Nutrition

When You Should (and Shouldn’t) Skip Breakfast

When You Should (and Shouldn’t) Skip Breakfast | Legion

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Evidence Based

Breakfast is a controversial meal these days. 

Some “experts” say it’s vital for preserving health and preventing weight gain while others claim skipping it entirely is the trick to staying lean and healthy.

Scientific research cuts both ways as well. For example, one study conducted by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health found that men who regularly skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of heart attack or death from heart disease. 

Another study found that skipping breakfast was associated with a higher risk of weight gain. 

On the other hand, an extensive review of the literature published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that missing breakfast has either little or no effect on weight gain. In fact, the data showed that breakfast eaters tend to consume more calories than those who skip it.

What’s the deal, then? 

Does skipping breakfast make it easier or harder to lose weight or does it have no effect whatsoever? 

And what about muscle building? 

Does it help or hinder those of us looking to get fitter and stronger? 

Let’s take a closer look at the studies I just referenced and see what we can learn. 

The Pros and Cons of Skipping Breakfast

The first thing that jumps out in the Harvard research is the people who didn’t eat breakfast were generally hungrier later in the day and ate more at night. 

Eating food at night isn’t a problem per se, but research shows that meal skipping can lead to overeating and an increase in total overall energy intake.

Overeating leads to weight gain, of course, and as overweight people are at an increased risk of heart disease, skipping breakfast can be associated with an increased incidence of cardiac events and heart disease. But that doesn’t mean that skipping breakfast causes heart attacks.

How about the review study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

The researchers found only a handful of rigorous, well-executed studies on the effects of eating and not eating breakfast, and you have to go all the way back to 1992 to find the only long-term, carefully controlled trial that randomly assigned people to routinely eat or skip breakfast and then measured the effect on their body weight. 

In the 1992 study, conducted by scientists at Vanderbilt University, eating or skipping breakfast had no significant effect on weight loss. What mattered weren’t breakfast habits but overall eating habits and dietary compliance, which merely confirms what metabolic researchers have been saying for decades—when you eat is far less important than what and how much.

What About Intermittent Fasting?

We can find more support for these findings in the research available on the intermittent fasting style of dieting. In case you’re not familiar with it, intermittent fasting revolves around eating (feeding) and not eating (fasting) on a regular schedule, with particular emphasis on fasting. 

With a normal type of diet, you eat food every few hours, from, let’s say, 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. That is, every day you eat food intermittently for about 13 hours and eat nothing for about 11 hours. 

With intermittent fasting, however, you flip this around by eating food intermittently for, with some methods, about 8 hours and eating nothing for about 16 hours. 

For example, with intermittent fasting, you might start eating every day at 1 p.m. and stop at 9 p.m. In fact, that exact protocol (“16/8”) is particularly popular among bodybuilders who enjoy intermittent fasting, and it’s basically just skipping breakfast. 

And what about scientific evidence? Several studies show that intermittent fasting is just as effective for improving health and body composition as eating more frequently. That said, contrary to the claims of many intermittent fasting fanatics, it also doesn’t appear to offer any inherent advantages.

Conclusion

The bottom line is this: If you enjoy breakfast, eat it, and if you enjoy skipping it, skip it. 

Many people like eating breakfast because they just like breakfast food. 

Others find that a hearty breakfast helps perk them up or reduce hunger levels throughout the day. 

On the other hand, just as many people prefer to skip breakfast and “break the fast” closer to lunch because they aren’t hungry or don’t like standard morning fare. The key is knowing what works best for you.

+ Scientific References

GM, T., ML, M., AJ, G., A, P., Y, K., JU, G., JR, H., TA, V., DN, K., & MR, C. (2019). Time-restricted feeding plus resistance training in active females: a randomized trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 110(3), 628–640. https://doi.org/10.1093/AJCN/NQZ126
MT, S., GM, T., MG, A., GM, H., AA, O., PR, S., AS, M., GT, M., K, K., SN, S., AT, W., & TA, V. (2020). Four Weeks of Time-Restricted Feeding Combined with Resistance Training Does Not Differentially Influence Measures of Body Composition, Muscle Performance, Resting Energy Expenditure, and Blood Biomarkers. Nutrients, 12(4). https://doi.org/10.3390/NU12041126
DG, S., JO, H., T, S., J, P.-C., & T, S. (1992). The role of breakfast in the treatment of obesity: a randomized clinical trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 55(3), 645–651. https://doi.org/10.1093/AJCN/55.3.645
D G Schlundt, T Sbrocco, & C Bell. (n.d.). Identification of high-risk situations in a behavioral weight loss program: application of the relapse prevention model – PubMed. Retrieved September 15, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2744934/
RA, M., & E, G. (2014). Belief beyond the evidence: using the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity to show 2 practices that distort scientific evidence. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 99(1), 212–213. https://doi.org/10.3945/AJCN.113.077214
AA, van der H., FB, H., EB, R., & RM, van D. (2007). A prospective study of breakfast consumption and weight gain among U.S. men. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 15(10), 2463–2469. https://doi.org/10.1038/OBY.2007.292

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Mike Matthews is the founder and CEO of Legion as well as a bestselling fitness author of several books, including Bigger Leaner Stronger, Thinner Leaner Stronger, and The Shredded Chef.

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