These days, my stomach starts grumbling around 3am, well before my 4 am wake-up. So, I’ve gone with the only logical solution: multiple breakfasts. Instead of just a snack – half an energy bar or a banana — before I head out to teach at 5:30am, I’ve been eating what some might consider a full meal. For example, before class on Tuesday, I had two hard-boiled eggs – it was a strength training class, so a protein-based choice made sense. Yesterday, before cycle, I had several Powerbar energy bites and a banana – okay, more like a snack, I suppose, but heftier than my usual choice. Thursday, before kickboxing, I had a bowl of multigrain cheerios, coconut milk and a banana. (Cheerios are not my favorite, but I landed a case of sample boxes – 75 to be exact — from an unnamed source and my kids refuse to eat them.) Each day when I got home, I downed a full breakfast.
While it seems like I am eating more food, this approach is making me feel more satisfied and helping me to cut back on the all-day grazing that was prompted by a constant, nagging hunger. A study performed by University of Texas at El Paso researchers found that people who ate larger breakfasts consumed about 100 calories fewer daily than those who ate skimpier servings – saving about 350,000 calories a year, or 10 lbs. Evidently, your brain desires food for energy first thing in the morning, and if you don’t eat, or deprive it by eating small amounts, it pulls fuel from lean muscle mass. Later in the day, your brain is already chugging along and the body is more likely to store food when you eat a lot of calories – and possibly cause you to put on pounds.
If you are not super hungry in the morning, it is probably because the brain chemical serotonin peaks in the morning. High levels of this chemical make you feel satisfied, so your hunger levels may not be very high. I, however, do not seem to have this problem. As you go about your day, and your serotonin levels drop, so cravings and extreme hunger ensue. You can combat these chemical highs and lows by eating a generous, healthy breakfast – think protein, good carbs with fiber and a little healthy fat. A 200-calorie option isn’t going to do it either – consider consuming between 35 and 50 percent of your calories in the morn. For a typical 2,000-calorie diet this could mean as much as 1,000 calories.
Americans typically eat about 20 percent of calories in the morning, so the shift to a bigger breakfast may sound extreme. But consider this: you have all day to burn it off. If you do most of your exercise early, like I do, it makes more sense to fuel up then. Why skimp in the morning when I am burning the calories only to load up later in the day when I spend a lot more time doing mind-body classes or writing? Frontloading your daily calories means you have more opportunity to burn them off, rather than overloading in the evening before you go to bed.
I recommend having a few stand-by breakfast options, so you don’t linger over an open refrigerator door trying to figure out what to eat and end up skipping becuase you just can’t decide. My go-to meals include:
- Coach’s Oats cooked with cinnamon and frozen blueberries, topped with almond milk along with 2 egg whites and 1 egg scrambled and topped with low-fat cheddar or salsa.
- A sprouted-grain English muffin – Ezekial brand is my favorite – with crunchy, no-stir almond butter and a fruit smoothie with whey protein powder. Sprouted-grains are a complete protein and have a nutty, hearty texture. Find them in the freezer section at many stores.
- Pancakes made with Pamela’s gluten-free pancake and baking mix. I followed a gluten-free diet for over 3 years because of digestive issues, and some foods I really liked. This nutty pancake mix is among my favorite take-aways from gluten-free living. I’ll have the pancakes with a little non-fat, plain Greek yogurt – especially on days where I teach multiple classes or run long miles.