Breakfasts to Improve Performance at School/ Work
Here are some facts and information about breakfasts to improve performance and how to choose the right foods to eat in the morning to make the most of the work or school day.
“Breakfast” means just that: break the overnight fast. Eating breakfast allows you to restock the energy that has been depleted overnight and begin the day with a tank full of the right fuel. Sending yourself to work or your child to school without breakfast is like trying to use a cordless power tool without ever recharging the battery. If you don’t refuel your child’s body in the morning after an overnight fast, the child has to draw fuel from its own energy stores until lunchtime. The stress hormones necessary to mobilize these energy reserves may leave the child feeling irritable, tired, and unable to learn or behave well.
Throughout the brain, biochemical messengers called neurotransmitters help the brain make the right connections. Food influences how these neurotransmitters operate. The more balanced the breakfast, the more balanced the brain function.
Types of proteins that affect neurotransmitters:
1) Neurostimulants, such as proteins containing tyrosine, affecting the alertness transmitters dopamine and norepinephrine
2) Calming proteins that contain tryptophan, which relaxes the brain. A breakfast with the right balance of both stimulating and calming foods starts the child off with a brain that is primed to learn and emotions prepared to behave. Eating complex carbohydrates along with proteins helps to usher the amino acids from these proteins into the brain, so that the neurotransmitters can work better.
Complex carbohydrates and proteins act like biochemical partners for enhancing learning and behavior. This biochemical principle is called “synergy,” meaning that the combination of two nutrients works better than each one singly, sort of like 1 + 1 = 3.
If your hectic household has a morning rush hour like the one in our home, you may feel that you don’t have time for a healthy breakfast (See School-Ade Breakfast-On-the-Run Smoothie). But consider what studies have shown:
- Breakfast eaters are likely to achieve higher grades, pay closer attention, participate more in class discussions, and manage more complex academic problems than breakfast skippers.
- Breakfast skippers are more likely to be inattentive, sluggish, and make lower grades.
- Breakfast skippers are more likely to show erratic eating patterns throughout the day, eat less nutritious foods, and give into junk-food cravings. They may crave a mid- morning sugar fix because they can’t make it all the way to lunchtime on an empty fuel tank.
- Some children are more vulnerable to the effects of missing breakfast than others. The effects on behavior and learning as a result of missing breakfast or eating a breakfast that is not very nutritious vary from child to child.
- Whether or not children eat breakfast affects their learning, but so does what they eat. Children who eat a breakfast containing both complex carbohydrates and proteins in equivalent amounts of calories tend to show better learning and performance than children who eat primarily a high protein or a high carbohydrate breakfast. Breakfasts high in carbohydrates with little protein seem to sedate children rather than stimulate their brain to learn.
- Children eating high calcium foods for breakfast (e.g., dairy products) showed enhanced behavior and learning.
- Morning stress increases the levels of stress hormones in the bloodstream. This can affect behavior and learning in two ways. First, stress hormones themselves can bother the brain. Secondly, stress hormones such as cortisol increase carbohydrate craving throughout the day. The food choices that result may affect behavior and learning in children who are sensitive to the ups and downs of blood sugar levels. Try to send your child off to school with a calm attitude, as well as a good breakfast.
- Breakfast sets the pattern for nutritious eating throughout the rest of the day. When children miss breakfast to save time or to cut calories, they set themselves up for erratic binging and possibly overeating the rest of the day.
If you want your child, or even yourself, to rise and shine rather than limp along sluggishly at school or work all morning, make sure the day gets off to a nutritious start (See Healthy Breakfast Recipes).
Dr. Sears, or Dr. Bill as his “little patients” call him, has been advising busy parents on how to raise healthier families for over 40 years. He received his medical training at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the world’s largest children’s hospital, where he was associate ward chief of the newborn intensive care unit before serving as the chief of pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, a teaching hospital of the University of Toronto. He has served as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, University of South Carolina, University of Southern California School of Medicine, and University of California: Irvine. As a father of 8 children, he coached Little League sports for 20 years, and together with his wife Martha has written more than 40 best-selling books and countless articles on nutrition, parenting, and healthy aging. He serves as a health consultant for magazines, TV, radio and other media, and his AskDrSears.com website is one of the most popular health and parenting sites. Dr. Sears has appeared on over 100 television programs, including 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, Today, The View, and Dr. Phil, and was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in May 2012. He is noted for his science-made-simple-and-fun approach to family health.