The Power of Protein at Breakfast

Science supports the benefits of protein at breakfast; here, we provide the strategies.

protein at breakfast

Toast, bagels, oatmeal, and cold cereal. That’s the high-carb stuff of the typical American morning meal. Yet the latest research shows that including more protein at breakfast might provide many health benefits, including weight loss and preserving muscle tissue.

More Protein, Better Breakfast
Higher-protein breakfasts have been studied in teenagers and young adults and found to reduce subsequent hunger and calorie intake, and prevent gains in body fat. In another study, postmenopausal women getting 1.2 grams (g) per kilogram (kg) of protein a day experienced what the authors called “profound effects on metabolic function,” including 45 percent less muscle loss—a common side effect of low-calorie diets.

A third study found that 15 g of supplemental protein at breakfast and lunch resulted in improved muscle strength and physical function of a group of older adults. Combining higher-protein meals with physical activity may offer even more protection against loss of muscle mass.

How Much is Enough? For adults, the current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g per kg of body weight, which comes out to 55 g a day for a person weighing 150 pounds (68 kg). But several researchers have come to the conclusion that getting more protein (up to 1.2 g per kg) throughout the day, especially for older adults, and making breakfast a protein-rich meal, can have impressive health benefits.

Going with the 1.2 g/kg recommendation, that would be 82 g of protein a day for the same 150-pound person, which divided evenly over your day would be about 27 g
per meal. While we each have our own unique nutrient requirements, it’s a worthwhile goal to increase your protein intake at breakfast.

Get a Protein Punch in the Morning

An even distribution of protein throughout the day creates a much higher protein breakfast than most people consume. In fact, our breakfasts tend to have the lowest protein content overall, with lunch slightly more, and dinner with the highest protein content of all. For example, a breakfast consisting of a bowl of instant oatmeal, ¼ cup blueberries, and coffee with a splash of milk provides only seven grams of protein.

So, power up your breakfast with more protein-rich options, including lean proteins (eggs, tofu, turkey), dairy products (milk, cottage cheese, cheese, and yogurt), soymilk, nuts and seeds (pistachios, almonds, hemp seeds), and nut and seed butters (peanut or almond butter).

—Densie Webb, PhD, RD

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