Breakfast is commonly talked about as being the most important meal of the day – the nutritional foundation upon which everything else is built. Unfortunately, most popular breakfast foods – cereals, pastries, waffles – are basically pure sugar, and they could be disrupting your workday focus. The sugar in these foods can cause your blood sugar to dramatically spike and then dip, leaving you feeling sluggish.

Whether your morning sugar buzz comes from a muffin or the sweeteners in your coffee, it’s time to reconsider what we think of as a nutritionally sound breakfast. Done right, breakfast will jumpstart your metabolism and give you the energy and concentration to power through the workday, but you’ll need to break some longstanding habits.

The Science Of Sugar

Unlike protein or foods that are high in fiber, the body absorbs sugar and simple carbohydrates quickly, setting off a series of biological processes. The first and prime action, though, is that the body releases insulin in order to help the body absorb the sugar. Unfortunately, this isn’t a precise process and the insulin can then cause the blood sugar to sink too low, leaving you feeling fatigued, dizzy, or shaky.

In the long term, the consequences of repeated blood sugar spikes can be even more severe. These cycles can damage neural connections, reducing short-term memory and slowing down communication between brain cells. Over the years, these sugar spikes can even cause brain inflammation, resulting in cell damage and death, increasing the risk for Alzheimer’s and similar cognitive decline.

The simple fact is that our bodies aren’t meant to consume all the sugars that we eat today. We evolved on low sugar diets, but Americans now eat as much as 150 to 180 pounds of sugar a year. It will take effort to move us back to our roots.

Assessing Your Day

To reform your diet for better focus, improved health, and increased productivity, it helps to understand how the structure of your day impacts your metabolism.

Many high-powered individuals find that the best way to start the day is with a workout, so if you really want a small serving of fruit and toast or oatmeal in the morning, before your workout is the time to do it. These high sugar foods fuel a workout without initiating a damaging cycle of insulin-driven inflammation. After your workout, a higher protein meal will help your body recover.

Build A Better Breakfast

At this point, we’ve constructed some ground rules for breakfast – sugar before workouts and high protein as the foundation of your day – but what’s really in a focus fueling meal? To build a better breakfast, start with key supplements like zinc, which extends insulin activity, and magnesium, a vital nutrient for blood sugar management. Adding an omega-3 fat can also reduce inflammation and help protect against insulin resistance.

Building on this base of supporting supplements, focusing on protein and low-glycemic index foods can help you build a better breakfast. Unsweetened Greek oatmeal is an excellent foundation for your breakfast, with 15 to 20 grams of protein. For added nutrition, you can toss in some nuts, flax seeds, or low glycemic index fruit like oranges, kiwis, or pears.

Though many people are worried about eggs contributing to high cholesterol, when consumed in moderation, they’re actually an ideal breakfast food. You can even hard boil some eggs in advance to grab as you run out the door.

Eat Better, Feel Better

When you start choosing a wiser breakfast, you’ll be surprised by how much better you feel during the workday. First, a high protein breakfast will keep you full longer, reducing the urge to snack during the day. Since most of us are inclined to choose sugary, high carb snacks, this helps to defuse yet another blood sugar spike before it happens.

Cutting back on sugar early in the day will also help prevent diet-driven anxiety and depression that follows on the tails of every blood sugar dip. For many driven individuals, anxiety only exacerbates a preexisting lack of focus, causing us to procrastinate and perseverate over the tasks in front of us. This can lead to stress snacking and ignite the sugar spike cycle yet again.

As you can see, making a better meal choice at the beginning of the day can be the answer to concentration problems throughout the day, preventing us from fueling ourselves with sugar each time we start to drag. So ditch the cereal and breakfast muffins and grab some Greek yogurt or eggs and get ready to work. That’s how you start the day smarter.