By: Paul Arciero, Ph.D., FACSM, FTOS
Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? There continues to be enormous media attention and controversy surrounding the topic. In fact, it’s one of the “hottest” nutrition topics that affects all of us on our journey to optimal health and fitness. Unfortunately, the truth of whether breakfast is an important start to a productive day is often missed or neglected.
Despite a flurry of recent news articles suggesting that breakfast eaters are not healthier than breakfast skippers, research suggests that the answer to this question is more complex than that. As a definition of “healthier,” we mean improved body weight control and body composition management and in some cases better brain power and mental performance.
First, most of the published research on the topic of breakfast and health has compared only two conditions: 1) skipping breakfast or 2) eating a high-carbohydrate breakfast. As you would expect, the condition of skipping breakfast often resulted in more favorable health outcomes because starting your day with a stomach and body full of sugar is not good! Thus, the news reports summarized that eating breakfast is overrated and less healthy than skipping it altogether.
Fortunately, more well-controlled recent studies have incorporated a third condition – eating a breakfast rich in protein – to allow for a comparison of the “quality” of the breakfast meal. The overwhelming conclusion shows that a quality breakfast rich in protein is indeed healthier than skipping or indulging in a typical high-carbohydrate breakfast, especially for improved blood sugar control (1-3).
While most of the studies have focused on weight control and body composition, a limited, but growing body of research is measuring cognitive and academic performance as well. A summary of the findings from these studies also supports a reduced consumption of simple carbohydrates for improved cognitive performance (4).
Therefore, the take-away message is this: If you’re going to eat breakfast, make it a balanced meal that’s rich in protein. The goal is to consume 20-40 grams of quality protein in each meal, especially breakfast, to provide significant health and performance benefits.
As part of a Protein PacingSM protocol, it’s best to have a protein-dense meal within an hour of waking up for maximal benefits. The No. 1 reason for this is that your body is in a state of protein breakdown by the time you wake in the morning following an overnight fast, and this is not an ideal environment to preserve and build healthy lean muscle mass. Nor does it support our brains! Starting your day with a protein-rich meal initiates muscle protein synthesis to help maintain and start to build healthy lean muscle mass and to support brain function (5-9).
Remember, Protein PacingSM has been shown to support maintaining a healthy body weight and ideal body composition as well as cognitive performance (5-9), and it all starts first thing in the morning at breakfast – your Morning Muscle Maximizer.
- Samkani A, Skytte MJ, Kandel D, Kjaer S, Astrup A, Deacon CF, Holst JJ, Madsbad S, Rehfeld JF, Haugaard SB, Krarup T. A carbohydrate-reduced high-protein diet acutely decreases postprandial and diurnal glucose excursions in type 2 diabetes patients. Br J Nutr. 2018 Apr;119(8):910-917. doi: 10.1017/S0007114518000521.
- Palacios OM, Edirisinghe I, Wilcox ML, Burton-Freeman B, Xiao D, Maki KC. A Lean Pork-Containing Breakfast Reduces Hunger and Glycemic Response Compared to a Refined Carbohydrate-Containing Breakfast in Adults with Prediabetes. J Am Coll Nutr. 2018 May-Jun;37(4):293-301. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2017.1396266. Epub 2018 Feb 9.
- Ramsay SA, Bloch TD, Marriage B, Shriver LH, Spees CK, Taylor CA. Skipping breakfast is associated with lower diet quality in young US children. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2018 Apr;72(4):548-556. doi: 10.1038/s41430-018-0084-3. Epub 2018 Jan 24.
- Edefonti V, Rosato V, Parpinel M, Nebbia G, Fiorica L, Fossali E, Ferraroni M, Decarli A, Agostoni C. The effect of breakfast composition and energy contribution on cognitive and academic performance: a systematic review. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 100, Issue 2, 1 August 2014, Pages 626–656, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.114.083683
- Arciero PJ, Edmonds RC, Bunsawat K, Gentile CL, Ketcham C, Darin C, Renna M, Zheng Q, Zhang JZ, Ormsbee MJ. Protein-Pacing from Food or Supplementation Improves Physical Performance in Overweight Men and Women: The PRISE 2 Study. Nutrients. 2016 May 11;8(5)
- Arciero PJ, Edmonds R, He F, Ward E, Gumpricht E, Mohr A, Ormsbee MJ, Astrup A. Protein-Pacing Caloric-Restriction Enhances Body Composition Similarly in Obese Men and Women during Weight Loss and Sustains Efficacy during Long-Term Weight Maintenance. Nutrients. 2016 Jul 30;8(8).
- Arciero PJ, Gentile CL, Pressman R, Everett M, Ormsbee MJ, Martin J, Santamore J, Gorman L, Fehling PC, Vukovich MD, Nindl BC. Moderate protein intake improves total and regional body composition and insulin sensitivity in overweight adults. Metabolism. 2008 Jun;57(6):757-65.
- Arciero PJ, Baur D, Connelly S, Ormsbee MJ. Timed-daily ingestion of whey protein and exercise training reduces visceral adipose tissue mass and improves insulin resistance: the PRISE study. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2014 Jul 1;117(1):1-10
- Arciero PJ, Ormsbee MJ, Gentile CL, Nindl BC, Brestoff JR, Ruby M. Increased protein intake and meal frequency reduces abdominal fat during energy balance and energy deficit. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Jul;21(7):1357-66