Your mom always told you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Of course, mom’s always right. But does the science back her recommendation up?
From an array of studies, scientists have demonstrated the efficacy of breakfast for a variety of health benefits. The number of these benefits also increase if that early morning meal is higher in protein, particularly in the form of a protein-dense shake.
Here is a running list that should give you more reasons to start every day with a nutritious, high-protein meal. Or, better yet, a protein-dense meal-replacement shake:
1. Improved Concentration and Memory
From large observational trials, mainly targeted toward children, breakfast is shown to be strongly associated with improved concentration and memory (1) Scientists suggest that this is due to breakfast’s immediate impact on blood sugar to fuel young brains (2,3).
In one of the largest systematic reviews that included more than 40 studies, eating breakfast compared to skipping breakfast was strongly associated with enhanced cognitive function, learning, and memory in adolescents and children (3). In addition, breakfast was linked to improved mood, reduced feelings of tiredness, and enhanced academic performance (3).
2. Improved Nutritional Status
Eating breakfast daily is consistently associated with having an improved nutritional status. The likely reason is because the morning meal compared to other meals generally consists of foods that are higher in protein, fiber, and vitamin and mineral content (4). These include whole-grain cereals, fruits and berries, and dairy products like milk or yogurt.
From another systematic review of more than 47 observational studies in children and adolescents, consistent breakfast eaters are associated with an improved overall nutritional status compared to their breakfast-skipping peers (4). Interestingly, the kids who ate breakfast consumed more calories daily compared to breakfast skippers, and yet were less likely to be overweight.
3. Improved Energy Expenditure
Here’s at least one explanation for why breakfast might have a positive impact on weight management – increased energy expenditure from physical activity. In a randomized controlled trial, scientists showed that eating breakfast led healthy adults to be more physically active and increased the likelihood that they would exercise during the day (5,6). That increased energy expenditure from physical activity may represent a notable burn of additional calories supporting weight management, although the researchers didn’t note an impact from breakfast on overall metabolism.
4. Improved Metabolism (with more protein)
More protein at breakfast could be the key to improving metabolism. In a long-term study on participants attempting to lose weight, a diet higher in protein (1.5 g/kg/d) versus a diet normal in protein (0.8g/kg/d) increased thermogenesis and energy expenditure after meals (7). In a short-term section of the same study, the scientists also evaluated the effects of a breakfast meal consisting of 30 percent protein on metabolism (7). They found that the high-protein breakfast led to improved metabolism, higher fat oxidation (fat burning), and lower perceived hunger throughout the day.
5. Improved Control of Hunger
A high-protein breakfast’s ability to satisfy hunger can have direct impacts on weight management. One randomized crossover trial compared eating a high-protein breakfast (35 g protein) with a normal-protein breakfast of equal calories (350 Kcal) and breakfast skipping in overweight late-adolescent girls. After 12 weeks, the study found that the girls who ate a higher-protein breakfast led to improved satiety and a reduction in reward-driven eating (8). Notably, the girls who ate breakfast higher in protein consumed fewer high-fat evening snacks and didn’t see any weight gain during the trial compared to the girls who skipped breakfast or ate a normal-protein breakfast (8).
6. Improved Blood Sugar Control
In another randomized controlled trial, scientists compared the impacts of three equal-calorie breakfasts – high-protein, high-fat, and high-carb – on the blood sugar of 20 healthy adults (9). After breakfast, the subjects followed up by eating a 50g piece of white bread or a glucose drink of equal calories. The researchers reported that only those who had consumed a high-protein breakfast had an attenuated postprandial rise in glycemic response (9).
7. Improved Muscle Maintenance
A daily high-protein breakfast also helps adults with maintaining more muscle as they get older. Because of a blunted anabolic response that comes with age, scientists suggest that older adults should consume meals containing 30 to 40 grams of protein three times a day to maximally stimulate muscle synthesis (10). Breakfast represents an important target for intervention for older adults because lunch and dinner are typically when adults consume most of their daily protein.
8. Improve Sleep During Weight Loss
Finally, a higher protein intake supplemented with a protein-dense shake in the morning can help protect against the sleeplessness caused during a weight loss regimen, according to the findings of two recent randomized controlled trials. The first trial found that overweight adults who get more protein earlier in the day got to sleep earlier and had fewer waking episodes during the night (11). A follow-up pilot trial also demonstrated that a whey-based shake consumed at breakfast led to better satiety and sleep efficiency, which is a combination of falling asleep earlier, total sleep time, and perceived sleep quality (12).
Rest easy! As it turns out, science suggests breakfast is still the most important meal of the day. But for best results, make it a portion-controlled meal higher in protein. This is most conveniently achieved with a protein-packed shake.
- Hoyland A, Dye L, Lawton CL. A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents. Nutrition Research Reviews. 2009. p. 220–43.
- Benton D, Parker PY. Breakfast, blood glucose, and cognition. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;67.
- Cooper SB, Bandelow S, Nevill ME. Breakfast consumption and cognitive function in adolescent schoolchildren. Physiol Behav. 2011;103:431–9.
- Rampersaud GC, Pereira MA, Girard BL, Adams J, Metzl JD. Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2005. p. 743–60.
- Chowdhury EA, Richardson JD, Holman GD, Tsintzas K, Thompson D, Betts JA. The causal role of breakfast in energy balance and health: A randomized controlled trial in obese adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;103:747–56.
- Betts JA, Richardson JD, Chowdhury EA, Holman GD, Tsintzas K, Thompson D. The causal role of breakfast in energy balance and health: A randomized controlled trial in lean adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;100:539–47.
- Leidy HJ, Mattes RD, Campbell WW. Effects of acute and chronic protein intake on metabolism, appetite, and ghrelin during weight loss. Obesity. 2007;15:1215–25.
- Leidy HJ, Ortinau LC, Douglas SM, Hoertel HA. Beneficial effects of a higher-protein breakfast on the appetitive, hormonal, and neural signals controlling energy intake regulation in overweight/obese, “breakfast-skipping,” late-adolescent girls. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;97:677–88.
- Meng H, Matthan NR, Ausman LM, Lichtenstein AH. Effect of prior meal macronutrient composition on postprandial glycemic responses and glycemic index and glycemic load value determinations. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;106:1246–56.
- Mamerow MM, Mettler J a, English KL, Casperson SL, Arentson-lantz E, Sheffield-moore M, Layman DK, Paddon-jones D. Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults 1 – 3. J Nutr [Internet]. 2014;876–80. Available from: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/144/6/876.full.pdf+html
- Zhou J, Kim JE, Armstrong CLH, Chen N, Campbell WW. Higher-protein diets improve indexes of sleep in energy-restricted overweight and obese adults: Results from 2 randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;103:766–74.
- Gwin JA, Leidy H. The A pilot study assessing whether the consumption of a protein-rich breakfast improves appetite control, eating behavior, and sleep quality compared to skipping breakfast in healthy young professionals. FASEB J. April 2017:31(1)443.1. Available at: http://www.fasebj.org/content/31/1_Supplement/443.1.abstract?sid=3d9eb573-60f4-4470-b7b1-a889ff198e28