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Tip 461: Eat Protein for Breakfast for A Better Workout & Better Cognition

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 6:00 AM
Eat protein for breakfast for a better workout and a better working brain throughout the day. Four recent studies show that eating a high-protein breakfast daily is one of the smartest dietary habits you can adopt. The effects of a protein-rich breakfast include decreased hunger until lunch, a high degree of satiety and satisfaction, lower calorie intake at lunch and dinner, faster reaction time, and better performance on cognition tests.

First, a study in the European Journal of Nutrition compared hunger ratings and desire to eat after three different types of breakfast: 1) eggs on toast, 2) cornflakes with milk and toast, or 3) a croissant and orange juice. Results showed that the breakfast containing eggs produced much less hunger and a lower desire to eat after breakfast than the two higher carbohydrate options. The participants who had the egg breakfast ate much less at lunch and dinner, and they ended up eating between 150 and 300 calories less over the whole day than the cereal and croissant groups.

This study highlights the misconception that simple carbohydrate foods are ideal for breakfast because they provide a lot of “energy.” It is true that cornflakes and croissants provide energy in the sense that they give you a nice dose of quickly digested calories, but that doesn’t mean you will feel energized! Rather, these breakfasts will quickly raise blood sugar, producing high levels of insulin, whichcauses blood sugar to drop. This will leave you hungry, and with poorer cognition and energy.

Two other studies support this and provide examples for how to get a nice dose of protein at breakfast. One study showed that giving boarding school students a high protein breakfast from pork produced greater satisfaction and less hunger than a carb-filled control breakfast. Similar results were seen with a high-protein breakfast (40 percent of total calories from protein) from either fish or beef. Both breakfasts produced a reduction in energy intake at the evening meal over a standard breakfast. The fish breakfast had the greatest effect, leading to an 11 percent reduction in calorie intake and less feelings of hunger throughout the day.

The reason high-protein breakfasts are so effective is that they produce a very moderate, gradual increase in blood sugar and insulin that is sustained for a longer period than with a higher carb meal. The effect is a more steady supply of glucose to the brain and muscles, which produces better cognition and physical performance.

For instance, the fourth study of interest compared the effect of a low-glycemic with a high-glycemic breakfast on brain function. Low glycemic means that the food will produce a slow, gradual increase in blood sugar, whereas high glycemic has the opposite effect. The low-glycemic breakfast included bread cooked with guar gum, and the high-glycemic breakfast used regular white wheat bread.

Results showed that the participants who ate the low-glycemic breakfast performedmuch better on cognitive function tests than those who ate the high-glycemic meal. The difference in selective attention and working memory performance was particularly pronounced between during the second half of the brain function tests when the material became more demanding. The subjects who ate the low-glycemic breakfast also reacted faster and finished the test quicker.

Take away the understanding that a high-protein breakfast from animal sources is your best choice for breakfast because it will be more satisfying and lead to less hunger than a higher carb breakfast. It will also boost brain function by providing a steady flow of glucose to the brain—an effect that will benefit your physical performance in the gym as well. A related benefit is that lower, balanced insulin concentrations allow for the insulin receptors in the brain to be more sensitive and more responsive. High insulin produces inflammatory markers and high cortisol, which has been shown to correlate negatively with cognitive performance, particularly in reasoning tasks.

Eat a variety of protein sources for breakfast including beef, pork, fish, eggs, and poultry. Opt for pasture-raised, organic meat when possible. Pair meat with green vegetables, berries or other low-glycemic fruit, and nuts to fuel the brain and body. Read more on this topic with the article, The Meat and Nuts Breakfast.

Meinert, L., Kehlet, U., et al. Consuming Pork Proteins at Breakfast Reduces the Feeling of Hunger Before Lunch. Appetite. 2012. 59(201-203.

Borzoei, S., Neovius, M., et al. A Comparison of Effects of Fish and Beef Protein on Satiety in Normal Weight Men. EuropeanJournal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006. 60(7), 897-902.

Nilsson, A., Radeborg, K., et al. Effects on Cognitive Performance of Modulating the Postprandial Blood Glucose Profile at Breakfast. EuropeanJournal of Clinical Nutrition. 2012. 66, 1038-1043.

Fallaize, R., Wilson, L., et al. Variation in the Effects of Three Different Breakfast Meals on Subjective Satiety and Subsequent Intake of Energy at Lunch and Evening Meal. European Journal of Nutrition. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.

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