Should You Skip Breakfast for Building Muscle?

Should You Skip Breakfast for Building Muscle?

Should You Skip Breakfast for Building Muscle?

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Written by Damian Minichowski, translated by Marius Krämer

By this time a lot of well-known authors have attended to discuss, and tackled, the conflicting topic ‘breakfast’. Strangely enough there are usually two extreme points of view:

On the one hand there are the ‘die-hard’-supporters of breakfast, who could never imagine a life without freshly baked bread rolls, hard-boiled eggs or a bowl of cereal (and those are the healthy ones). They also never become tired of making a pitch for breakfast as the most important daily meal.

On the other hand there is the faction, who does not eat in the morning by habit and rather drink a cup of ‘black death’ or fuming tea. Instead, when hunger kicks in, they opt for a lunch like an emperor and a dinner like a godly emperor – after all you have to feast at some point.

After elaborating with care, Schuisdiziarra et al. (2010, [1]) conclude that:

“Of all individual meals, lunch and dinner are responsible for the biggest amount of energy consumption, followed by breakfast and the 3 light snacks.[1]

Certainly there are studies, that verify benefits and disadvantages for both sides. Wyatt et al., 2002 [2]; Schlundt et al., 1992 [3]. Purslow et al., 2008 [4] could herein be named as promoters. Somewhere in between there also exists the person acting according to a naive approach: Maximum one coffee at home, but tiling up with croissant and sweet stuff on the way to work.

This would, to my mind, be the most suboptimal situation.

Should You Skip Breakfast for Building Muscle?

The Pros and Cons

Should You Skip Breakfast

Should you skip breakfast for better gains? Well, if you decide to eat a breakfast, you should probably opt for a high fat, low carb, high protein meal. Save your carbs for the true meal of the day – the post-workout meal. (Source: Flickr / Jules ; CC Licence)

The logic of several scientists, who back up breakfast, assumes that eating a lot in the morning will result in less starve and a lower vulnerability for wrong decisions at lunch.

Carb-Backloading author John Kiefer looked at the other side of the coin in a prior article which thoroughly gives good arguments, why one can – or should – skip breakfast. These kinds of references are being encouraged only in the last few years and could be underpinned by young studies [5].

The Breakfast Table – Analysing the Caloric Intake

In his scientific investigation, the research team around Volker Schusdziarra dedicated themselves to the question which side is right: Breakfast or no breakfast?

  • First theory: A high caloric intake for breakfast leads to a higher total caloric intake at the end of the day. What supports this claim? Field studies that are supported by cross-sectional date material in the population.

Vs.

  • Second theory: A high caloric intake for breakfast leads to a lower total caloric intake at the end of the day. What supports this claim? A comprehensive intra-individual analysis of cross-sectional data.

Thus identical data material delivers, applied to two different analytical methods, diverse results. The team around Schusdziarra wanted to drill down on this and evaluate which assumption applies in reality.

The Study Setup

The total caloric intake was calculated on an intra-individual basis, and was proportioned to the absolute caloric intake through breakfast (more specifically, a ratio for caloric intake through breakfast to total caloric intake). Interestingly enough the material was drawn from a group of 280 obese and 100 normal weighted subjects to a period of 10 resp. 14 running days. Therefore the evaluation reflects demographic conditions and keeps relevant for normal weighted people.

In many studies there is one major shortcoming: The samples are composed of solely obese subjects. But not in this investigation.

The Study Results

Using countless statistical tools, like the regression analysis, Schusdziarra et al. were able to illustrate that interdependencies between caloric intake through breakfast and total caloric intake exist. The more opulent the breakfast, the bigger the total caloric intake at the end of the day, and vice versa. Having said that, the scientists pointed out that the significant decisions concerning caloric intake were made in the phase after breakfast:

‘Reduced breakfast energy intake is associated with lower total daily intake. The influence of the ratio of breakfast to overall energy intake largely depends on the post-breakfast rather than breakfast intake pattern. Therefore, overweight and obese subjects should consider the reduction of breakfast calories as a simple option to improve their daily energy balance.’ [5]

About Breakfast, Carbohydrate Metabolism & Your Nocturnal Protein Duty

I don't always eat carbs

True Story.

Schusdziarra et al. were also able to proof – going into deeper analysis of the existing data – that the total caloric intake reacts significantly to the amount of calories supplied through breakfast. Therefore they recommend, that the method of caloric restriction at the breakfast table (up to completely skipping breakfast?) is an approved tool to reduce total caloric intake and thus create, for example, a caloric deficit at the end of the day, which favors weight loss. Hence the team comes to an entirely contrary assumption than the leading opinion, which says that you should have breakfast like an emperor.

In my opinion, it is basically irrelevant if you cut / skip breakfast or restrain on dinner. Both is based on the potential purpose of minimizing the insulin response, which enables the body to cover a caloric deficit from existing fat depots, by releasing fatty acids, which get burned for energy. But there indeed are arguments which speak for skipping breakfast and instead having a feast in the evening (see Martin Berkhans article “Is Late Night Eating Better For Fat Loss And Health?”)

In a diet, this can turn the scale and decide over victory or defeat. The one who forces himself – despite absent hunger – to eat in the morning (and therefore is required to go to bed hungry, due his already consumed caloric contingent, will not be happy in the long run with his diet. The danger of getting the munchies is inevitably higher – especially when you don’t have anything to do in the evening and boredom spreads in front of the TV (who does not get into mischief then?!). The intake of carbs in the evening leads – thanks to serotonin-release, for a marmot-like, satisfying and regenerative sleep without any problems falling asleep. What’s more, this kind of nutritious timing favors muscle protection, according to the positive correlation between the retention of musculature and a surrogate dinner (also: see above quoted IF article by Martin).

Furthermore I want to point out that the body is in a fat burning mode in the morning already, due to the high cortisol level. Therefore he is able to use fatty acids very effectively at that time period. An opulent breakfast (with lots of carbohydrates) will lead to a reversed process: The massive insulin response will shift the body to using carbs as a primary fuel (nutrient deposit instead of nutrient relocation). The fat burning process stops and thus leads to a higher hungriness and fluctuations in the blood sugar level (see also: “Why does breakfast make me hungry?”)

Life Without BreadOne fact, which I don’t want to deny you, is described by Wolfgang Lutz in his book ‘Life without Bread: How a Low-Carbohydrate Diet Can Save Your Life.’ This book deals with the conversion of protein into sugar (“gluconeogenesis”) which leads to a degradation of connective tissue (origin of strain gauges) in the long run.

“Young and Scrimshaw [7], two additional Americans, have carried on the Cahillschen experiments and noted that the gluconeogenesis, which produces sugar out of protein, already occurs under normal circumstances, namely at night. Normally nourished people, who ate their last meal at 10pm, have certain amino acids (alanine) in their blood at 1am. These amino acids indicate that the depletion of protein to sugar has started.

The average consumer eats three times a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and eats carbs on a regular basis. These carbs need about three to four hours to be digested. Thus it can be envisaged that the gut can allocate enough carbs for consumers working with sugar, which would especially be the brain, using 150 to 200 grams of sugar and 30% of all metabolic energy. In the night, while the brain cannot cover its sugar demand from the gut, the sugar has to be generated from protein. The short nightly period is not enough for the body to switch to a metabolism, which thrives on fat and a brain which works on ketone bodies. Admittedly there are carbs from glycogen (animal starch) in the night, which are stored in the liver and the muscles, but the human organism does not want to disband these reserves. The experiments from Young and Scrimshaw show, that the depletion of protein to sugars starts a few hours after the dinner […].

The extent of this nocturnal protein sacrifice is considerably big. Based on the brain consuming 9 grams of sugar per hour and the beginning of the depletion of protein to sugar three hours after the dinner, there are still six remaining hours for sugar out of protein. This means 6 times 9 = 54 grams of sugar, which means 97,2 grams protein or a muscle or fascia mass of 549 grams. In fairness you have to consider that a part of this sugar mass comes from glycogen, but it is anything but safe to say that the depletion of protein to sugar matters substantially.”[6], p.43)

Indeed Lutz calculated a very high assumed consumption, but his results correspond to a large extend with the research results of Martin Berkhan (see above quoted IF article). These results say that an intake of the majority of calories at a later time of the day leads to muscle protection.

Why?

Bodybuilding Carb Cutoff

The Carb-Cutoff and it’s dogma: No Carbs after 6 pm or you’ll get fat. Period!

A carb intense meal, e.g. a breakfast with bread / wheat, signals the body to use carbs as the main source for energy supply (switching to a carbohydrate metabolism). While this might not be a problem during the day, because the body gets a permanent inflow of energy from small meals and/or snacks (“classical bodybuilder’s approach”), it can cause problems when doing a carb-cutoff in the evening. If your body is not trained to cover its energy demand with ketone bodies (metabolic flexibility), this can have negative effects on bone structure, muscle and fascia. The body tries to bypass energy shortages (during missing carbs in a trained carbohydrate metabolism) by using the gluconeogenesis pathway, which is the conversion of protein to sugar. The needed protein gets taken directly out of the body, with bone structure, muscle and fascia acting as suppliers. While structuring and conversion processes permanently contribute to renewal of the body, the nocturnal protein duty can lead to a lot of pathological symptoms, which occupy the human race since latest times. Lutz calls this the “protein sacrifice”.

“The conversion (of the brain to ketone bodies) takes a few weeks, but lastly and finally the brain can be held alive and on high performance even in hunger and carb hunger phases. Therefore always when the food contains no carbs. Meanwhile, that is until the ketone bodies thingy works, the organism has to generate carbs by using the gluconeogenesis with protein. This a costly procedure though: 1 grams of glucose costs 1,8 grams of protein, which requires the degradation of 9 grams of muscle or fascia mass.[6], p. 42

How does this fit to the studies of Martin?

  1. On an empty stomach the fat metabolism dominates in the morning, using fats from fat depots as a primary fuel. Meanwhile the level of growth hormones rises with increasing fasting hours (and the growth hormone facilitates the preservation muscle mass!).
  2. A late fast-breaking, or the implementation of carbs at a later time, caters for not having to tolerate a carb-cutoff in the evening. Quite the reverse is the case. He who uses a diet like intermittent fasting or carb-backloading benefits from a better regeneration of glycogen reserves. Also the body has a sufficient energy reserve in the evening, and especially in the night, which is caused by a steady flow of nutrients with a big evening meal. The gluconeogenesis, which applies for classic diet in the evening, becomes minimized until the insulin level gets lower during the night and cortisol and glucagon activate the fat metabolism again.

For Lutz, the nocturnal protein sacrifice can be affiliated to a lot of other pathological symptoms, which are accompanied by a carb intensive diet. For adolescents this would be rachitis (vitamin D deficiency), osteomalacia (scoliosis), variances of bone structure (scheuermann disease), dental caries (teeth are also bones), ligament and muscle weakness and flat and splayfeet. Also adults have to pay their duty in form of myatrophy and osteomalacia with advancing age (paradontosis and osteoporosis), age-related brain damage (cue: lack of autophagy), emphysema and card muscular disorders and finally arteriosclerosis(“gluconeogenesis at vessel walls) (cf. [6], 43 f.)

The Takeaway

If you look at the facts, there are not a lot of options left, if you talk about rational decisions. This does not mean, that you have to skip breakfast entirely. You can allow yourself to enjoy the idyll with your family on a Sunday morning. It’s a different kettle of fish if you have breakfast every day or taking a break from not eating in the morning once a week (or in other time intervals).

As usual, I can only give you one advice: The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

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Picture sources: Pixaby / PublicDomain Pictures ; Public Domain Licence

About the Author -. Damian Minichowski

Damian “Furor Germanicus” Minichowski is the founder and mastermind behind the bodybuilding and nutrition online magazine Aesir Sports (AesirSports.net & AesirSports.de). Besides numerous authorships Damian is writing for several well known and respected weightlifting and fitness magazines. He authored more than 200 articles about bodybuilding, training, training philosophy, nutrition, health and supplementation already.

Damian worked as a long-term fitness coach in local gyms. Currently he is working as a consultant for a supplement manufacturer. His profession lies in evidenced-based article writing and revolves about one of his biggest passions in life – Physical fitness, nutrition, supplementation and health.

References (Click to Expand)

[1] Schusdziarra, V. et al. (2010): Energy Intake, Food Quantity and Frequency of Consumption During Main Meals and Snacks in Normal Weight Subjects. In: Aktuel Ernahrungsmed: 2010; 35 (1): 29 – 41. URL: https://www.thieme-connect.de/DOI/DOI?10.1055/s-0029-1223428 .

[2] Wyatt, HR. et al. (2002): Long-term weight loss and breakfast in subjects in the National Weight Control Registry. In: Obesity Research: 2002; 10 (2): 78 – 82. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez/11836452?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctn.

[3] Schlundt, DG. et al. (1992): The role of breakfast in the treatment of obesity: a randomized clinical trial. In: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: 1992; 55 (3): 645 – 651. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez/1550038?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctn.

[4] Purslow, LR. et al. (2008):Energy intake at breakfast and weight change: prospective study of 6,764 middle-aged men and women. In: American Journal of Epidemiology: 2008; 167 (2): 188 – 192. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez/18079134?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctn.

[5] Schusdziarra, V. et al. (2011): Impact of breakfast on daily energy intake – an analysis of absolute versus relative breakfast calories. In: Nutrition Journal: 2011; 10 (5): doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-5. URL: http://www.nutritionj.com/content/10/1/5.

[6] Lutz, W. (2007): Life Without Bread: How a Low-Carbohydrate Diet Can Save Your Life. McGraw Hill-Education. English book version (2000): http://goo.gl/vC9oa7.

[7] Young, VR. / Scrimshaw, NS. (1971): Scientific Am. 225: 4 (14).

Search terms for this article: skipping breakfast, most important meal of the day, breakfast important meal, is breakfast necessary, muscle building breakfast, should you skip breakfast.


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