I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Our moms told us. Breakfast cereal commercials tell us. Now most nutrition, bodybuilding and weight-loss experts are saying the same thing. There’s a reason for this; it’s true and it’s true for a number of reasons. If you want to lose body fat, gain lean muscle mass and avoid a slew of potential health problems, eating a healthy breakfast is one of the best habits you can acquire.
This doesn’t mean you should have a bowl of breakfast cereal or instant oatmeal every morning. In fact, you shouldn’t touch the stuff. It may seem like a reasonable and cheap choice, but pre-packaged breakfast foods are generally loaded with sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, sodium and preservatives. The last thing you need first thing in the morning is a hit of sugar-laden, processed carbs. I’m going to explain why breakfast is so important to building muscle and losing body fat, why the typical American breakfast food is the worst thing to eat and give you five excellent and inexpensive alternatives.
The Role of Breakfast in Building Muscle and Losing Fat
Eating breakfast in the morning isn’t just about breaking a night-long fast. The importance of breakfast as it relates to building muscle and losing fat comes down to two things, really. The first is jumpstarting your metabolism in the right way and the second is setting your metabolism up properly for the rest of the day.
During sleep, your body uses its energy stores for digestion and muscle recovery. Those energy stores need to be replenished very soon after awakening or several unwelcome things start happening. Your body will break down muscle tissue to extract the glycogen they contain and use that as fuel if it needs to. Your cortisol levels will begin to rise because your body detects a possible famine situation. When cortisol is present, fat loss is almost impossible, since cortisol’s mission is to store fat.
If you go too long without eating in the morning your body will also start demanding sugar-filled carbs and caffeinated drinks to get the energy it needs. Giving in to those cravings means a ton of empty calories and a huge spike in your insulin levels. Again, your fat-burning and muscle-building odds drop dramatically when there’s too much insulin in your bloodstream.
All of these things mean that it’s extremely important to eat breakfast as soon as possible after you wake up, but what you eat is just as important.
The Components of a Muscle-Building Breakfast
What you put into your body when it is in a fasting state is extremely important. You want to get some carbs for energy, but they should be fiber-rich carbs or accompanied by enough fat and protein to slow the body’s absorption of sugar. You need a good, clean dose of protein to fuel your muscles, your brain and your morning workout, but without all the fat that comes with bacon or ham. You do also want some fat to help curb hunger, but it needs to be healthy fat.
If this makes it sound like you need a bunch of expensive nutritional shakes and supplements, you don’t. While a healthy protein shake is great (and I’ll include a killer recipe below), you can get a powerhouse breakfast from whole foods that are cheap and easy to get and easy to prepare.
Some of the best foods to include in a cheap, muscle-building breakfast are organic eggs, quinoa, nuts like raw almonds and walnuts, seeds like pumpkin or squash seeds, almond milk, coconut milk, Greek yogurt, almond butter, bananas, steel-cut oats, sweet potatoes and fresh berries. Some of these ingredients are kind of costly individually, but with most of them a little bit goes a long way. Combined properly, they also end up making a very inexpensive breakfast that will fuel muscle gains and help regulate your hormone levels so that you can burn body fat.
Here are five of the best cheap, muscle-building breakfasts I know. They utilize these great ingredients, are loaded with the breakfast nutrition you need and none of them takes more than a few minutes to put together.
This high-protein smoothie is made with Greek yogurt instead of a protein powder. Not only does that make it inexpensive, but Greek yogurt also delivers a whopping 14g of protein per 6-ounce cup. You’ll also get some healthy carbs and Omega-3 fats from the almond butter and a good serving of carbs and potassium from the banana. Aside from all of that, this smoothie tastes amazing. Cost: About $3.25.
- 1 6-ounce container of vanilla Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons almond butter
- 1 medium banana
- ½ cup almond or coconut milk, unflavored
In a blender, combine the yogurt and almond butter on medium speed until smooth. Add the banana in chunks and pour in the almond or coconut milk. Blend until smooth. This makes one serving.
Berry Good Protein Shake
Dark berries are among the world’s super foods, prized for their rich antioxidant content. They’re also among the lowest of the low-glycemic fruits. Use whatever berries are in season, as they will be the lowest-priced. It’s perfectly fine to use frozen berries, as long as they’re unsweetened. This shake is also loaded with healthy fats from coconut milk and a good dose of protein from the protein powder. Cost: About $3.00.
- 1 or 2 scoops (per directions) of vanilla, low-carb protein powder
- ½ cup unflavored coconut milk
- ½ cup blueberries, blackberries or raspberries
- 5-6 ice cubes
In a blender, blend together the protein powder, coconut milk and berries. When the mixture is smooth, add the ice cubes and blend on high until thick and creamy. Makes one serving.
Sweet potatoes are one of the best bargains in whole foods. They cost as little as 39-cents a pound in season, and are loaded with protein, beta-carotene and fiber. Don’t just use them as a side dish at dinner; they make a great breakfast meal, too. With a little coconut oil and some black walnuts, you’ll also get an excellent dose of Omega-3 fats. Cost: About $2.25.
- 1 large sweet potato
- 2 teaspoons coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped black walnuts
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Prick a few holes in the sweet potato with the tines of a fork, then place on a microwave safe dish. Microwave according to your oven’s instructions just until done, (usually 5-7 minutes).
Use the fork to punch a line lengthwise down the center of the potato and then push both ends toward the center to pop it open. Use a spoon to dig up the flesh of the potato, then fluff with the fork. Add the coconut oil, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix well with the fork. Mix in the nuts and enjoy! Makes one serving.
Protein-Packed Breakfast Bowl
Quinoa is finally getting the attention it deserves. This seed is a complete protein, containing all of the essential fatty acids, and it’s incredibly versatile. It’s a great substitute for pasta or rice, but it also makes a great hot cereal. Cost: About $3.00.
- ¾ cup quinoa, cooked according to directions (Make quinoa at night for dinner and save some for an extra-quick start to this recipe)
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ¼ cup unflavored coconut or almond milk
- 1 small banana, sliced
Place the quinoa in a deep, microwave-safe bowl and add the pumpkin seeds, honey and milk. Microwave for 30 seconds or just until hot. Top with the sliced banana and dig in. Makes one serving.
Organic eggs cost a little more, but we’re still talking about an excellent source of both protein and Omega-3 fats that costs only about 30-cents per egg. Go for the organic and you bypass the hormones and antibiotics present in commercially-raised eggs. This recipe is a great one for those of you that like Southwestern foods and a little fire to your meals. Greek yogurt adds additional protein and is a great stand-in for sour cream. Cost: About $2.75.
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil
- 3 large organic eggs, beaten
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons salsa
- 1-2 tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt (save the rest for a smoothie or protein shake)
- 1 green onion, sliced
Melt the coconut oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and then pour in the eggs. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir just until fully cooked and then stir in the salsa. Continue cooking until the salsa is heated through. Place on a plate and top with the Greek yogurt and sprinkle the green onion over all. Makes one serving.
As you can see, a healthy, muscle-building breakfast can be had using whole foods, without taking a long time to make. Each of these meals also costs less than most pre-made “nutritional” drinks or a trip to the drive-through. Don’t short-circuit your gains by skipping breakfast or eating a less-healthy breakfast because you think you’re saving time or money.
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