Breakfast: The first chance to fill your tank

Hi Alice,

I am 21 years old and not overly active. I was wondering what I should be eating for breakfast to improve my energy?

Dear Reader,

Regardless of your activity level, breakfast is a part of a healthful lifestyle and can help you maintain your energy all day long. The motto here is anything for breakfast is better than nothing at all. Think of your body as a car and food as gas. Without gas, your car can’t get from one place to another.

The rate at which your body uses calories for energy is known as metabolism. Think of metabolism as the motor of your car. Metabolism is directly related to energy levels, so the higher your metabolism, the more energy you have throughout the day. When you're sleeping, your body naturally decreases its metabolism. When you wake up, there is an increase in metabolism, which peaks by noon. How much energy you have during this time is contingent on how much food calories your body has to use for energy. Breakfast becomes the first stop to the gas station before your road trip. So basically, eating breakfast actually helps maintain high energy levels throughout the day. In fact, the more hearty a breakfast you have, the more your metabolism motor will roar!

Sticking to a few guidelines, of course, can help you get the most out of your morning meal:

Calories: For the first meal of the day, an optimal breakfast contains between 350 to 500 calories. Below 350, your body will not fulfill the requirements for morning energy usage; above 500, your body may store unneeded calories as fat.

Balance: Plan and eat a balanced breakfast meal including complex carbohydrate, protein, fat, and a fruit or vegetable.

Quantity to Aim for:

  • One to two servings of complex carbohydrates. One serving equals one piece of bread, ½ cup of cooked oatmeal, one cup of dry cereal, one English muffin, ½ bagel, ¼ cup of granola, or one small muffin.
  • One serving of protein. For example, one cup of yogurt, ½ cup of cottage cheese, one ounce of cheese, one large egg, two ounces of smoked salmon, one cup of milk or soy milk, two tablespoons (T) of peanut butter, or ¼ cup of nuts or seeds.
  • One serving of fat. E.g., one teaspoon (t) of butter, one t of oil, one tablespoon (T) of cream cheese. Make sure to check your protein and carbohydrates for fat; there's no need to add extra if you have a serving of fat in your granola, omelet, or dairy products.
  • One serving of a fruit or vegetable. That is, one medium piece of fruit, one cup of cut fruit, ¼ cup dried fruit, six ounces of fruit juice, one cup of raw or ½ cup of cooked vegetables, or one cup of vegetable juice.

Some examples of energizing breakfast meals include:

  • Two slices of whole wheat or whole grain toast with two tablespoons of peanut butter and one medium banana (sliced on top of the toast or on the side
  • ½ wheat bagel topped with one tablespoon of cream cheese, two ounces of smoked salmon, and ½ cup of sliced tomatoes
  • One cup cooked oatmeal with ¼ cup of raisins mixed in and one cup of two percent fat milk on the side
  • One small muffin with one cup of low-fat yogurt, and six ounces of orange juice
  • One serving of last night’s fried rice with one poached egg on top
  • One serving chicken, noodle, and vegetable soup

As you see, there are many delicious ways to get from point A to point B every morning. Try out a few to see which ones you like best and you might just be pleasantly surprised when you have more energy!

Last updated Aug 20, 2015
Originally published Feb 24, 2005

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