We all know the best way to start the day is a decent breakfast full of the right nutrients – and eating well first thing has been linked to higher energy levels, and better cholesterol, to name but a few benefits.
But did you know there are different foods you can eat in the morning that’ll benefit you, depending on whether you’re an early bird or a night owl? Yeah, us neither.
Mornings affect everything about our day, says senior nutritionist Alex Glover, who works with the U.K. health and wellbeing store Holland & Barrett, and the food we eat in particular impacts how our bodies regulate energy. “In order to best regulate our energy cycles, we need to listen to our personal circadian rhythms, and make sure we’re matching our mornings to these,” he says.
Dr. Simon Steenson, nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, says breakfast, in general, is your best opportunity to get the nutrients you need for good health.
On average, most people fall short of eating our recommended intake of fiber, he says, so choices like whole grain breakfast cereals and fruit (bananas and berries) or whole wheat toast with nut butter are good sources of fibre.
Is there a specific time I should eat breakfast?
Steenson says there’s been a lot of interest in recent years about the role of not just what we eat, but when we eat. Studies have suggested the timing of our meals might be a factor in weight gain, and have pointed to circadian rhythms in our metabolism as a possible explanation, he says.
However, there’s no conclusive evidence that points to the best time to eat – and people need to find what works best for them. If you wake up early and wanna crack on with breakfast straight away, that works! If you’re a later riser and therefore have breakfast later on in the morning, that works too.
“Focusing on the overall balance and variety of foods that we eat is key,” says Steenson. “This would typically include plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains and higher fibre starchy foods, as well as some lower-fat dairy foods like milk and yogurt (or dairy alternatives).”
I’m a morning person! What should I eat?
Glover says early birds should start their mornings with a hearty breakfast, packed with protein and fibre to keep them feeling fuller for longer – with the break between breakfast and lunch up to seven hours if rising around 6 a.m.
Foods like oats are perfect thanks to their high content of soluble fiber, he says, and mixing in a high-quality flavored protein is a good addition.
“An early bird lifestyle can leave them prone to feeling lethargic in the afternoon, which often results in turning to caffeine for an afternoon boost,” he says. “But this can be counter-intuitive, in that the caffeine hit can then have a negative impact on our sleep cycle, as it can stay in our system for up to eight hours.
“If you’re an early bird and often feel the 3 p.m. slump, instead of turning to caffeine, try a natural energy booster such as a daily vitamin B12 which contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.”
I’m definitely a night owl. What should I eat for breakfast?
Mornings can feel rushed for night owls who are likely to wake up late, so food you can “grab on-the-go” is ideal, says Glover. “Something light and simple but packed full of slow release carbohydrates to maintain energy levels throughout the day until lunch, such as a grain-based muffin or snack bar,” he says.
“Some night owls may find it difficult to eat breakfast and may wish to postpone it a short while, as long as this isn’t then affecting eating patterns or quality of food throughout the day, then it’s fine.”
While skipping breakfast is not itself an unhealthy choice, some research has shown it can lead to worse food choices later in the day. “If by lunchtime you’re craving anything in sight, you may be more likely to go for a less nutrient dense option to satisfy those hunger pangs, so try having a breakfast high in fibre, protein and fruits and vegetables and don’t forget to stay hydrated,” he says.