Shopping in my local mall the other day (I was dragged in screaming and kicking by my lovely wife, Robin) I chanced on a Successories store. You know, these are the stores that sell everything under the sun that is motivational, except perhaps for cattle prods. I went in and started thumbing through the motivational posters that they had when I came across one that featured a picture of a lion. The saying underneath it said that:
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed…every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.”
Boy, that sure puts breakfast into a whole other perspective. I thought to myself.
Now you may not have to get up and kill your breakfast every morning, but if you aren’t eating the right things for breakfast, it sure is killing your chances of building a strong, muscular physique.
My mom is no sports nutritionist, but she was right when she stressed that breakfast was the most important meal of the day.
Breakfast Super-Charges your Metabolism
During the latter part of your sleep cycle, your body will begin to edge into a catabolic (tissue teardown) state, as it runs out of fuel from the last meal of the previous evening. It begins to tap stored fat for energy and muscles for amino acids. In short, your body is in a fasting state, where it hasn’t received nutrients in 6-8 hours or more.
To break this state, you must eat. That’s where the word breakfast comes from; “breaking the fast.”
To jump start your metabolism and get your body out of the catabolic state, you must ingest a healthy helping of high quality protein, energy-boosting complex carbs, and some healthy fats. I always start with the protein first. Protein is the main macronutrient needed to provide muscle-building amino acids to your body. Experienced bodybuilders often rely on that old standby, scrambled egg whites, to provide the 30-40 grams of high quality protein that they need. Egg whites are great if you have time, but they require some preparation time—you have to crack a dozen eggs, do the “egg white shuffle” with your fingers to get those viscous little whites to slide into the pan, then cook them for few minutes. Elapsed time? Perhaps 10 minutes, but if you’re like me, there are mornings when you just have to hit the ground running.
Low fat cottage cheese is another good choice as it is high in casein, a slow acting milk protein that sticks with you throughout the morning. Cottage cheese is fast, and tastes great with a little sliced fruit such as a banana.
My personal favorite is shaking up 30-40 grams of high quality protein powder into a delicious shake. Protein powder is easy for your body to absorb also, because mechanically, it’s already ground down to the finest particle size possible and dissolved in liquid. The result is that more of that protein powder makes contact with the acid and digestive enzymes in your gut, and you have a greater yield of amino acids. Since powder requires less digestion than other sources of protein, muscle-building amino acids can reach the blood and muscles quicker, immediately jump starting growth and repair.
One additional big benefit of protein drinks is taste and convenience. Whether you choose a protein powder such as ProV60®, an MRP (meal replacement powder) such as Lean Body® MRP, or an easy to use RTD (Ready to Drink) such as Lean Body® RTD, you can’t go wrong in terms of nutrition, ease and taste.
Complex Carbohydrates: the fuel of champions.
Carbohydrates have become a modern day whipping boy with the advent of low carb diets. However, there are some things you should know. First, not all carbohydrates are created equally.
Simple carbohydrates (sugar, dextrose in your creatine supplement, refined flour product such as bread, cake, and donuts, etc) are broken down quickly and elevate blood sugar. In response, your body secrets insulin, a powerful fat storage hormone, to bring your blood sugar level down to normal. This often results in an energy crash, as sugar is cleared. To make matters worse, the sudden excess of sugar triggers a biochemical cascade that results in fat deposition.
Complex carbs (oatmeal, bran, beans, whole grains, etc.) on the other hand, are broken down slowly by your body, keep your blood sugar stable, and therefore keep your insulin levels down. Complex carbs are considered to have a low “glycemic index,” a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate is broken down by your body into blood sugar.
Secondly, there are two times that you can ingest carbohydrates with little fear of getting fat: one is right after training. Can you guess when the other one is? Yes, at breakfast. Glycogen reserves can be extremely low in the morning. Glycogen (stored glucose from carbohydrates) inside your muscle tissue and liver are compromised when your food intake is too low in dietary carbohydrates. Glycogen is at its lowest point in the morning and blood sugar is low. Carbs ingested upon awaking work in conjunction with protein to drive amino acids into muscles, kick-starting the growth process, and increase glycogen stores. These two activities must take place before any left over carbs are deposited as fat.
I like the traditional bowl of oatmeal as my source of complex carbs at breakfast. The slow cooking kind can take 10 minutes or so of preparation. The one minute variety can be thrown into the blender with your protein drink. Whichever way you like it, it’s hard to beat oatmeal in the morning. For variety, try some whole grain cereals such as Bob’s 10-Grain— it’s delicious and nutritious. The beauty of whole grains is that in addition to being high in complex carbs, they are also a great source of fiber.
Fiber’s not just for your grandmother…
Fiber stabilizes blood sugar levels and further slows down the breakdown of carbohydrates. This contributes to keeping blood sugar and insulin levels stable. Slower-digesting carbs not only help you feel better, but they help you stay leaner. Fiber also creates bulk in your food, which facilitates faster gut motility keeps your intestines healthy.
Complex carbs such as oats, cream of rye cereal or low sugar whole grain bran muffins are exceptional choices of carbohydrate foods because they supply dense amounts of dietary fiber. As I mentioned earlier, when you’re pressed for time, it’s a hard to beat a protein drink for convenience. The only problem is that most protein powders don’t contain any fiber—in fact most will constipate you if you don’t consume enough fiber daily.
Fast solutions that work
The new Lean Body® Instant Whole Foods shake is the only source of protein and carbs I know of that also provides such a dense amount (7 grams) of soluble dietary fiber. It contains a healthy serving of complex carbs from slow- release natural grain sources including brown rice, oats, and rice bran, plus essential fatty acids (healthy fats) and 40 grams of time-release proteins to give your muscles a sustained flow of amino acids. It’s what I call a “whole food MRP.”
You can cook up a dozen scrambled egg whites, a cup of whole oats, and take a handful of vitamins in the morning, or you can simply tear open a packet of Lean Body® Instant Whole Food shake and throw in the blender with 2 cups of ice water and blend for a minute. For me, it’s fast and nutritious. Done!
Beefing up breakfast…
Breakfast and your post-training meal, can be called the “anti-catabolic” meals. The foods you eat at these two meals help to pull the body out of a potentially muscle-wasting state. “Catabolism” is just a fancy name for muscle loss. As mentioned before, when you sleep, the body often slips into catabolism and tears down muscle to be used as fuel. The same happens after training. Using a supplement containing the amino acid glutamine, along with the branched chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine can help bring catabolism to a grinding halt and get the body into a muscle building (anabolic) state. Glutamine can lower cortisol levels, a muscle wasting hormone that tends to rise while sleeping and training. Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) –especially leucine- have been shown to be anabolic. In fact, it’s often added to cattle feed to help increase size! Leucine actually increases the body’s ability to build muscle. Taking glutamine and branched chain amino acids upon waking with breakfast and after training, are important steps if you are trying to build lean muscle. You should take 5-10 grams of a high quality glutamine powder supplement such as GLUTALEAN™, along with 5-10 grams of branched chain amino acids with breakfast. Or, you can take a Lean Body Instant Whole Foods shake, which contains over 10 grams of glutamine and its precursor, glutamic acid, plus 9 grams of branched chain amino acids.
After training, take a 60 gram dose of high quality whey protein isolate to jump start your recuperation. Whey protein isolate (WPI) is absorbed very quickly compared to other proteins such as casein (another milk protein.) The fast uptake of amino acids resulting from the ingestion of WPI is what your muscles need right after a workout to reverse the catabolic (tissue breakdown) condition that immediately follows intense resistance training. Labrada’s PROV 60™ is an excellent choice.
Here are several pro bodybuilding breakfasts that you can use to start your day:
1 packet of Lean Body® Instant Whole Foods (bananas & cream, blueberries& cream, or cinnamon oatmeal) mixed in 16 ounces of ice water and blended for 1 minute.
Power yourself up for the day by eating a solid breakfast every morning. Eating the right breakfast will pay off in terms of faster muscle gains and abundant energy throughout the day. Like the lion in Africa, you either eat breakfast or you starve— in this case, your muscles!
Editor’s Note: Lee Labrada is a former IFBB Mr.Universe and IFFB Pro World Cup winner. Winner of 22 major bodybuilding titles, he is one of only four men in history to place in the top four in the Mr.Olympia seven consecutive times. In 2004, Lee was inducted into the IFBB Pro Bodybuilding Hall of Fame. Lee is also the mayoral-appointed fitness czar for the City of Houston, and CEO of Labrada Nutrition, an Inc.500 company. Lee’s “Mass with Class” workout video and “Get Lean” is available at www.labrada.com