In North America, many of our breakfast foods are based on carbohydrates, such as toast and jam and sugary cereals. But protein first thing in the morning — and throughout the day — is important for maintaining energy levels, promoting lean muscle mass and staying strong.
Adding some protein to your breakfast helps you feel satiated and slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, says registered dietitian Jennifer Sygo.
“Carbohydrates are not bad, but they can trigger a rapid spike in blood sugar followed by a crash. With protein, you get a more even breakdown of carbs and don’t necessarily get that spike and crash. That translates to feeling more satisfied.”
Whole grains are a better choice than refined grains, since they have a high fiber content and help contribute to satiety. Protein can also help stave off those mid-morning hunger pains. “You don’t want to eat your breakfast and feel like you’re starving an hour later,” says Sygo. Plus, she adds, people naturally eat less at lunch if they have protein in the morning compared to a carbs-only breakfast.
Boosting the protein content of common breakfast foods doesn’t have to be difficult. “If you’re a toast-or-bagel type, instead of having two slices, split that in half and put peanut butter or cheese on it and have a glass of milk on the side,” says Sygo. The simple act of making oatmeal with milk, and topping with almonds or hemp seeds, can add some protein. A few tablespoons of powdered milk can also add a protein boost to breakfast.
Having protein throughout the day — such as a piece of cheese or ¾ cup of yogurt — is a better approach than a single blast of protein at dinner. Researchers have found that consuming moderate amounts of protein over the course of a day may be better for muscle growth, energy levels and nutrient intake.
Consuming most of our daily protein at dinner keeps our muscles from growing and repairing themselves as well as they could. Research shows that people should consume about 30 grams of protein at each meal, called the 30-30-30 Protein Rule. Incorporating more milk products at breakfast and lunch is a good way to add high-quality protein.
While following the 30-30-30 Protein Rule helps keep energy levels high by sustaining blood sugar for several hours, researchers have found it also helps us make the most of the protein we consume. Getting too little protein at breakfast and lunch forces the body to take what it needs from muscle mass. Since the body can only use so much protein at a time, eating large amounts at dinner creates an excess that can’t all be used to build and maintain muscles.
That means it’s better to spread out your protein consumption throughout the day. And it starts with a balanced, protein-rich breakfast.
Looking to boost the protein content of your breakfast? Here are some easy ways to add protein-packed foods:
- Add muesli or granola to Greek yogurt and top with sliced fruit.
- Have toast with peanut butter, a glass of milk and a piece of fruit.
- Add a dollop of cottage cheese and diced fruit to whole-wheat waffles.
- Make oatmeal with milk instead of water, and add dried fruit and nuts.
- Swap your regular coffee or tea for a latte or chai latte.