So, here’s to another boring breakfast article. Thank me later. When it comes to nutrition, diet, and just looking really damn good, it often comes down to a myriad of things. Some choose to focus on calories in vs. calories out, some focus on optimal vs. suboptimal food choices, some low carb vs. carb cycling, and so on. Often times the hormonal response to food is overlooked, most likely because it is a bit more complex and often not the reason for one’s failure in a diet. Yet, most people just need to focus more on their overall calories, macros, and nutrient timing than they do on more specific things like insulin sensitivity, GH (growth hormone) peaks, cortisol levels, ghrelin, and so on. But as our goal becomes more specific, we need to become more detailed in our approach. This becomes even more important as you reach your genetic ceiling, where every single thing counts.
Your breakfast should be based on your current goals; that’s as obvious as it gets. However, every person who comes to me for a diet, regardless of his/her goals, seems to have the same breakfast. I hope that one day everybody stops thinking that we are all clones. So believe it or not, Kai Greene’s breakfast may not be the best breakfast for you. Especially when looking at the traditional (boring, bland, less effective) carb cycling diet, it seems that breakfast is always 30 to 50 grams of protein and 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrates. There’s nothing wrong with this breakfast, and if you like it, then don’t mess with what works. But if you aren’t happy with where you are, then maybe it’s time to make a change.
If you have read any of my previous articles, you know that I am a proponent of periods of fasting—periods where insulin levels are kept low and carb-less meals. My breakfast changes based on what I am doing that day and what I am currently trying to accomplish. Most of my clients (but not all) have a high protein, moderate fat breakfast. Most people ask, “What does that mean?” For me, it’s eggs (whole and white) cooked in Coconut oil (for some medium chain triglyceride) and some ground or bison beef. This is for a host of reasons, but one is because of how I view carbohydrates. I believe that they are only necessary to fuel exercise or to recover in between serious bouts of exercise for another impending session. When I am not fasting, that is a typical breakfast. For most informed readers, we understand that carbohydrates are not “technically” an essential nutrient. Take that how you want to, I don’t care.
In my article on nutrient timing, Should You Avoid Eating at Night?, I shared some studies that suggested what you have at breakfast may set the stage for what fuel your body uses the rest of the day. A high fat breakfast seem to shift the body towards more fat oxidation over the day, whereas a carbohydrate breakfast showed more carbohydrate utilization. Those are some interesting things to think about but there are also some clear cut benefits to a high protein, moderate fat breakfast.
There’s a pretty cool study, “Endocrine responses to the oral ingestion of a physiological dose of essential amino acids in humans”, where researchers examine the hormonal response to different breakfasts. The researchers used 28 subjects—healthy males from age 18 to 40 with normal BMIs (18-24). There were three groups: one that had a dose of essential amino acids (24g), a fasted group, and an iso-caloric group with skim milk (36g protein, 52g carbs). The insulin response after 20 minutes was similar between the amino group and the skim milk group, though the protein group spiked insulin the most.
However, while the protein/amino group caused a massive spike in growth hormone (2100+/-1013% higher than the basal values), the skim milk group had no changes, and there was a “slight significant” raise in GH in the fasting group (which is one benefit of fasting). Also, cortisol levels dipped significantly in the protein group with no real change in the two control groups. At first, the authors thought it was the insulin spike that led to the increase in the GH levels, but the fasting group showed higher GH than the milk group. There is a lot at play here; understanding the interplay between anabolic and catabolic processes can be complex. The conclusion of this study, however, was that a protein breakfast is the most “anabolic” of these three groups.
There may also be some growth hormone benefits with the addition of an MCT to making your breakfast anabolic. One particular study, “Modifications of insulin and growth hormone after medium chain triglyceride ingestion”, noted a significant GH release as well as an increase in free fatty acids found in circulation after taking 1.5g of MCTs. The GH actually rose during the presence of the free fatty acids as well. The benefits of MCTs are plentiful; numerous studies show an increase in energy expenditure. A long term, double blind-controlled study investigated MCTs vs. LCT (long chain triglycerides) and found that the MCT group lost more body fat, more subcutaneous fat, and more body weight than those ingesting LCTs.  So, it may be beneficial for you to start adding some MCTs to your diet. I either cook with coconut oil (which admittedly isn’t 100% MCTs) or add some MCT oil to black coffee.
The high protein breakfast has also been shown to have a positive effect on appetite regulation and satiety, with one reason being its ability to reduce daily ghrelin levels. There may also be some benefits to including some fish oil along with this meal. Besides its numerous purported health benefits, when there is a high enough level of insulin + amino acid availability (like in the above study with a protein breakfast), fish oil has been shown to increase protein synthesis and have a potential “anabolic” effect.
Again, your “best” breakfast will be based off your goals, your preferences, and how you feel after eating specific foods. Most people feel slightly lethargic after a carbohydrate-packed breakfast and seem to crash earlier in the day. For those who like all of their carbohydrates post-workout, this type of set up works. For those who prefer their carbohydrates pre-workout, they can still start with a breakfast like this and then include some protein/carb meals leading up to their workout session. And while I’m at it, fasting is more than just skipping breakfast or randomly skipping a meal. Fasting is a planned period of no food intake for a specific purpose that the rest of the day plays into. Eating Burger King cinnabons for breakfast and then skipping lunch isn’t really fasting, but it’s a novel try.
 Endocrine responses to the oral ingestion of a physiological dose of essential amino acids in humans. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14596675
 Modifications of insulin and growth hormone after medium chain triglycerides ingestion. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/727601
 Dietary Medium-Chain Triacylglycerols Suppress Accumulation of Body Fat in a Double-Blind, Controlled Trial in Healthy Men and Women. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11694608