Let’s get this out of the way now: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. How many times have you heard that and not believed it? How often do you either grab a quick bowl of cornflakes before rushing out of the door or, worse, skip it altogether?
Well, don’t. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, and here’s why. Overnight the body’s metabolism changes from an anabolic state (well-fed, basically) to a catabolic state (starvation mode), and the body has to draw on its energy reserves to keep itself going. It breaks down stored fat, carbohydrate and protein stores, and this continues until you literally break the fast. Breaking down fat stores is a good thing, but losing protein decreases your lean muscle mass and your metabolic rate.
To help you start your day on the right foot and give you the maximum energy for as long as possible, here Men’s Fitness suggests a week’s worth of healthy, energising breakfasts.
Bagels are low in fat and packed with carbohydrate. They have a high glycaemic index (GI), so they release carbohydrates quickly, but the body’s absorption of these is slowed down by the protein in cream cheese and smoked salmon.
Apple juice has a low GI, which means it provides more sustainable energy. It’s important to have a drink with your breakfast because your body is dehydrated first thing in the morning and this can affect concentration and energy levels.
Onion bagel I Lower-fat cream cheese I Smoked salmon I Fresh (cloudy) apple juice
Cut the bagel in half and toast it. Spread with cheese and top with salmon. Add black pepper and a squeeze of lime if you like.
Per portion: 377 cals, 20.3g protein, 5.4g fat, 67.1g carbs
This will get your day off to a flying start. Oats have a low glycaemic index (GI), so they release carbohydrate into the bloodstream slowly. This gives you a steady flow of energy, keeps blood sugar levels stable and staves off the mid-morning hunger pangs that normally result in snacking on biscuits. Sweeten the porridge with banana and muesli rather than sugar, which will send your energy levels haywire.
Cinnamon and raisin toast has a higher GI than porridge, so this will give you a hit of energy while the porridge slowly goes about its business.
Porridge I Chopped banana I Muesli I Glass of semi-skimmed milk I 2 slices toasted cinnamon-raisin bread I Fresh orange juice with bits
Pour porridge mix and milk into a bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes. Toast the bread. Chop up a banana (or any other fruit) and stir into the bowl along with a handful of muesli.
Per portion: 476 cals, 11.3g protein, 7.8g fat, 95.8g carbs
This breakfast also includes a smoothie, but let’s start with the muffin. It has a high GI, but the addition of peanut butter slows the absorption of the carbohydrate. The peanut butter is high in fat (mostly monounsaturates, which are better for blood cholesterol levels) but Marmite will save you more than 100 calories and 10g of fat if you prefer.
The banana, kiwi and berry smoothie is bursting with goodness, including fibre, potassium, folate and vitamin C. The milk and yoghurt in it also provide calcium and magnesium. This miracle drink will help keep your heart strong, your blood pressure low, your health good and your taste buds ecstatic.
Banana I Half a kiwi I Handful of frozen berries I Half glass of skimmed milk I Small carton of yoghurt I English muffin, spread with a scraping of low-fat spread I Peanut butter or Marmite I Tea
Toast muffin. Meanwhile, put the banana, kiwi and berries in a blender. Add the milk and yoghurt and blend. Spread the topping on your muffin and pour the smoothie.
Per portion: 637 cals, 23.7g protein, 20.7g fat, 94.8g carbs
Wholemeal tortillas provide the carbohydrate in this breakfast. They have a medium GI, and the large amount of protein in the meal helps slow down carbohydrate absorption even more.
The rest of the ingredients provide folate, vitamin C, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, fibre and the antioxidant quercetin, which can help protect against cancer. It’s hard to feel energised if you’re ill or run down, but this little lot should revive you.
2 wholemeal tortillas I 40g reduced-fat cheddar cheese I 1 chopped spring onion I 1 chopped tomato I 1 slice low-salt ham or veggie sausage I Glass of semi-skimmed milk
Place wholemeal tortilla in a large pan over a medium heat. Sprinkle cheese on top, with tomato, spring onion and ham. When cheese starts to melt, lay the other tortilla on top. Flip the whole thing over and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Per portion: 529 cals, 31.1g protein, 11.7g fat, 80.1g carbs
We all find ourselves running late every once in a while. This breakfast is the answer.
The raisin bran muffin releases its energy slowly throughout the morning and staves off hunger pangs, while Fruitini is a cheap and easy way of adding fruit to your diet and constitutes one portion of your five a day. Choose your coffee carefully, too: a skinny latte has only 5g of fat, compared to a whopping 18g in a mocha.
Raisin bran muffin I Can of Fruitini I Pot of yoghurt or Müllerice I Small skinny latte
Get up late. Grab supplies from the kitchen and pick up anything extra you need on the way to work. Mix canned fruit into yoghurt and feel instantly revived.
Per portion: 437 cals, 14.8g protein, 9.6g fat, 77.7g carbs
Go on, you deserve it – and enjoying a treat can do wonders for your mood and your energy levels. Baked beans and wholemeal toast provide plenty of carbohydrate, but the rest of a fry-up needn’t be bad for you. Bacon and sausages contain protein, iron and zinc, while eggs and tomatoes are full of vitamins.
Just remember not to fry it. Grilling and poaching saves at least 20g of fat and 180 calories.
Bacon I Lower-fat sausage I Poached egg I Plum tomato and flat mushrooms I Baked beans I Wholegrain bread I Fresh juice I Cup of green tea I Spray oil
Put the bacon and sausage under the grill. Cut tomato in half. Place tomato and mushroom on the grill and spray with oil. Grind black pepper over and return to grill. Turn the meat and veg until cooked. Pour beans in a mug and microwave for two minutes. Place bread under the grill. Poach the egg and serve.
Per portion: 590 cals, 30.8g protein, 23.0g fat, 69.6g carbs
You should have more time to be creative on a Sunday, so this is the time to show off your culinary skills. Pancakes are high in carbohydrate, and as long as you fry them in a good non-stick pan or using spray oil they are low in fat, too. The carbs from the plain flour are fast-acting, which may be useful if you plan to spend the morning playing sport or working out. But to get a more steady release of energy, use half wholemeal flour and half white.
You can make the pancake batter in advance, freeze it and then defrost it when you need it.
30-40g fresh blueberries I 50g plain flour I 25g castor sugar I 1 egg, beaten I Lower-fat fromage frais I Dash of semi-skimmed milk I Apple and carrot juice (freshly squeezed, ideally) I Freshly brewed coffee
To make the batter, sieve the flour into a bowl, add castor sugar, make a ‘well’ and add the egg and milk. Using a hand whisk, beat into a smooth batter. Stir in 25g of blueberries.
Heat a frying pan and spray with oil. Ladle a couple of large spoonfuls of batter in the pan. Cook for two to three minutes (until bubbles rise to the surface), then flip over each pancake and cook the other side.
Slide on to a plate and serve with a blob of fromage frais and extra berries.
Per portion: 588 cals, 23.3g protein, 21.3g fat, 80.8g carbs
Dr Sarah Schenker is a dietitian, sports dietitian and public health nutritionist, who has worked with Jamie Oliver on his Feed Me Better campaign, Premiership football clubs including Chelsea FC and Tottenham Hotspur, and various government committees.
Sarah co-authored the book The Fast Diet (opens in new tab), has written other books including My Sugar Free Baby and Me and Eating Fat Will Make You Fat (opens in new tab), and has contributed to the Mail Online (opens in new tab), the Huffington Post (opens in new tab) and many others.
Sarah is a member of the British Dietetic Association (opens in new tab), Nutrition Society (opens in new tab), Association for Nutrition (opens in new tab) and the Guild of Health Writers (opens in new tab).
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