body –
Only eat if and when you are actually hungry. If this is when you first wake up, eat breakfast straight away. If you don’t get hungry until later on, then there is no need to force yourself to eat beforehand.
In this post, we are going to look at some different healthy breakfast ideas, and also if and how you can tweak your breakfast depending upon your personal health and fitness goals.
Quality and Quantity
When it comes to good nutrition, there are two main principles to follow, which if followed, will help you develop and maintain good health, body composition and athletic performance.
The first, as we’ve already covered, is only eating when you are actually hungry. An important caveat to this rule, is also learning to stop eating when you are full.
Some top tips to avoid eating past satiety:
- Use smaller plates and bowls
- Serve yourself in the kitchen
- Single task while eating
- Chew and appreciate your food
We’ve become conditioned to huge portion sizes by the “super size” trend in restaurants. Buy the smaller sized plates and bowls you find for sale in the shops. Studies have shown that people eat more when they are served a larger portion, regardless of their actual hunger or physical needs.
If you eat breakfast in a buffet style with all the food served on the table within arms reach, you are likely to keep grazing for much longer. Server yourself a sensible portion in the kitchen, then go eat in the dining room. If you are still genuinely hungry when you’ve finished, then you can go back for more, but chances are you probably won’t!
Watching the TV, browsing Facebook or checking emails while eating distracts you, and you’re less likely to notice you’ve actually eaten enough. Set aside 10 mins to just sit down and eat with no distractions.
Following on from the above, take that time to really appreciate the food you are eating. Chew it well, and notice the different flavours and textures, rather than just wolfing it down so fast it doesn’t even touch the sides.
Only eating when you are hungry, and stopping when you are full, AKA eating mindfully, should help balance your calorie intake. This is the major key to maintaining a healthy weight and good body composition.
It’s only half the story though, as good nutrition is about more than simply balancing calories and maintaining good body composition.
Equally important is supplying your body with the nutrients it requires for proper function and the continual upkeep and repair of tissues and organs.
Protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals are all required by the body, along with fibre, which is important to help keep your friendly bacteria happy.
A good breakfast therefore, should not only supply sufficient energy to fuel your day (not too much, not too little), but also provide these essential nutrients.
What Not to Eat
Breakfast cereals are for the most part, not a good choice for your first meal of the day, nor any other meal for that matter!
Generally speaking, they are low in nutrients, and packed full of empty calories in the form of added sugars. They are not very satiating either, meaning that although you’ve consumed enough energy, you’ll likely be hungry again very soon.
While the majority of them are now “fortified with vitamins and minerals”, studies have shown that the body doesn’t benefit from these isolated and refined nutrients in the same way as it does when it gets them in the form of real food.
Cereal bars are generally even worse, and you don’t even benefit from the nutrients in the milk, which is usually the most nutritious part of a bowl of cereal.
Jam on toast is yet another breakfast staple. At some point jam on toast started its life as strawberries and some wholegrains. Plant foods with fibre and nutrients. Modern food processing techniques have enabled us to successfully strip, bleach and boil all of the nutrition out of these foods, and replace them with lots of refined sugar. Needless to say, not a breakfast of champions.
A traditional cooked breakfast, made with pastured pork bacon and sausage, organic eggs, tomatoes, beans and wholegrain sourdough toast, will be jam packed with nutrients, and will certainly fill you up, but it will also be very very high in calories. Good as an occasional treat for breakfast in bed on a Sunday, but not wise as an everyday breakfast choice!
Better Breakfast Ideas
So if the most common/popular breakfasts aren’t a good choice, what should we go for instead?
Here at Primal Fitness, we recommend basing your diet on nutrient dense plant foods (think fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds), along with some high quality animal foods (fish and seafood, organic eggs and dairy, grass fed and pastured meat).
Here are some of our favourite breakfast ingredients:
- Fresh Fruit
- Natural Yoghurt or Kefir
- Organic Eggs
- Smoked Salmon
- Wholegrain Sourdough Bread
- Nuts and Nut Butters
- Oats or Sugar Free Muesli
It could be as simple as just eating a grapefruit or a banana, or perhaps make yourself a fruit salad. While juices & smoothies are popular, they tend to reduce nutrient content, and increase calorie intake, so we recommend keeping them to occasional treats, unless you are really active and not looking to lose fat.
Good quality dairy products are a great source of protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. We recommend organic, full fat versions with no added sugars. Fermented foods may help digestion and bolster healthy gut flora, and the consumption of natural yoghurt has been found to be strongly associated with the maintenance of a healthy BMI.
Eggs got unfairly maligned in the 80s because they are high in dietary cholesterol. We now know however, that their consumption does not lead to the build up of “bad cholesterol” in the arteries. Organic eggs, and in particular their yolks, are packed full of essential nutrients. They contain all the essential amino acids, are very high in omega 3s and loads of vits and mins. They’re also very versatile – great boiled, poached, fried (in olive oil), scrambled or made into omelettes.
Quick, convenient and high in protein and omega 3s, smoked salmon is a great way to start the day. Try and go for wild caught Alaskan Salmon – the wild salmon are nutritionally superior due to their diet, and the Alaskan Fisheries are well managed. If farmed salmon is the only option, go for fish raised in closed containment, a better option for your health and protecting the environment than traditional open fish farming methods.
Switching from a bowl of frosties to a plate of steamed broccoli is probably a step too far for most people, but with a bit of creativity it’s not too difficult to include some nutrient dense veggies for breakie, particularly if you’re used to a cooked breakfast. Tomatoes, spinach and avocado are my top 3 (OK, I know technically 2 of them a fruits).
The white sliced loaves you find in the supermarket are not food. They have been stripped of all nutrients, and are just empty calories, which will neither nourish you nor satisfy your appetite. Wholegrain bread, which has been fermented for 24 hours or more is an altogether different product. Not only is it high in fibre and slow release carbohydrates, the longer fermentation makes it easier to digest, and makes the nutrients within more bioavailable. Plus it tastes much better too!
Both nuts and peanuts (actually a legume) are great sources of proteins, healthy fats and vits and minerals. Not only this, but numerous studies have found that regular consumption of nuts and/or peanuts significantly reduces risk of cardiovascular disease. If eating nut butters, however, avoid the famous brand ones in the supermarket, which are often packed full of sugar. Look for one that is 100% nuts 😉
Oats are very filling in comparison to their calorie content, due to their high fibre content, and glutinous consistency. Increase their nutrient availability by soaking them overnight (ideally in yoghurt or kefir). Muesli can be a great option too, but make sure it is just oats, dried fruit and nuts, with no added sugar.
Putting it together
All of the above are great breakfast ingredients, but to really maximise the benefits, its worth combining them, to get the widest range of nutrients possible.
Some examples would be:
- Chopped fresh fruits with nuts and natural yoghurt
- Omelette with onion, tomatoes and fresh herbs
- Smoked Salmon on a bed of spinach pan fried in olive oil
- Almond Butter on Wholegraind Sourdough Toast
- Muesli (Oats, Nuts, Seeds, Raisins) with Kefir
Tailoring to your needs
While we all need a wide range of essential nutrients from high quality foods, our fuelling needs differ depending upon our goals.
If you are looking to lose body fat, it is best to concentrate on foods with a low energy density, such as fruits and veg, along with high protein foods which will help keep you feeling full.
For this reason, I’d recommend that for weight loss you stick mainly to foods from just the first 5 categories. Some nuts/nut butters could also be included, just be aware that these foods can be highly calorific, so keep it to just a sprinkling.
If on the other hand, your aim is to improve athletic performance, or build lean muscle, then it is a good idea to include some extra carbohydrate in order to better fuel your workouts. The harder you can train, the better the gains you will realise. For this reason, including some more starchy carbohydrates is a good idea.
Exercise before or after breakfast?
This is another common question – if you are going to do some exercise/activity/training first thing in the morning, should you eat before or afterwards? Or both!
Again, this all depends upon your goals.
While you are sleeping, your body switches over to predominantly burning fat. When you eat in the morning, you’ll switch over to burning the food you’ve just eaten instead.
If your goal is fat loss, you can stretch out this fat burning longer by doing some fasted, low intensity activity first thing in the morning. A great way to achieve this is by walking or cycling to work/to the green grocers/the park then having breakfast afterwards.
If you have an early morning training session, to get the most out of it, you’d be best to have some carbohydrate first. Clearly, you don’t want to be eating a huge breakfast right before training, but something like a banana, some dried fruit, or a slice of wholegrain toast with nut butter could be enough to give you the boost you need.
After training you could then have a proper breakfast, to help kick-start refuelling and recovery, and keep you going for the rest of the day.
So the first meal you eat in the day is important – as are all the meals you eat!
What doesn’t matter so much is exactly at what time you eat it. Follow the signals your body sends you, not someone else’s timetable.
The most important rules are to:
- Only Eat Breakfast When You Are Hungry
- Eat High Quality Whole Foods, and Stop When You Are Full
Following these two rules alone will pay dividends.
You can take things a little further by tailoring the timing of your breakfast to your exercise, and it’s composition to your goals –
- After exercise and lower in calories for fat burning
- Before (and after) exercise and higher in carbohydrate for improving performance
Really however, these tweaks are just the icing on the cake. Or should I say salad garnish on the side of the smoked salmon, avocado and tomato omelette…
If you have any other questions about breakfast, or would like to share your favourite healthy breakfast ideas, please do so in the comments section below, we’d love to hear from you!