Protein: it’s what’s for breakfast

FullSizeRender 4Many of us can recall at least a few mornings when we were told, “Don’t skip your breakfast, it’s the most important meal of the day.” This sentiment is true—eating breakfast is essential to our health. At breakfast time, we are breaking an overnight fast and it’s critical for us to consume the nutrients we need to prepare our body and mind for the day. It’s not just consuming any breakfast that’s important, but consuming a breakfast that is packed with protein that’s key. 

How does protein fuel our body?

Protein digestion begins in the stomach, where proteins are split into smaller parts (proteoses, peptones, and large polypeptides). Digestion continues in the upper portion of the small intestine, where most protein digestion occurs, and then through the GI tract. The end result of protein digestion is amino acids and small peptides, specifically di- and tripeptides. These amino acids are essential for most biological processes, including: the transport and storage of nutrients; function of organs, glands, tendons, and arteries; wound healing; and tissue repair of muscles, bones, skin, and hair. Lack of protein leads to anemia, physical weakness, edema, vascular dysfunction, and impaired immunity. Protein is indispensable because it is the only dietary source of the amino acids necessary for carrying out these biological processes.

How does protein at breakfast improve our wellness?

Through various mechanisms, consuming a high protein breakfast changes appetite, hormonal signals, and neural signals that affect our mood, energy, and food intake throughout the entire day. When we eat protein at breakfast, the levels of tyrosine, one of the amino acids synthesized by protein digestion, in the brain is increased. This results in the production of norepinephrine and dopamine, neurotransmitters that make us feel awake and alert.  Protein consumption at breakfast also lowers the daily level of ghrelin. Ghrelin stimulates the appetite by regulating the secretion of Ghrelin Hormone (GH), resulting in the desire to eat. When ghrelin levels are lower, we may stave off hunger longer between breakfast and lunch. Protein at breakfast reduces activation of the brain in the amygdala, hippocampal, and midfrontal corticolimbic regions, which helps prevent pre-dinner snacking. Breakfasts that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates also lead to lower blood glucose and insulin levels post-breakfast, which helps stabilize energy levels. Overall, consuming protein at breakfast can help to set us up for a high-energy day where we aren’t starving by lunchtime. 

How much protein do we need?

Kids require approximately 1-1.5 grams of protein per kg of body weight. For a 50 lb child, that is 23-34 grams of protein per day. Adults require 0.8 g/kg – 1.6 g/kg. For a 150 lb adult, that is 55-109 g per day. If you or your child are more active, err on the higher end of the spectrum. 

How can we fuel our bodies with protein in the morning?

As a parent, I know how busy mornings become getting oneself and children ready, while ensuring everyone in the family starts the day with proper nutrition. I admit, our kids don’t always sit at the breakfast table, but often play before we head out the door. Because of this, I’ve gotten in the habit of making everyone a smoothie, packed with protein, that can be eaten while they’re enjoying play time. I hope you enjoy our “good morning smoothie” for the kids and “berry chocolate shake” for the adults as much as we do!