‘Breakfast like a king’ or ‘go to work on an egg’… is one right and the other wrong for fat loss?

If you’re trying to lose fat or manage your weight, you’ve probably come across the advice ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper’. This is based on studies where overweight patients on a weight loss diet with a high-calorie breakfast and a low-calorie evening meal lost more weight than patients who had same calorie intake but with the meals reversed, i.e. a low-calorie breakfast and high-calorie dinner.

But if your aim is specifically to lose fat while maintaining muscle mass, this may not be the best strategy… especially when it comes to how you’re consuming carbohydrates.

A small study published in the Journal of Nutrition [1] put two groups of overweight women on a low-calorie diet, varying their meal pattern so that one group ate 70% of their calories in the morning and 30% in the afternoon/evening (let’s call them ‘morning eaters’), and the other group only 30% of calories in the morning and 70% in the afternoon/evening (let’s call them ‘evening eaters’). This time the researchers measured not only changes in weight but also lean mass (muscle, bone, etc. – the type we don’t want to lose!). They found that, as in previous studies, the morning eaters lost slightly more weight than the evening eaters. However, the morning eaters also lost a great deal more lean mass – an average of 1.28kg over 6 weeks, versus only 0.25kg for the evening eaters – and didn’t lose as much body fat. This turns the ‘breakfast like a king’ adage on its head, indicating we may be better off eating more in the evening if we want to lose fat only.

However, before we all start skipping breakfast and feasting before bed, let’s have a look at another study that examined timing of carbohydrate intake specifically. In this study [2], 78 overweight participants were put on a low-calorie diet for 6 months. Half the participants ate a very low-carb breakfast and lunch and consumed most of the day’s carbohydrates at their evening meal, while the other half just followed a standard diet, dividing their carbohydrate intake over the day. Both groups had the same overall macros (20% of calories from proteins, 30% from fat and 50% from carbohydrates). Those who ate the majority of their carbs in the evening lost significantly more weight on average than the standard group – 11.6kg versus 9.1kg over 6 months. They also had a greater average reduction in body fat percentage, waist measurements, hunger scores, and an increase in adiponectin, a hormone that helps to regulate glucose and fat metabolism (decreased levels are associated with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes).

So what can we conclude from looking at these two studies together? Firstly, rather than eating ‘like a king’ at breakfast, it may be better to have a more moderate approach to the first meal of the day. Monitor how much you need to eat at breakfast to give you energy to get through the morning and not be starving by midday, but don’t stuff yourself just because you think it’s a good idea. And when it comes to what to eat for breakfast, go for protein and healthy fats, limiting your carb intake to a minimum. An example would be two scrambled eggs with two rashers of good-quality bacon and some wilted spinach; or a three-egg omelette made with tuna, peppers and mushrooms. Get your carbs in after your workout and/or later in the day. As a bonus, carbohydrates in the evening can help you sleep too!

So now we’ve mentioned eggs, it’s probably obvious that we think ‘going to work on an egg’ is a good idea. In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity [3], participants on a weight loss diet who ate two eggs for breakfast for eight weeks lost an average of 2.6kg and reduced their BMI by 0.95, while those who ate a bagel for breakfast – with the same calorie content – lost only an average of 1.6kg and reduced their BMI by 0.59. The ‘egg group’ also had a greater reduction in body fat percentage and waist circumference too. The researchers concluded that ‘the inclusion of eggs in a weight management program may offer a nutritious supplement to enhance weight loss’. Of course, eggs are a great source of protein, healthy fats, B vitamins, and choline to support your brain and your liver. Egg it up, we say!

 

References:

  1. Keim NL et al. Weight loss is greater with consumption of large morning meals and fat-free mass is preserved with large evening meals in women on a controlled weight reduction regimen. J Nutr. 1997 Jan;127(1):75-82.
  2. Sofer S et al. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Oct;19(10):2006-14.
  3. Vander Wal JS et al. Egg breakfast enhances weight loss. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Oct;32(10):1545-51.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Matt Lovell

A sports nutritionist and brand ambassador for Kinetica Sports. Matt also runs his own elite performance based company called Perform and Function.

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