Performance Plate

It's Time to Settle the Breakfast Debate

Suddenly, the headlines say breakfast is unnecessary. But everyone seems to have forgotten the most important nutrition rule: What works for the everyman doesn't always make sense for the athlete.

It's Time to Settle the Breakfast Debate

If you're debating on breakfast, think about what it is you're trying to fuel. Photo: Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Breakfast has been dethroned. Two recent studies confirmed that eating—or not eating—breakfast makes no difference when it comes to weight loss, weight gain, blood-sugar profiles, cholesterol levels, or cardiovascular health indexes. But if breakfast isn’t the all-important morning meal we’ve been told it is, then what (or who) is it really necessary for?

Athletes. For people who tend to do more than just shower and head to work, breakfast should not be trifled with. “Is being in the fed state necessary to optimize physical and perhaps mental performance?” asks Dr. James Betts of the University of Bath and lead author of the Bath Breakfast Project, which openly questioned breakfast’s value. “On that front, I would definitely say yes. For performance,” he adds, “it certainly does matter what people eat.”

And it matters, too, whether you’re breakfasting to train or to perform. Either way, by the time you wake up after eating dinner the night before, you’ve spent anywhere from 10 to 14 hours in a fasted state, and your liver can be nearly 70 to 80 percent depleted of glycogen (liver breaks down glycogen to maintain blood glucose levels). What that means: you’re okay to go for a short ride or run, but you’ll suffer through a long training session or race, explains UAB’s Dr. Gordon Fisher.

Breakfast, then, is clearly important for optimal performance. However, if you're doing short runs or rides, skipping breakfast likely won't slow you down. And it might even make you a faster athlete, in the long run. “Day-to-day training in the unfed [unbreakfasted] state,” adds Dr. Fisher, “may actually lead to more favorable improvements during prolonged exercise in which glycogen may be limiting.”

By training on empty, you prepare your body to perform well on empty, too.

Filed To: Science, Food and Drink

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