“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” We’ve been hearing that mantra for decades from nutritionists and other health professionals who argue the benefits of jump-starting our engines for better health.
But now, some research is leading us to believe it might be better to eat not once, but twice, before the midday meal.
Let’s back up for a moment. Overall research on breakfast is contradicting. Some studies show eating a healthy breakfast leads to improved memory and cognition, elevates mood and even aids in weight-loss efforts. Other studies argue skipping breakfast doesn’t necessarily help or harm weight-loss efforts or metabolism, though it may be linked to lower energy levels during physical activity and less stable blood sugars in the afternoon and evening.
And now, a third party is suggesting a second breakfast may be as good (if not better) than just one. After following the eating habits of students at 12 middle schools for more than two years, researchers from Yale and the University of Connecticut found a double breakfast may actually increase your ability to maintain a healthy weight.
The reasoning? Not starting the day (and your metabolism) with breakfast may lead to overeating later in the day. In the study, frequent breakfast skippers had greater odds of becoming overweight or obese compared to those who had breakfast twice. The study also found no difference in weight-gain or weight-loss patterns between the students who ate two breakfasts versus those who ate just one.
Not convinced? Consider the habits of early risers, who set the alarm well before sunup. Researchers from the Obesity Society recently found that people who wake up early are more likely to eat a more balanced diet, inclusive of healthier, more high-energy and nutrient-dense foods than those who sleep in.
These individuals also have more time to be active and burn calories between morning and lunchtime, making the case for a second breakfast even stronger. Fueling up with a light snack before hitting the gym, pool or pavement, then refueling once you settle into your daily routine is almost necessary when burning several hundred calories before daybreak.
Intrigued? Here are some tips on how to take on this practice: Consider the idea of both first and second breakfasts more snack than meal. That pastry, Pop Tart, stack of pancakes or bowl of sugary cereal aren’t doing your brain or body any favors. Keep the morning meals small, simple and nutrient-dense, high in protein, healthy fats and fiber.
For your “first” breakfast, consider half a piece of whole-grain toast with nut butter or a few bites of protein-packed cottage cheese. Or try one of these recipes that can be prepped in advance: energy-dense quinoa bites or pistachio bites. They’re a perfect pre-workout energy boost that won’t weigh you down while you’re exercising and will tide you over during your morning commute.
Then go for something with a bit more staying power to keep you fueled until lunch for the “second” mid-morning breakfast. Try one of these simple make-ahead breakfasts with less than 300 calories, or one of these quick-and-easy options for people on the go.
As far as timing, try to space your first and second breakfast (or mini meals) 2–3 hours apart. If you rise at 5 or 6 a.m., have your first bite within 15 minutes of waking. Then aim to get the second, slightly more substantial breakfast in around 9, which should keep you fueled until lunch.
Don’t overthink or over complicate it. Make your morning mini meals simple, packed with lean protein, fiber and healthy fats. By keeping them small and spacing them a few hours apart, you’ll keep your energy levels elevated and maintain stable blood sugar levels. By planning ahead, you’ll not only be less likely to turn to junk foods at breakfast and lunch, but you’ll be better able to focus and concentrate, which has benefits far beyond breakfast.