What You Need to Know About Eating in the Morning

What a nutritionist wants you to know about what you eat — and when.

October 13, 2022


Photo by: Westend61/Getty


While many say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, eating a healthful meal in the morning is about a lot more than just weight management and kickstarting your metabolism. Hormonal fluctuations and energy levels are also very affected by not just what you eat, but when. Whether you love a hearty balanced meal first thing in the AM or would rather opt for a cup of black coffee, here’s what you should know about your morning meal preferences.

First, Do I Need to Eat Breakfast?

The answer is still and will remain: Breakfast is pretty much always a good idea. While there is some data to support you may not need to eat breakfast, eating even a little something in the morning can help with energy levels, blood sugar control, cognitive function and overall mood. A study published in 2021 also connected the morning meal to reduced risk of chronic illnesses including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Keep in mind that skipping breakfast may also contribute to nutrient deficiencies as that morning meal is not just a way to jumpstart your day with calories, it’s also another opportunity to get the nutrients your body needs for overall health and wellness.

How Soon Do I Need to Eat Breakfast?

Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone and helps to manage metabolism, blood pressure and other fight-or-flight mechanisms. Cortisol levels are typically highest in the morning and decline as the day goes on. Eating soon after you wake up helps cortisol levels make their natural decline, leaving you feeling less stressed and ready to take on the day.

Do Beverages Count as Breakfast?

High-sugar beverages such as soda, sweetened black coffee or tea, and juices are not recommended on an empty stomach, especially first thing in the morning as the concentrated dose of sugar can spike blood sugar levels. When consumed along with a balanced meal, the blood sugar response to these sweetened drinks will be less drastic. As for coffee, you may not want to drink it on an empty stomach, especially if you are prone to stomach upset.

What About Water?

From medical professionals to social media influencers, it seems like everyone touts the benefits of drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning. From combating bad breath to weight loss, it is hypothesized that more water can make a difference, but sufficient evidence is lacking. Data suggests that most folks do not drink enough water, especially in the morning, so making a glass of water part of your morning routine certainly won’t hurt your efforts towards a healthier lifestyle. Just remember, it’s not a “cure all.”

What Makes the Best Breakfast Foods?

Meals, including breakfast, benefit from balance. A mix of fiber-rich carbs, protein and healthy fats are the goal – make sure all macros are represented! Protein at the morning meal is typically the hardest macro box to check, but eggs, low fat dairy, peanut butter and nuts and seeds can all help you get in that hunger-fighting protein.

What’s the Worst Breakfast?

When trying to build a healthy breakfast, shy away from unhealthy calorie bombs like fried foods, heavy sauces and processed meats. Syrup-drenched foods like diner-style French toast or pancakes should be reserved for the occasional breakfast treat.

Balanced Breakfast Recipes to Try

Trying to decide what to make for breakfast? Some of the best options include traditional oatmeal, overnight oats or energy bites for fiber, protein and fruit. If you prefer eggs, try a simple scramble with veggies or a portable breakfast burrito. If you find you have trouble stomaching solid food in the morning, opt for a smoothie with nut butter or protein powder to amp up the grams of protein. Below are five recipes to try.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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