The Important Nutrient Your Breakfast Is Lacking

Trying to tone up? A bagel for breakfast and chicken for dinner isn't doing you any favors

March 3, 2014

Even though a bagel with cream cheese gets you only 11 grams of protein for breakfast, a hearty steak or chicken dinner clocks in around three times that amount. All together, you’re still meeting the general protein requirement of 45 to 55 grams per day, so you’re good, right? Maybe not. Turns out, how much protein you're eating is only part of the equation; when you're eating it also matters.

A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that moderate consumption of protein spread out evenly over three meals stimulated muscle growth by 25 percent more than a diet that skewed protein consumption towards the end of the day. This is a significant discovery when you consider that the 2009-2010 National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey found that the protein count in the average American dinner (38 grams) is three times as high as the protein in the average breakfast (13 grams). 


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Sure, you’re not protein deficient by eating this way, but your body might not be able to effectively handle that protein pattern. The study monitored participants’ muscle synthesis over seven days, during which half of the participants ate a typical diet (10 grams in the morning, 15 at lunch, and 65 at dinner) and half ate a diet where all three meals had 30 grams of protein. The biggest difference in muscle protein synthesis was seen at breakfast: Eating 30 grams of protein instead of 10 showed a 30 percent increase in muscle building.

That's a pretty big deal if you're trying to get in better shape, considering that increasing lean muscle mass has been shown to boost metabolism, burn more fat, and increase insulin sensitivity. Translation: lean muscle = a leaner you.

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So if runners "carb load" the night before a marathon, why doesn’t "protein loading" work the same way? The researchers explained: “Unlike fat or carbohydrates, the human body has a limited capacity to store excess dietary protein from a single meal to stimulate muscle protein anabolism at a later time.” Essentially, even though we need a lot of protein, our bodies can only process a finite amount at any given time.

This is particularly important for anyone who does any kind of strength training, especially in the morning. “Reconciling total daily protein intake by end-loading protein during the evening meal failed to make up the difference in 24 hour muscle protein synthesis,” the study authors said. What's that mean? The extra protein you eat at dinner doesn't carry over to make a more balanced breakfast the next day; it’s essentially wasted. (Not to mention the fact that eating a high-protein breakfast keeps you fuller and wards off junk-food cravings.)


For delicious ways to start your day on a high-protein note, try these 6 Protein-Packed Breakfast Ideas.