Popular Breakfast Foods - An Outdated Idea

Author: Filip Smialek PT, CSCS | | Categories: 1 On 1 Personal Training , CSCS , Exercise Coach , Fitness Instructor , Nutrition , Nutritional Coach , Personal Coach , Personal Trainer , Personal Training , Training

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The picture above is what I consider a solid meal, whether it's in the morning, midday, or at dinner time. It contains some of the key elements I need a major meal to have: quality animal protein, some fat, and a variety of vegetables. 

The purpose of this article is to help abandon old ideas that don't serve us and adopt new practices that result in better health and performance. The idea of 'breakfast foods' has been around in Western culture for a long time and many common 'breakfast foods', for example, orange juice, pastries, baked goods, and sugary cereals are a poor choice no matter the time of day. 

I grew up on milk and cereal for breakfast. It was my breakfast almost everyday since I can remember, until I was in my mid twenties and completely restarted my life as a trainer. 

I ate the same type of ‘breakfast food’ out of pure habit - accepting the norm. It took me up until my mid twenties to call it into question like I did many other things in my life and drop ties to old habits and accepted norms in favour of practices that were rational and made sense.

What kind of nutrients were milk and cereal providing me? How did that combo affect my digestion and the way I felt after eating it? Were there better options? 

It was time to stop trading health for convenience. The extra few minutes it took for me to prepare real food in the morning made a life changing difference. I don’t mean preparing fancy meals from scratch in the morning, it’s simply having a system in place (ex. having ingredients ready to go in the fridge) so you can put together a nutrient dense meal rather than reaching for low quality processed food. 

While I was in my teens, I began to get painful stomach cramps and bloating that seemingly happened at random. This lasted until my mid twenties when I finally made drastic changes to my eating habits (and my life in general). I didn’t correlate my cramping and indigestion to my diet because in my eyes I was simply eating the way I always had, and to my understanding I had a fairly healthy, normal diet. I also lead a fairly healthy lifestyle - I worked out, played some sports, I had a little fluff around my waist, but was far from overweight. 

I went to the doctor, I was sent for a CT scan, they couldn’t find anything spectacular, so they sent me home telling me everything was fine. My pain was not addressed, no one had a clue what was going on; time to get on with life. No one ever mentioned I should take a deeper look into what I ate. So I started a process of experimentation - trial and error. 

In the end, the things that cured me were: cutting dairy and wheat way down. Initially I cut dairy out completely and it solved most of my digestive problems, then I cut wheat almost completely out and switched over to darker, less refined breads. I find now I can have a glass of milk once in a while - any more than that and I’ll start feeling like garbage and it’ll throw off my digestion. With bread it usually takes a day or two of eating it for me to start feeling negative effects. There goes my usual breakfast - wheat based cereal and milk. I was just having too much of it growing up. Aside from that, the nutritional value of milk and cereal is laughable. It’s basically sugar on top of sugar. It could have some benefit if I were to get up, move, and then play a high intensity sport soon after, but the reality was that I got on a bus and sat in class for most of the day at school. I’d be bursting with energy for the first hour and a half and then I struggled to stay awake until lunch. 

The pain I suffered from bloating and indigestion sparked a complete revolution in my diet. I’m grateful that it happened, because I might have stayed on a nutritionally inferior diet for a much longer time.

Currently, the idea of ‘breakfast foods’ makes absolutely no sense to me. As with most other thoughts and ideas that made no sense and got in the way of progress, the idea of ‘breakfast foods’ was tossed in the proverbial trash. Our bodies require a variety of nutrients to recover and function. The type of foods you eat should reflect what your body needs. 

What the body requires will vary between individuals and their energetic needs. Just because an athlete eats sandwiches, pizza, rice, and pasta, doesn’t mean you should. First of all, athletes are not an ideal of health, secondly, their energetic needs are different than most peoples’. If you sit at a desk for most of the day and then travel around on transit or in a car, you have a lower caloric demand and should focus on the essential nutrients your body needs to function properly. Nutrient dense foods like fish, eggs, meats, and a variety of vegetables should be your priority. Grains, breads, cookies, pasta, cereal, and processed, nutrient poor food should be minimal to non-existent as possible things that enter your pie hole. 

So what’s the case I’m making? Why should you change your habits if you feel fine?

Sometimes people become accustomed to feeling low grade pain. They might think that indigestion is normal, they’ll start self medicating with things like tums or add fibre supplements to their diets because they’re just eating the standard western diet, clogging up their digestive tracts with starches and meat. Sometimes they’ll have other people, including friends, relatives, and health care practitioners recommend these interventions rather than simply getting the more necessary advice of ‘cut the crap, eat vegetables, and drink more water!’ It seems easier for some people to just say that they’re getting older, have bad genetics, or that it’s normal to have to be constantly medicated because so many other people are. Many peaple just have no clue and haven’t looked into what’s really going on with themselves, and have been given bad advice. 

Again, what’s my case? It’s that what you eat can have a significant impact on your mental state and your cognitive and physical performance. Sure, you can still achieve a lot while eating junk. I did it for a long time. And there are plenty of examples of people who eat ridiculous or nutritionally poor/bland diets but push through and achieve great things through shear will. But why entertain the possibility of wasting even a minute of your finite life feeling like crap when you could have avoided it by just making a better choice for your body?

I’m not a dietitian or a nutritionist. I’m just a guy that has a good foundational understanding and interest in life sciences, and I help people, including myself, become the best they can be; that involves changing nutritional habits. I’m also a skeptic and tend not to jump on bandwagon claims and diet fads from the internet. So I won’t be giving specific dietary recommendations. I can tell you what’s worked for me and many of my clients and keep leading by example.

So what’s the takeaway?

You need to be willing to make changes, obliterate old, obsolete, and destructive ideas from your mind when it comes to your nutrition. Buns, bagels, orange juice in the morning? Are you running a marathon soon after or going out to toss bails of hay for the rest of the day?

Consider the role each thing you eat plays in your body. Experiment. Track your food intake with a free app like MyFitnesspal to get an idea of your intake. Get interested in your nutrition because it lays the foundation for all functions in your body. Yes, it takes a lot of work and dedication. Speak to someone who’s passionate and knowledgeable on the topic, who can give you reasonable advice.

Every meal should be specific to your needs. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, it doesn’t matter. For me, those three meals are all interchangeable and are made up of similar things. My breakfasts sometimes look like dinners, dinners can look like breakfasts. Make your own rules to get the best out of your food.