Is Skipping Breakfast a Good Way to Lose Weight?
Intermittent Fasting, Breakfast and Weight Loss
Eating breakfast is controversial advice. For years fitness professionals have suggested that the best way to lose weight was to do cardio before eating breakfast. The idea behind it is that your body burns up carbohydrates (your glycogen stores) while sleeping. If you do cardio on an empty stomach, your body doesn't have much carbohydrate energy left, so you burn fat instead.
It's a neat theory, that's simply wrong. When scientists compared people who exercised on an empty stomach versus those who ate a small meal first, they found no differences in what people used for energy.
Let me say that again. When people who exercised on an empty stomach were compared to those who ate a small meal first, there were no differences in what either of them used for energy. But one group did have better long term weight loss and muscle building results. Can you guess which one?
The people who ate breakfast FIRST were the fittest. Here's why. Eating breakfast gives you energy. You need energy to get through a workout. Eating a small breakfast, 30 minutes to an hour and a half before exercise gives you the energy to push harder and get through a more intense workout.
Think about it. When you work on something for a few hours, eventually you'll hit a "wall." It's a point when you're mentally and physically exhausted. The common solution is to take a break and have something to eat. After your meal, your body has more energy to draw from, you feel refreshed and you're able to get more work done. It's the same principle when you eat before exercise in the morning.
I first shared that information with my readers more than 10 years ago, in a column I wrote in May of 2009. But now there's a new group of people suggesting you skip breakfast to lose weight.
It's a program known as intermittent fasting. On the plan, you have a daily calorie window to fit all your eating in. Those windows can be as small as the time needed for a single meal, to “feeding periods” that extend between 6-10 hours. Many people simply avoid eating breakfast and make their first meal sometime around lunch.
Remember, we've known for more than a decade that skipping breakfast is BAD for building muscle. But could skipping breakfast be a good way to lose weight?
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco decided to look into that very idea. Their research subjects were divided into two groups. One group practiced intermittent fasting and only ate between the hours of noon and 8 pm every day. The other group ate three meals a day and were allowed to have snacks.
At the end of the 12-week study, both groups showed similar weight loss, blood sugar control and cholesterol levels. Intermittent fasting had no advantages over a traditional calorie-restricted diet. But there was a big downside for the anti-breakfast crowd.
The people who lost weight through intermittent fasting, lost significantly more lean muscle mass than the dieters with regular meal times. Just like those studies found more than a decade ago, dieters who skipped breakfast lost more muscle than the dieters who ate breakfast.
The difference is significant. About 65% of the total weight loss was muscle mass for the intermittent fasting subjects. That's compared to around 25% of the weight loss being muscle mass for the typical calorie-restricted dieters.
There are two important things you should take away from this.
First, skipping breakfast and doing cardio on an empty stomach does NOT help you burn more fat. Without energy from breakfast, your cardio workout will suffer.
Second, skipping breakfast on an intermittent diet plan is NOT better than a traditional calorie-restricted diet. You will lose the same amount of weight as a traditional calorie-restricted dieter, but more of the weight loss will be lean muscle, not fat.
There are several other reasons to start your day with a healthy breakfast. It can dampen hunger and help prevent afternoon binges. It can help you wake up and gives you the energy to be more alert. People who eat breakfast have a greater ability to concentrate and show greater improvements in standardized test scores. Eating breakfast builds better bodies.
The Clinical Study
Effects of Time-Restricted Eating on Weight Loss and Other Metabolic Parameters in Women and Men With Overweight and Obesity The TREAT Randomized Clinical Trial
Dylan A. Lowe, PhD1; Nancy Wu, MS2,3; Linnea Rohdin-Bibby, BA2; et al A. Holliston Moore, PhD2,4; Nisa Kelly, MS5; Yong En Liu, BS5; Errol Philip, PhD6; Eric Vittinghoff, PhD2; Steven B. Heymsfield, MD7; Jeffrey E. Olgin, MD2; John A. Shepherd, PhD5; Ethan J. Weiss, MD1,2
Author Affiliations Article Information
JAMA Intern Med. Published online September 28, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.4153
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