Cognitive Fitness Chapter 3 – Did you have breakfast today?

Our latest research set out to discover the factors that most impact our cognitive performance – so we could guide organisations and individuals who wanted to adopt the best practices and provide the best conditions for our brains to do what they need to, every day. The research identified 13 factors and we are starting off with breakfast and nutrition!

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Why is breakfast and nutrition important?

When you were a kid, your mother probably told you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Well it turns out that research in cognitive performance confirms she was right! Breakfast has a high impact on your brain’s performance and cognitive ability.

Breakfast is particularly important because if you are asleep for 6+ hours then your supply of fluids, nutrients and sugars will have been depleted and so breakfast is the time to top them up.

Getting your recommended daily levels of vitamins and nutrients is harder if you regularly skip breakfast. If you wait until lunch, your brain could be waiting for over 12 hours for its top up of much needed nutrition! Studies of the human brain have demonstrated that the impairment of neurological functions such as motor skills (brain/physical interaction), information processing and memory are all linked to hypoglycaemia (lack of sugar) and under-nutrition.

The importance of breakfast nutrition isn’t a surprise to sports people. Sports scientists have known for some time that optimised nutrition can sustain work output and concentration over extended periods of high physical and mental stress. So in summary, breakfast significantly helps your memory and your ability to focus and concentrate.

So why do people skip breakfast and forget about their nutrition intake?

Some say they don’t have time, others aren’t hungry and some say they genuinely don’t feel like eating first thing in the morning. There can be lots of reasons for all of these and there is plenty of advice and ideas on the internet as you might imagine. Worryingly, one source we found claimed 25% of people skip breakfast at least once a week, and of those, nearly a third of women said they were too busy getting ready (often prioritising hair and clothes over eating), and many said they were trying to lose weight so jettisoned the idea of breakfast!

This seems to be a rather counterproductive route, however, as studies show that breakfast skippers tend to eat more during the day, when hunger gets the better of them. Breakfast choices that provide a satisfying start to the day (typically including some protein and foods with high nutritional value) tend to help people last until lunchtime by keeping a feeling of fullness and blunting the hunger pangs.
It’s also true that if we don’t sleep well, we can suffer with feelings of nausea and bloating in the morning – hardly the kind of state that encourages you to want to eat. Eating late at night can also reduce our morning appetite, so stopping eating a few hours before bed is also a good plan. Further, drinking a couple of glasses of water and remaining hydrated before bed can reduce the build-up of acid in stomach overnight, which can cause morning queasiness.

Whatever your reasons for skipping breakfast, realising how important it is should perhaps prompt you to see if there are things you can do to get your morning nutrition. Perhaps its by changing your habits and finding alternatives that work for you and your body.

What should we eat?

Apparently the nation’s favourite breakfast is a cooked one – although during the week, researchers have found that nearly 40% of people opt for cereals, presumably because they are quicker when everyone is trying to get to work or onto the school run (or both!).

Fortunately breakfast cereals these days are more appealing and convenient than the first one that was created in the 1860s. Made from heavy bran and graham nuggets, it had to be soaked overnight to render it chewable!
A ‘healthy breakfast’ with a good amount of nutrition should contain at least 5 grams of fibre, one serving of calcium (equal to a cup of milk or yogurt), and some protein and fat. Bear in mind that eggs contain high quality protein and tend to be satisfying, meaning you’ll be less tempted to snack during the day.

As always, a balanced diet is the aim – and while eggs contain cholesterol, the amount of saturated fat we eat has more effect on our blood cholesterol than what we get from eggs (according to NHS advice). So a greasy fry-up every day probably isn’t the best plan – while eggs cooked without added salt or fat are the healthiest option (frying your eggs increases their fat content by 50%). Also, try to limit added sugars to about 6 grams (1 teaspoon equals 4 grams).

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What about having breakfast in the office?

If you don’t have time to eat before you leave home, think about “grab and go” options to eat while traveling – or consider eating when you get to the office. Many modern offices have breakfast options available in their restaurants / cafes and some have formed breakfast clubs, encouraging people to eat together when they arrive in the office. This makes breakfast a sociable meal where people can connect with colleagues and get the day off to a good start. And we know from earlier research on productivity that if teams are ‘socially cohesive’ (i.e. people know each other and look out for each other) this is a good indicator that they will perform well. So making breakfast a social, team event ticks all the boxes!

Give your brain its best start to the day – have a great breakfast filled with nutrition!

Next time we’ll tell you all about the second factor – Hydration, so get a glass of water handy!

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