If you’re anything like us, it’s likely you’ve experimented with your morning fueling routine. You may be someone who hears the alarm clock and immediately heads to the coffee machine. Or perhaps you prefer to remain fasted throughout the morning and delay your first meal until later in the day. But if you’re an athlete who has made breakfast a staple of each morning, there’s research that points to how this could benefit your performance. In today’s blog, we’re taking a look at how experimenting with your morning fueling strategy can be beneficial, and the important role that protein plays in our first meal of the day.
Nailing Your Night-to-Morning Transition
When we prioritize the rest and recovery achieved during sleep, we inevitably enter a fasted state overnight. And there’s plenty of research to back up the benefits that overnight fasting provides, including reducing the overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut, facilitating autophagy (the clearing out of dead cellular matter), and improving brain function. But once the day gets started, athletes who choose to eat a morning breakfast will begin absorbing calories that could aid in adaptation, performance, and overall well-being.
Researchers from Danish and Norwegian universities tracked the nutritional habits of 31 runners, triathletes, and cyclists, and released their data via the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. They found that those athletes who had the highest single-hour energy deficits had the lowest levels of testosterone and the greatest cortisol readings. These numbers are associated with catabolism, i.e. the breakdown of muscle tissue. The runners, cyclists, and triathletes who weren’t eating enough throughout the day also had metabolic rates that were around 10 percent lower than those who ate more consistently.
In a piece for Outside titled “The Scientific Case for a Big Breakfast,” Alex Hutchinson had this to say about the implications of this study: “During the night, the athlete drifts into mild energy deficit. This isn’t a problem initially. But he doesn’t take in many calories early in the day, and as he gets up and starts moving around, he drifts over the dotted line into a zone where his body is having to prioritize where to use limited fuel. And when he works out at 5 p.m., he pushes himself deep into a deficit that he doesn’t dig out of until a massive dinner at 8 p.m.”
In other words, failing to get adequate calories (including sufficient protein) early in the morning can put you into a performance hole. Hutchinson noted that even if you eat enough total protein each day, many athletes stack most of their protein consumption after training and at dinner and, “As a result, you end up with less-than-optimal muscle synthesis earlier in the day and more protein than you can use in the evening.” By simply adding in breakfast, he was able to shift the numbers in the Danish/Norwegian study so that the endurance athletes were no longer in a calorie deficit as they moved from nighttime to morning. In other words, simply eating a breakfast that includes enough calories and some high-grade protein could make all the difference in your athletic output and metabolism.
Power Up with Morning Protein
A better approach is arguably cutting back on the carbs a bit and getting more protein and fat, both of which provide longer-lasting energy as they metabolize more slowly. For endurance and strength athletes alike, protein uptake throughout the day is critical to repairing the microtears that training causes in their muscles, and, essential if someone is seeking to achieve hypertrophy (increase in muscle size). A study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that protein synthesis in a 24-hour period was 25 percent greater when protein is distributed fairly evenly throughout the morning, afternoon, and evening. “You don’t have to eat massive amounts of protein to maximize muscle synthesis, you just have to be a little more thoughtful with how you apportion it,” study author Doug Paddon-Jones told ScienceDaily. “For breakfast consider replacing some carbohydrate, particularly the simple sugars, with high-quality protein.”
Another paper published in Clinical Nutrition examined the relationship between protein dose and frequency and lean mass and muscle performance. The researchers concluded that, “More frequent consumption of meals containing between 30 and 45 g protein/meal produced the greatest association with leg lean mass and strength.” This indicates that while sinking that post-workout shake is important, so too is getting adequate protein at other times of day, such as at breakfast.
Regulate Blood Sugar and Glucose Levels
Packing protein in first thing in the morning might not only be essential for athletic performance, but also overall health. A team of nutritional scientists from the University of Missouri compared the impact of a high-carb breakfast to one that was low in carbs and protein rich. They found that the group who went the high-protein route had better insulin control and less fluctuation in blood glucose levels. The researchers wrote that, “A protein-rich breakfast may reduce the consequences of hyperglycemia.” While they were evaluating people with type II diabetes, the results show promise for anyone who deals with energy spikes and crashes throughout the day.
So if this is the case, how much protein should you get at breakfast? A research duo from Lehman College and California State University evaluated the current evidence and advocated spreading a protein range of between 1.6 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day over four meals if you’re aiming to build muscle. This equates to protein intake of between 0.4 and 0.55 g/kg/meal. For a 80 kilogram (175 pound) man, that would mean consuming 32 to 44 grams of protein for breakfast, and for a 50 kilogram (110 pound) woman, getting between 20 and 27.5 grams. If you’re not trying to pack on mass, then you could go slightly lower and be fine.
The fastest and easiest way to get high-quality protein on the go in the morning is to add two scoops of Momentous whey or plant-based protein to a smoothie. Or, if you want to get ahead of the AM rush, mix them into a bowl of overnight oats along with some nuts and berries so all you have to do is take the bowl out of the fridge, throw down the contents, and go.
Protein-Packed Breakfast Ideas
Need some protein-packed breakfast recipe ideas? This is on-the-go smoothie is from Jordan Mazur, coordinator of nutrition for the San Francisco 49ers, which uses for himself and his athletes:
- 12 oz. orange juice
- ¼ cup mangos, pieces
- ½ cup pineapple, pieces
- ½ cup kale, raw
- ½ cup spinach, raw
- ¼ an avocado, medium
- 1 tsp chia seeds
- 1 scoop Momentous AbsoluteZero Unflavored Whey
And here’s a protein-packed pancake recipe from Tim Caron, the owner and coach of Allegiate Gym
- 1 Banana, ripe
- 1 scoop Momentous AbsoluteZero Whey, Veracruz Vanilla
- 1 Cage free egg
- 1 tbsp Coconut oil
- Salt, Cinnamon
- Mash the bananas in a bowl. Add and stir protein, eggs, salt, and cinnamon into a batter.
- Heat the coconut oil in a medium frying pan on medium-low heat until melted
- Pour half the batter into the frying pan. Cook until golden brown on bottom side (about 3-5 minutes), then flip. Cook on second side until golden brown (about 2-3 minutes). Repeat for remaining batter.
- Serve with organic berries or almond butter. Yields 1 pancakes.
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