F*&% Breakfast: Running, Fueling and Fat Burning

Mainstream nutrition is slowly starting to catch up to what most intelligent people (and body builders, ha!) have known for years now.  You shouldn’t be eating breakfast.  The whole “breakfast is the most important meal of the day…even though you’re not hungry at all and could likely go three or four hours before you get hungry, you need to force feed yourself a bagel and a bowl of cereal” thing is finally starting to be debunked. 

It makes absolutely no sense from an evolutionary standpoint.  Our ancestors were hunter-gathers; they didn’t wake up and grab a granola bar.  They didn’t grow food.  They didn’t keep animals.  They woke up and they had to go find, hunt, kill and cook their food.  Or, they had to scavenge or dig for veggies and tubers.  Then cook those.  In all likelihood, they didn’t eat until the late afternoon or evening most days.

Why do you think you’re not hungry in the morning?  You’ve been fasting all night.  So, if breakfast is really the most important meal of the day, why aren’t you ravenous for a six egg omelet the second you wake up?  Because that’s how our biochemistry was designed by evolution.  When we wake up, we’re technically already eating breakfast: we’re burning fat.  Fat is the best, most readily available fuel source we have, and something I’m sure all of us would like to be better at utilizing.  On top of that, we get a heavy dose of cortisol upon waking that triggers our liver to start producing and mobilizing glucose to be burned as fuel.  Our bodies know that there’s a chance we won’t be eating for a while and possibly until after vigorous physical activity.

No one with a real life who doesn’t have a live-in chef wakes up and cooks a healthy breakfast.  Most people who regularly consume breakfast are literally eating candy in the form of breakfast cereal or granola bars or Eggo waffles or fruit smoothies.  It makes complete sense that the most popular and widely-consumed breakfast foods in the US are sugary garbage:  We have no appetite because we’re burning fat and so it’s the only thing we can stomach… similar to desert after a big meal. There’s always room for desert, right?  Even in the morning. 

Still, with all of the science pointing toward skipping breakfast, nine out of ten nutritionists will still give you some garbage about how important it is and how you need to “kick start your metabolism”.  If someone is about to go running, it’s basically blasphemy to tell them to skip their morning sugar fix beforehand.   To anyone with half a brain, it should be clear that you DO NOT need breakfast to go sit in front of a computer for four hours before you eat lunch.  With exercise involved, it seems less clear.  I’m here to tell you that not only should you skip breakfast, but that skipping breakfast will make you a better runner as well. 

Burning fat is like anything else, you need to train in order to be good at it.  You need to develop fat burning enzymes.  You need your body to become efficient at accessing your fat stores for fuel.  We’ve all heard people talking about how even the leanest among us—people with less than 10% body fat—still have tens of thousands of calories stored on our bodies.  We’ve all got it.  The more we burn this fat, the better our bodies become at it. These calories become available to us more quickly.  Upon waking up, your body is already burning fat.  This is a good thing.  As soon as you shove a couple spoonfuls of that “healthy” cereal in your mouth, it all stops. 

Just like Dr. Phil Maffetone has made abundantly clear through his research performed on high-level endurance athletes, eating carbohydrates—especially any type of refined carb—has a devastating effect on our ability to burn fat.  As soon as we eat carbs, we lose access to our fat stores. 

So, if I’m about to go running at 10am and I wake up 7am and start eating a bunch of crap to “fuel” for my run, there will be no fat burning going on during my run, I’m not developing my ability to burn fat and I’m stuck being dependent on the glucose in my bloodstream for fuel throughout the run.  If I hold out until after the run, I’ll feel much better during because I don’t have to contend with the food I recently consumed moving through my GI tract, I’ll burn fat as my primary fuel source and I’ll become a better fat burner along the way. 

Then, after the run, when my muscles and liver have been depleted of their glycogen, essentially making them giant sponges to soak up calories, I eat a big meal and replenish.  Breakfast is by no means the most important meal of the day.  The meal after your workout is the most important meal of the day.  And if you can get to that workout before eating (and especially before eating any carbs), you’ll have more energy all the time, never becoming a slave to your blood sugar swings, always utilizing fat as fuel.  

If you’re not going running until 7pm and you’ve got a long day ahead of you, I would still skip breakfast and don’t think about eating until you start to develop an appetite later in the day, but then pay close attention to what you’re eating.  You should primarily be eating good fats: coconut oil, grass-fed butter, almonds, avocado, etc.  Eating good fats not only keeps you satiated for a long period of time (no blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes) but they also help you burn the fat you’ve already got stored. 

One of my favorite things to do if I’m not running soon after waking is to put a teaspoon of coconut oil in my coffee.  That small amount of coconut oil can usually get me to two or three o’clock before I even start to think about food if I haven’t worked out.  I’m just burning fat. 

It’s time to stop being brainwashed.  Forget about breakfast.  It will make you healthier, leaner and a more efficient endurance athlete. 

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