It is easier to win the day if you make the right choices for breakfast. As my mentor used to say, “The first thing you put in your mouth in the morning… provided it is food… dictates all neurotransmitters for the whole day.” When working with clients ranging from world class weight lifters, world medalists in combative sports, ironman competitors or highly ranked executives, breakfast is the first meal I make them to change. This is because it sets up your entire neurotransmitter production for the day. My go-to meal is the Power Breakfast.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Having high protein for breakfast wasn’t new for me. In Colombia we have a traditional recipe called “Bistec a Caballo.” It is a piece of beef cooked in tomatoes and onions and topped with 2 soft fried eggs. Back then I didn’t know about the benefits of that type of meal except the fact that I always felt great afterwards. Additionally, I had better performance on the BMX track.
8 Reasons why The Power Breakfast is key to your brain performance and body composition
- Sets up neurotransmitter production for the day.
In the morning you want yang chemicals in your brain to be on fire, to give you drive, focus, and motivation for the whole day, and those are dopamine and acetylcholine. Dopamine is the drive, and acetylcholine is responsible for memory, thinking processes, and concentration. Meat and eggs will give you the precursors for dopamine and nuts will provide the factors for acetylcholine.
- Best pre-workout meal.
When it comes to drive, red meat will provide the tyrosine and phenylalanine, precursors of Dopamine. For the same reason, white fish and white meat will be poor choices pre-workout. Food high in choline (precursor to acetylcholine) will improve your focus and attention, that are crucial in training and virtually all sports. Caviar is a favorite amongst Russian lifters as it provides the foundational nutrients for the synthesis of acetylcholine. Eggs are another natural source of dietary choline. Make sure to consume the whole egg, as more than 90 percent of the choline is found in the yolk. It is also a source of good fats that will provide a slower digestion and stable blood sugar. Sadly, eggs are one the most common food intolerances, so I strongly suggest you get tested in order to see if you can enjoy the taste and benefits.
- Maintains stable blood sugar levels.
The meat allows for a slow and steady rise in blood glucose. The nuts provide a great source of healthy smart fats that allow the blood sugar to stay stable for an extended period of time; helping to avoid hypoglycemia as well as insulin spikes (1).
- Provides better food choices for the whole day.
If you want your clients to stick to a diet, start with their breakfast. According to multiple studies, the first meal of the day affects food choices and calorie consumption throughout the day. Those subjects who had higher protein intake in the morning chose high protein and low carbohydrates meals during the rest of the day as well.
- Enhances weight loss.
A study in 2008 from Saint Louis University on overweight males and females showed that after 8 weeks of a high protein and fat breakfast, subjects had “65% greater weight loss, a 34% greater reduction in waist circumference and a 16% greater reduction in percent body fat (2,3), compared to those who had bagels as their first meal of the day. On top of that, when you consume The Power Breakfast, you will have a greater thermic effect (thermogenesis). Which means you will raise your body temperature higher, therefore you will burn more calories. And don’t be paranoid about high fat consumption, as another study in 2018 showed that high fat breakfast, compared to a high carb one, enhances fat oxidation during the next 24 hours.
- The glycemic load (GL) is very low.
GL is a number that estimates how much the food will raise a person’s blood glucose levels after eating. It is calculated by multiplying glycemic index times the grams of carbohydrates in a meal. As you are not ingesting carbohydrates, your glucose will not go high, which will minimize spikes in your insulin level. This is particularly important for people with type 2 diabetes or at risk of developing it. On the other hand, high carb breakfasts will leave you with a high insulin response and a following fall, which will insure hunger, a cortisol spike, a sugar rush, and a shorter attention span. That’s why around 11AM you can see a lot of executives getting a cup of coffee with a skimmed milk and a “healthy” muffin. Which gives them another kick of insulin and keeps them on the roller coaster of insulin – cortisol waves for the whole day.
- Key to your brain.
In the Framingham Heart Study, people with higher Choline intake had better performance on tests of verbal and visual memory. Furthermore, these people had lower levels of white matter hyperintensities on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), suggesting lower ischemic damage in the brain (4). When I teach seminars, I really need my brain to be sharp, so organ meats, such as organic rabbit or lamb liver (100 grams will provide about 400 mg of choline), are my top favorite.
I will lightly cook it in the pan, top it with 2 eggs, and add a handful of pistachios, as they have the highest acetylcholine content compared to other nuts. Check the Brain Boosting recipe here
Keep in mind that higher carb meals can drop down your IQ by as much as 20%. Under such condition not only making important decisions or paying attention to your opponent, but even setting up the weight correctly, can be difficult for some.
- Better lean mass and strength gains
In general, people tend to consume less protein at breakfast than at lunch and dinner. Researches from Japan (7) decided to investigate what happens when a group of young men balanced out the amount of protein throughout the 3 meals of the day. Results showed that after 12 weeks, when subjects increased the protein intake at breakfast at expense of the protein consumption at dinner, they gained significant more lean mass with the workouts provided, and were stronger on different exercises, compared to the group that had an uneven distribution of protein during the day, with breakfast being the lowest protein meal of the day. So, if you want to gain more muscle mass and be stronger, having a high protein breakfast is paramount.
Unfortunately, getting a good breakfast in many countries is a big challenge and it turns out to be one of the worst meals to eat out. Almost every restaurant or hotel offers choices of cornflakes or sugary cereal, pancakes, waffles, toasts, cookies, you name it… and if you are lucky you might find some eggs, cheese, and fresh vegetables or fruit. I don’t negotiate on my Power Breakfast and what I learned in many years of traveling comes to the same old saying of “if you’re failing to plan, you’re planning to fail.” When I have to teach a seminar, I always land the day before and pick up my groceries, or grab my meal for the next day in a known restaurant.
For example, in Spain, I like to order breakfast from El Rincón de Monge, the restaurant across the street. Jose Antonio, the owner, always did a great job cooking wild meats. In Dominican Republic my favorite place is Carne & Co, where I get a great beef carpaccio, sea salt, organic olive oil, and nuts to provide the healthy fats.
Don’t Fear the Fat!
Fat has been demonized for decades, “damaging” the health of a few generations. Now is back on the white side, which is a good thing since many high fat containing foods such as avocado, nuts, eggs, olives, organic butter, and seeds are great sources of many nutrients. Fat also plays an important role in increasing bioavailability of fat soluble vitamins and essential elements (alpha and beta-carotene, lycopene, amongst others). For instance, studies have shown that your body will absorb only about 10 percent of a vitamin E supplement when it is taken without fat.
What if you are allergic to nuts?
You can replace fat composition with any other form of healthy fat such as: avocado, organic goat butter, organic ghee, olive oil, coconut oil, and you can add a portion of berries or fruits with a low GI and low fructose content:
• Red or White Currant
Key points: Rotate & go grass fed and organic!
When I run food sensitivities panel with my clients, I often see that they have antibodies to the food they have consumed on a daily basis. Eggs, chicken, beef, whey, and oatmeal are the most common foods I find. That leads to higher inflammation and cortisol production, which are not your best friends for lean body composition and long-term health. If you already know that you are sensitive to any type of food, eliminate it from your diet for at least 3 months. To avoid food intolerance and sensitivities you simply need to plan properly by choosing at least 5 different sources of protein and 5 different type of nuts and rotate them during the week (see examples below).
Just as important as rotation, consuming grass-fed and organic meat is also paramount! First, its exposure to pesticides is significantly lower. It is also free of hormones and antibiotics that are found in conventionally raised animals. Third, grass fed meats have been found to provide higher levels of creatine, omega 3s, CLA, beta-carotene, carnitine and carnosine (5). For example, Conjugated Linoleic acid (CLA) is higher in grass-fed beef than in grain-fed cows. This fatty acid is, according to research, linked to lower inflammation, decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart diseases. Make sure that nuts, berries, and fruits are also organic. This is especially true for strawberries, as they are one of the most sprayed crops in the world and are at the top of the Dirty Dozen™by egw.org (6)
The little things that Count
I also like to consume a high-quality fish oil with my meat & nuts to regulate insulin response even more and improve cognitive function. If you want an extra boost for your brain, I’d suggest a cup of cold brew coffee with MCT oil and Lion’s mane mushroom after your breakfast.
5 Samples of Power Breakfast
You can add some non-starchy vegetables, tea, coffee, or herbal infusions to it. Milk, juices, and other beverages are NOT ALLOWED.
- Bison steak
- Handful of almonds
- Slow-roast lamb
- Handful of macadamia nuts
- Beef burgers
- Handful of pistachios
- Elk steak
- Handful of walnuts
- Deer patties
- Handful of pine nuts
Stay strong and healthy,
Coach Carlos Castro
Note: Special thanks to Alyona Medvedeva for all the research, fantastic recipes and beautiful pictures that made this article possible.
- 1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30968140
- 2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18679412
- 3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16373948
- 4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51788587
- 5. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/grass-fed-vs-grain-fed-beef
- 6. https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php
- 7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32321161/