High protein intake in the morning at breakfast can be especially helpful for athletes, people aiming to lose weight, people with blood sugar and metabolic issues, people under high levels of stress, the elderly and the chronically ill. The importance of high-protein intake for each of these groups was covered in "Who requires higher levels of protein intake?”
At TSTM we advise our clients to shoot for a minimum of 40-65g of protein at breakfast, which is quite a bit. Most animal sources of protein are between 23-35g of protein per 100g, meaning you will need to eat 170-285g for breakfast (depending on body weight and goals). It is quite a bit more than you would get from eating two eggs (6-7g protein each), for example. You would need to add some fish or meat to the breakfast plate in order to reach these targets.
Why eat a high protein breakfast?
A high-protein breakfast has a stabilising effect on blood sugar for the rest of the day. Consuming refined carbs (bread, cereals, pastries) with very little fat and protein causes blood sugar levels to spike and high levels of insulin are released. This high level of insulin eventually causes insulin resistance, which leads to Type 2 Diabetes if poor dietary practices continue. Studies have shown that these impacts can be reversed through a healthy diet that balances your blood sugar. [1,3]
Research presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes’ annual meeting may reverse that trend, as it’s found that a protein-laden diet regimen may help type 2 diabetes patients improve their blood sugar levels . Over the course of six weeks, 37 participants diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were fed either a diet high in animal protein or plant protein. While the animal diet consisted of a combination of meat and dairy foods, the plant diet was bereft of any animal product, although both diets included the same number of calories.
Researchers measured each participant’s blood sugar levels and liver fat before and after the experiment to see if there were any changes from the diet intervention. Both groups saw an improvement in their blood sugar (glucose) levels and liver fat, but only those who were part of the animal protein group experienced an improvement in insulin sensitivity.
Many clients believe that they are not hungry at breakfast time and go stupid on the idea that intermittent fasting (IF) every day is healthy (NOT). No being hungry at "breaking-the-fast" time indicates that you may suffer slow digestion due to low stomach acids. It can also be a sign that your stress hormones are not in sync with your circadian rhythm. Skipping breakfast increases the production of stress hormones and starts to break down lean muscle (not fat – muscle!) to use for energy. It’s a very stressful situation for the body and wreaks havoc on blood sugar balance and energy levels for the rest of the day.
Stress increases our cravings for sugary foods and stress also acts directly on increasing abdominal fat storage (Dallman, 2003). Eat breakfast before or after exercising depending on your health status and goals. Skipping breakfast can be a useful tool for optimising fat metabolism during your morning workout, but it may also spike cortisol levels. As usual, one man’s food is another man's poison, and there is no one-size-fits-all diet. What works for one person can be a disaster for another person’s health.
Burning body fat is beneficial to our health, but large rises in cortisol are not. Overloading the body with stress has negative impacts on your health, performance and longevity, skipping meals adds another layer of stress into the already stressful lives of most people. IF does not work for everyone and if you would like to know more you should listen to Chris Kresser podcast here.
“The first thing you put in your mouth in the morning…provided it is food…dictates all neurotransmitters for the whole day.” Charles Poliquin. What you eat for breakfast sets up your entire neurotransmitter production for the day. What you eat, or don’t eat, in the morning is essential to your attention span, concentration and your performance throughout the day. If we have low dopamine, we will generally be fatigued, have trouble with numbers, low libido, and decreased short term memory. Low norepinephrine causes depression, decreased ambition, and dependence on stimulants such as caffeine. Too much norepinephrine and we get panic and insomnia. Too little protein in the diet can also cause depletion due to some of the neurotransmitters being made up of amino acids.
"A hierarchy has been observed for the satiating efficacies of the macronutrients protein, carbohydrate and fat, with protein as most satiating and fat as least satiating” . Protein has taken centre stage as the high satiety food constitute because of considerable experimental and real-world research indicating that increasing the protein composition of the diet without changing net energy can lead to enhanced feelings of satiety . Possible physiological mechanisms underlying this effect include diet induced thermogenesis  and gastrointestinal hormonal signalling , while two recent studies indicated that the sensory experience of ingesting protein is also important . Randomised trials of high protein diets on weight management provide evidence that these types of eating plans can support longer-term weight loss [9,10, 11) and potentially aid future weight maintenance [12,14]
A randomised trial in 2015 with three different groups assigned 57 breakfast-skipping teens to a cereal-based breakfast (13g protein), an “egg-and-beef rich” breakfast (35g protein), or to continue skipping breakfast. They found that the egg-and-beef breakfast led to voluntary reductions in daily food intake and reduced reported daily hunger. It also prevented fat mass gains over the 12-week study. (17)
Remember, protein powders are often not a healthy option. Both plant-based and dairy-based protein powders provide poor quality protein and have zero fatty acid and co-factors that are required to properly utilise protein. One small exception to this is grass-fed collagen hydrolysate, which is gelatine and dissolves instantly in hot or cold beverages. You can supplement your protein intake with amino acids, but they should not replace whole-food sources of animal proteins, athletes often require higher levels of protein intake and amino acids around training are an easy option.
We run into problems when we consume poor quality macronutrients and/or consume them out of proportion. Too much protein without healthy fats, for example, can deplete fat-soluble vitamins A and D. Consume a healthy source of protein, carbohydrate and fat at each meal to balance your blood sugar.
One easy way to start your day is with homemade Paleo burgers (beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, pork, or even game meats). I’ll give you some more ideas in my next post.
Are you interested in trying an experiment? If so, plan to eat a high-protein breakfast for a week and see how good you feel.
A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes, William S Yancy, Jr, et al., 2005
Metabolic and molecular effects of a high-protein diet in subjects with type 2 diabetes, M, Markov, et al.,2015
Isocaloric Diets High in Animal or Plant Protein Reduce Liver Fat and Inflammation in Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes, Mariya Markova, et al., 2017
Macronutrient profile affects diet-induced thermogenesis and energy intake, Hermsdorff HH, et al., 2007
Protein, weight management, and satiety, D Paddon-Jones, et al., 2008
The Effects of High Protein Diets on Thermogenesis, Satiety and Weight Loss: A Critical Review, Thomas L. Halton, et al., 2004
Protein-induced satiety: Effects and mechanisms of different proteins, M.Veldhorst, et al., 2008
Perceived thickness and creaminess modulates the short-term satiating effects of high-protein drinks, Emma J. Bertenshaw, et al., 2013
Higher Protein Intake Preserves Lean Mass and Satiety with Weight Loss in Pre‐obese and Obese Women, Heather J. Leidy, et al., 2007
A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations, David S Weigle, et al., 2005
High protein intake sustains weight maintenance after body weight loss in humans, M S Westerterp-Plantenga, et al., 2004