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How many calories should you really eat for breakfast?

31st July 19 - 8 minute read

Headshot of James Hudson

Performance Nutritionist at Nutrition in Sport

Our expert:
James Hudson, Performance Nutritionist at Nutrition in Sport. James played Premiership Rugby for Gloucester, as well as lining up for London Irish, Newcastle Falcons and England Saxons. He has a degree and masters in biochemistry from the University of Bath and has completed the International Olympic Committee’s Diploma in Sports Nutrition. He is currently working towards a PhD at Liverpool John Moores University.

What’s in this article:

  • How many calories is right for breakfast?
  • Cutting calories at breakfast
  • Low calorie breakfast ideas

You’re mum probably told you that breakfast was the most important meal of the day – but is this age-old maxim true? We know what you eat and how many calories you get can impact the effectiveness of your morning fuel – but is there a magic formula for getting breakfast ‘right’? Whether you’re looking to start the day right or cut calories during your morning meal, read on to discover how to make the most of breakfast time.


At a glance:

  • Cut calories at breakfast by opting for protein and fibre-rich foods
  • Sugary cereals don’t offer much in the way of long-term fuel
  • Missing breakfast is ok as long as it’s an active choice

How many calories is right for breakfast?

You probably know your daily recommended calorie intake is either 2,500 for men or 2,000 for women¹. But how much of this should you allocate to a healthy breakfast? Assuming you’re not going to get your main energy fix first thing in the morning, we suggest a typical breakfast should be around the 400-500 calorie level. This gives you enough fuel for the morning, without overloading you with calories you’re unlikely to burn off before lunch.

But like most dietary issues, it’s not so straight forward. It’s not just a matter of counting calories – but also of the type of energy you consume. A healthy breakfast should be filled with high-protein, high-fibre wholefoods. Not only are these rich in essential nutrients and vitamins, they’re more likely to keep you feeling fuller for longer – great to stop you from reaching for unhealthy snacks.

Many of the foods more common breakfast foods – like cereal, pastries and fry-ups - don’t offer much in the way of a balanced diet. They can be high in fat and sugars, but low in protein and slow burning carbs – not a great combo as this can cause energy spikes that could leave you hungry come mid-morning.

Need to know: A breakfast off around 400-500 calories should be made up of high-protein, high-fibre wholefoods.


Cutting calories at breakfast

Eating a high-protein, high-fibre breakfast like eggs with wholemeal toast or yogurt with nuts and fruit could prevent you snacking throughout the day. But it’s important to choose the right foods for your morning meal.

That said, it’s still possible to cut calories at breakfast for those looking to lose weight or aiming for a low-calorie intake across the day. Here are a few methods for chopping calories at breakfast time:

  • Ditch sugary breakfast cereals and pre-flavoured porridge for simple oats you can cook yourself. Throw some oats and milk into the microwave for a couple of minutes, then sprinkle with nuts, seeds and berries for a quick and healthy breakfast.
  • Eggs are a good source of protein², with around 12.5g per 100g. A couple of 40g eggs with give you 10g of protein – or nearly a fifth to a quarter of your daily intake, depending on whether you’re a man or women³. Boil or poach for a low-fat breakfast.
  • High protein yogurt is packed with around 10g of protein per 100g, making it more filling than other, more traditional yogurts.
  • Avoid extravagant coffees on the way to work, making your own filter coffee at home. High street coffees like lattes and frappes are often filled with sugar and fat – up to 300 calories per cup and 8g of fat.
  • Try and avoid sugar altogether. Natural sugar, such as that found in a piece of fruit, can be a healthy part of your breakfast meal. Just don’t add a spoonful of the stuff to your tea and steer clear of pastries and breakfast cereals.

Can I miss breakfast completely?

While fuelling your body correctly for the day ahead is important, it isn’t vital that your first meal be in the morning. But don’t think you can easily cut calories by skipping breakfast.

Nutritionist James Hudson, who knows how important a balanced diet is from his rugby days, says: “Breakfast is no more or less important than any other meal of the day. Some people simply don’t get hungry in the morning.

“The issue is when you’re skipping breakfast either as part of a diet or out of habit, or eating a low-nutrient, low-calorie breakfast like a slice of toast with jam. This often leads to mid-morning snacking.”

Need to know: Cut calories from your breakfast by avoiding foods with a high-sugar content. Make breakfast at home so you can better control your calorie, sugar and fat intake.

Low calorie breakfast ideas

Set yourself up for the day by ensuring your breakfast is rich in protein and fibre. Even if you opt for foods on the lower-end of the calorie scale, going for slow release energy will keep you feeling fuller for longer and prevent any pre-lunch snacking.

“If you eat a good breakfast – filled with protein, is low GI and is high fibre – then you’re less likely to make poor food choices later in the day,” says James.


Breakfast ideas under 500 calories

A 400 to 500 calorie breakfast is the good size - but it’s important to be eating the right foods, rather than just filling up the calorie counter.

Scrambled eggs with avocado - or tofu for a vegan-friendly version - provides a protein-rich start to the day that’s full of healthy mono-unsaturated fats and B-vitamins. Eggs are a great source of Vitamin B12 and are one of the only foods in which Vitamin D is naturally found – ideal for snacking on during those dark winter months.

Prioritising protein in your breakfast can reduce cravings and empty-calorie snacking come the afternoon. If you’re keen to cut out the crisps or daily chocolate bar during your post-lunch slump, opt for a reasonably sized breakfast focused on muscle growth and protein power.

With a 500-calorie breakfast, it’s fine if you incorporate a little meat or fat-based dairy foods, such as cheese – but go small with the portion size and opt for low-fat, low-sodium cuts when considering bacon or ham.


Breakfast Parfaits

A protein-packed homemade parfait provides a simple, nutritious breakfast for those on the go. These one-pot meals can be left in the fridge overnight, giving you a tasty start to the day you can grab on your way out the door or sling into your gym bag.

Build your parfait on a base of low-fat yogurt or quark, filling out the rest of the Mason jar with a handful of mixed berries, a sprinkle of walnuts and some cooked oats.


Breakfast ideas under 250 calories

A small bowl of porridge can be a great option when it comes to a 250-calorie breakfast. Oats are a slow release grain packed full of vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.¹⁰

If you want to build your bowl out beyond a 250-calorie breakfast, top your porridge with fresh fruit or creamy yogurt for an added vitamin and protein boost. Chopped banana or a handful of mixed berries are tasty options that’ll have you on the way to your five-a-day.

If you’ve got time - and fancy flexing your cooking muscles first thing - two poached eggs with a handful of steamed spinach is a low-carb meal that clocks in at under 250 calories . Not only is this a calorie-light meal, both eggs and spinach are rich in folate¹².

Folate - also known as folic acid - is a nutrient essential to the production of red and white blood cells and the conversion of carbs into fuel for your body. One cup of spinach with two eggs will provide as much as 27%¹³ of your RDI of folate.

Need to know: Aim for nutrient-rich, natural breakfast items such as eggs, avocados and porridge oats for tasty alternatives that will leave you feeling fuller for longer and keep your heart happy.


In summary:

Ditch the cereal and fry-ups for more balanced breakfasts that clock in around 400 to 500 calories. Yogurts, porridge and eggs are all good bases on which to build exciting and tasty meals – adding in fruit, veg, and more to give it a bit of a zing. If you do skip breakfast, make sure you’re eating something healthy mid-morning when the hunger pangs kick in.


[1] https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/what-should-my-daily-intake-of-calories-be/

[2] https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?start=4

[3] https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?start=2

[4] https://www.arlafoods.co.uk/brands/arla-skyr/

[5] https://www.arlafoods.co.uk/products-overview/arla-protein-mango-pouch-200g-57745/

[6] https://www.starbucks.com/menu/catalog/nutrition?drink=espresso#view_control=nutrition

[7] https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?start=4

[8] https://www.egginfo.co.uk/egg-nutrition-and-health/egg-nutrition-information/vitamins-and-minerals

[9] https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-13-80

[10] https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/cereal-grains-and-pasta/5708/2

[11] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/167942/Nutrient_analysis_of_fruit_and_vegetables_-_Summary_Report.pdf

[12] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/167942/Nutrient_analysis_of_fruit_and_vegetables_-_Summary_Report.pdf

[13] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/167942/Nutrient_analysis_of_fruit_and_vegetables_-_Summary_Report.pdf

Headshot of James Hudson

Performance Nutritionist at Nutrition in Sport

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