Fasting for much of the day might be in fashion, but is there a correlation between breakfast and metabolic rate. Accredited dietitian, Susie Burrell explores. 

For many years we were told that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. More recently though, interest in intermittent fasting regimes saw many of us choosing to skip breakfast and extend the overnight fast.

Nutrition is not a one size fits all model, and as such when it comes to breakfast, it really comes down to the individual to determine when is the best time to enjoy your first meal of the day.

In saying that, there are some indicators that your body would benefit from eating earlier in the day, especially if your weight is not doing what you would like it to.

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It has been more than 12 hours

While some intermittent fasting regimes support extending the overnight fast to 14-16 hours, for the average, busy person with high energy demands, 12 hours is more than enough time to go without food overnight, especially if you are feeling hungry.

Not eating when your body is indicating you need to eat can result in overeating later in the day, as the body compensates for the lack of calories. So if you finished dinner by 7pm and are up bright and early the next day, there is no need to feel guilty for enjoying a nutritious breakfast the next morning.

Your tummy is not working

Digestive discomfort is increasing common in modern life, likely a result of not eating enough dietary fibre, not drinking enough fluid and not moving enough.

Breakfast is a meal that provides a significant proportion of our daily fibre needs, thanks to wholegrain breakfast cereals and breads that form the base of our favourite cereal and toast breakfast options. So if you are finding your bowels a little sluggish, a bowl of wholegrain cereal, fruit or toast may be just what you need to get things moving each day.

You are not getting hungry all morning

It is one thing to push your first meal of the day back a couple of hours, but it is another to be ignoring hunger so that your body reduces metabolic rate to compensate for the lack of calories. For non-breakfast eaters, or those who have chosen to skip breakfast after being told it is better to, not feeling hungry until lunchtime is not indicative of a metabolism at its best.

Rather hunger, especially hunger experienced within an hour or two of waking, is indicative of a metabolism that is being given a kick start after the nights fast. So if you have not felt hungry for some time, try adding a small breakfast an hour or so after waking, and notice how you start to feel hungry again at regular intervals – a sign your body and metabolism is working hard burning calories.

You are not losing weight

Fasting for weight control is great, when it is working, but over time, not eating in the morning tends to result in weight stabilisation.

This means that if one of your goals is weight loss, starting to eat again earlier in the day is the easiest thing you can do to get your metabolism pumping, and actively burning calories again.

You exercise first thing

There are a number of benefits associated with exercising on an empty stomach, but the best thing you can do to optimise fat metabolism after an intensive training session is to refuel your muscles with an hour or two of finishing your session.

Here your body is already burning extra calories post session and refueling ensures your body has the energy and nutrients it needs to optimise metabolic rate. Waiting too long and continuing to fast only serves to shift caloric intake to the second half of the day and misses the metabolic boost we get immediately after training.

Your day starts at 6

For those of us who start the day at a slower pace and are not up and at me until 8 or 9, a later breakfast makes sense, but for those of us who are up bright and early, waiting too long before eating is more likely starving your body rather than optimising metabolism.

As a general rule of thumb, aim to eat something within an hour or so of starting your day, to get your metabolic rate pumping and make the most of the circadian rhythm, in which we are programmed to burn calories during the day, and store them at night.

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