Breakfast has always been my favorite meal of the day. Forget the coffee and donut routine. Where breakfast is concerned, I wake up as hungry and approach the breakfast table with the intent of fueling my body up for the whole day.
The right breakfast can mean having lots of energy in the gym, even if you are training late in the afternoon. That's because the nutritional profundity of breakfast extends well past the morning hours. Whether you are training to be Mr.Olympia as I did for years, or you just want to pack on thick slabs of muscle, breakfast is Meal Number One for you!
Shopping in my local mall the other day (I was dragged in screaming and kicking by my lovely wife, Robin) I chanced onto a Successories store. You know, these are the stores that sell all things motivational, except perhaps for cattle prods. (I've known a few bodybuilders in my time who could have benefited from a little "shock training!")
I went in and started looking through the motivational posters selection when I came across one that featured a picture of a lion. The saying underneath it said that,
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be
killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun
the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death."
"Boy, that sure puts breakfast into a whole new perspective!" I thought to myself.
Now you may not have to get up and kill your breakfast every morning, but if you aren't eating the right things for breakfast, it sure is killing your chances of building a strong, muscular physique.
My mom is no sports nutritionist, but she was right when she stressed that breakfast was the most important meal of the day.
Breakfast Super Charges Your Metabolism
During the latter part of your sleep cycle, your body will begin to edge into a catabolic (tissue teardown) state, as it runs out of fuel from the last meal of the previous evening. It begins to tap stored fat for energy and muscles for amino acids. In short, your body is in a fasting state, where it hasn't received nutrients in 6-8 hours or more.
To break this state, you must eat. That's where the word breakfast comes from: "Breaking the fast."
To jump start your metabolism and get your body out of the catabolic state, you must ingest a healthy helping of high quality protein, energy-boosting complex carbs, and some healthy fats. I always start with the protein first. Protein is the main macronutrient needed to provide muscle-building amino acids to your body.
Olympian bodybuilders often rely on that old standby, scrambled egg whites, to provide the 40+ grams of high quality protein that they need.
Egg whites are great if you have time, but they require some preparation time-you have to crack a dozen eggs, do the "egg white shuffle" with your fingers to get those viscous little whites to slide into the pan, then cook them for few minutes. Elapsed time? Perhaps 10 minutes, but if you're like me, there are mornings when you just have to hit the ground running. Egg whites in a carton are faster.
Low fat cottage cheese is another good choice as it is high in casein, a slow acting milk protein that sticks with you throughout the morning. Cottage cheese is quick to prepare and consume, and tastes great with a little sliced fruit such as a banana.
My personal favorite is shaking up 30-40 grams of high quality protein powder into a delicious shake. Protein powder is easy for your body to absorb also, because mechanically, it's already ground down to the finest particle size possible and dissolved in liquid.
The result is that more of that protein powder makes contact with the acid and digestive enzymes in your gut, and you have a greater yield of amino acids. Since powder requires less digestion than other sources of protein, muscle-building amino acids can reach the blood and muscles quicker, immediately jump starting growth and repair.
One additional big benefit of protein drinks is taste and convenience. Whether you choose a protein powder such as ProV60, an MRP (meal replacement powder) such as Lean Body, or an easy to use RTD (Ready to Drink) such as Lean Body RTD in the aseptic Tetra-Pak container, you can't go wrong in terms of nutrition, ease and taste.
The Fuel Of Champions
Carbohydrates have become a modern day whipping boy with the interest in low carb diets. However, there are some things you should know.
Types Of Carbohydrates:
First, not all carbohydrates are created equally.
Simple carbohydrates (sugar, dextrose in your creatine supplement, refined flour product such as bread, cake, and donuts, etc) are broken down quickly and elevate blood sugar. In response, your body secrets insulin, a powerful fat storage hormone, to bring your blood sugar level down to normal.
An over-secretion of insulin often results in an energy crash, as sugar is cleared form the bloodstream. To make matters worse, the sudden excess of sugar triggers a biochemical cascade that results in fat deposition.
Complex carbs (oatmeal, bran, beans, yams, whole grains, etc.) on the other hand, are broken down slowly by your body, keep your blood sugar stable, and therefore keep your insulin levels down. Complex carbs are considered to have a low "glycemic index," a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate is broken down by your body into blood sugar.
Secondly, there are two times that you can ingest carbohydrates with little fear of getting fat: one is right after training. Can you guess when the other one is? Yes, at breakfast. Glycogen reserves can be extremely low in the morning.
Glycogen (stored glucose from carbohydrates) inside your muscle tissue and liver are compromised when your food intake is too low in dietary carbohydrates. Glycogen is at its lowest point in the morning and blood sugar is low.
Carbs ingested upon awaking work in conjunction with protein to drive amino acids into muscles, kick-starting the growth process, and increase glycogen stores. These two activities must take place before any left over carbs are deposited as fat.
I like the traditional bowl of oatmeal as my source of complex carbs at breakfast. The slow cooking kind can take 10 minutes or so of preparation. The one minute variety can be thrown into the blender with your protein drink. Whichever way you like it, it's hard to beat oatmeal in the morning.
For variety, try some whole grain cereals such as Bob's 10-Grain--- it's delicious and nutritious. The beauty of whole grains is that in addition to being high in complex carbs, they are also a great source of fiber.
Fiber's Not Just For Your Grandmother...
Fiber stabilizes blood sugar levels and further slows down the breakdown of carbohydrates. This contributes to keeping blood sugar and insulin levels stable. Slower-digesting carbs not only help you feel better, but they help you stay leaner. Fiber also creates bulk in your food, which facilitates faster gut motility keeps your intestines healthy.
Complex carbs such as oats, cream of rye cereal or low sugar whole grain bran muffins (watch the fat content and refined flour!) are exceptional choices of carbohydrate foods because they supply dense amounts of dietary fiber.
As I mentioned earlier, when you're pressed for time, it's hard to beat a blender drink for convenience. The only problem is that most protein powders don't contain any fiber-in fact most will constipate you if you don't consume enough fiber daily.
Fast Solutions That Work
The new Lean Body Instant Breakfast shake is the only source of protein and carbs I know of that also provides such a dense amount (7 grams) of soluble dietary fiber. It contains a healthy serving of complex carbs from slow- release natural grain sources including brown rice, oats, and rice bran, plus essential fatty acids (healthy fats) and 40 grams of time-release proteins to give your muscles a sustained flow of amino acids. It's what I call a "whole food MRP."
You can cook up a dozen scrambled egg whites, a cup of whole oats, and take a handful of vitamins in the morning, or you can simply tear open a packet of Lean Body Instant Breakfast shake and throw in the blender with 2 cups of ice water and blend for a minute. For me, it's fast and nutritious. Done!
Beefing Up Breakfast...
Breakfast and your post-training meal, can be called the "anti-catabolic" meals. "Catabolism" is just a fancy name for muscle loss. As mentioned before, when you sleep, the body often slips into catabolism and tears down muscle to be used as fuel. The same happens after training.
Using a supplement containing the amino acid glutamine, along with the branched chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine can help bring catabolism to a grinding halt and get the body into a muscle building (anabolic) state.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) -especially leucine- have been shown to be anabolic. In fact, it's often added to cattle feed to help increase size! Leucine actually increases the body's ability to build muscle. Taking glutamine and branched chain amino acids upon waking with breakfast and after training, are important steps if you are trying to build lean muscle.
You should take 5-10 grams of a high quality glutamine powder supplement, along with 5-10 grams of branched chain amino acids with breakfast. Or, you can take a Lean Body Instant Breakfast shake, which contains over 10 grams of glutamine and its precursor, glutamic acid, plus 9 grams of branched chain amino acids.
Here are several pro bodybuilding breakfasts that you can use to start your day:
- 10 scrambled egg whites
- 1 cup of dry oats, cooked
- 1 banana
- 5-10 grams of BCAA
- 5-10 grams glutamine
- 1 packet of Lean Body Instant Breakfast (bananas & cream, blueberries& cream, or cinnamon oatmeal) mixed in 16 ounces of ice water and blended for 1 minute.
- 1 banana
- 1 cup fat free cottage cheese
- 1 whole grain, low sugar bran muffin
- 1 large apple
- 5-10 grams BCAA
- 5-10 grams glutamine
- 2 scoops of ProV60 multi purpose protein blend mixed with skim milk
- 1 cup of dry Bob's 10-Grain cereal, cooked
- 1 cup of blueberries
- 5-10 grams of BCAA
- 5-10 grams glutamine
Power yourself up for the day by eating a solid breakfast every morning. Eating the right breakfast will pay off in terms of faster muscle gains and abundant energy throughout the day. Like the lion in Africa, you either eat breakfast or you starve- in this case, your muscles!
Editor's Note: Lee Labrada is a former IFBB Mr.Universe and IFFB Pro World Cup winner. Winner of 22 major bodybuilding titles, he is one of only a few men in history to place in the top four in the Mr.Olympia seven consecutive times. Lee was inducted into the IFBB Pro Bodybuilding Hall of Fame in 2004. Lee is CEO of Labrada Nutrition, an Inc.500 company.