Are you working towards a weight loss or fitness goal? Confused about nutrition for weight loss and exercise or muscle building? You’re not alone. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there and it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of health and diet blogs and be in a more confused state than when you started.
As a weight loss doctor, I try to make this process and my programs as easy (and enjoyable) as possible so my patients can stick with a comprehensive plan long-term. Here’s what we know; to lose weight you have to consume fewer calories than your body burns. Easier said than done, especially when there’s low carb, no-carb, Keto, the Blood Type and Hormone Balancing diets offering various information everywhere you turn.
The question I get from almost all of my patients is, “do I need to eat breakfast to shed pounds?” My nutrition team and I tell patients, that while breakfast isn’t necessary to lose weight – there’s a common misconception that breakfast boosts metabolism, see my article on weight loss myths – if you’re hungry first thing in the morning you should absolutely start your day with a high protein breakfast. Again, easier said than done as most typical breakfast options aren’t always protein-packed. It’s pretty easy for most of us to get enough protein at lunch and dinner—but protein breakfast ideas tend to be a bit trickier since bread and cereals (even if they’re whole wheat or whole grain) don’t often pack a protein punch.
How Does Eating a High Protein Breakfast Help Me Shed Pounds?
Adding more protein to your diet will not only improve the quality of your calorie intake but can help you lose weight. How? Protein tends to be the most filling macronutrient. In general, you will eat fewer calories if your diet is higher in protein than if you’re eating mostly carbs and/or fat. For example, it is very hard to overconsume grilled chicken or hard-boiled eggs… Not so much the same situation with bread or any kind of baked goods – which are so easy to eat in high quantities-whether they are whole wheat or whole grain doesn’t matter. Luckily, most traditional breakfast foods can be made macro-friendly with a little creative meal prep.
Also, your body requires energy to digest food. Your body uses the most energy to digest protein. So, if you eat 100 calories from protein, your body will “see” fewer calories than if you ate those 100 calories in the form of fat (which requires essentially no calories(energy) to digest) or carbs (requires energy to digest but less than protein). Studies show that participants who ate a high-protein breakfast with just 12 grams of protein lost more weight than the group that consumed a low-protein breakfast. That’s why I recommend that if my patients eat anything in the morning it should contain 12 grams of protein at a minimum.
Additionally, as your body breaks down protein into amino acids, one of these amino acids (phenylalanine) triggers an increase in levels of the gut hormone peptide YY. This hormone then sends a signal to the brain that you’ve eaten your fill, enhancing satiety as well as promoting weight loss. Protein also slows down the body’s absorption of carbohydrates, which helps keep blood sugar levels on an even keel. This process reduces hunger.
So for morning meals with a protein boost I recommend opting for things like protein-rich Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, a protein breakfast bowl, egg muffins, chicken sausage, smoked salmon, or protein pancakes (Kodiak makes a nice boxed mix) over bagels with cream cheese or peanut butter, waffles drenched in maple syrup and butter, or bacon, egg, and cheese croissant breakfast sandwiches that can in end up making you more hungry just hours later.
How Will Eating a High-protein Breakfast Help Me in the Gym and the Long-Run?
Without adequate protein, your body will not be able to build muscle so if you’re not getting adequate protein in your diet you may not get the results you’re looking for in the gym. Why is it important to up your protein if you’re trying to lose weight and build muscle? As your overall calories decrease, protein requirements increase, because the lower your calories are, the greater the risk of muscle loss. So if you’re decreasing your calories it’s beneficial to eat more protein. As an added benefit increased muscle mass decreases your risk of diabetes, your risk of fractures as well as a host of other medical conditions and improves your longevity and quality of life. *This is not meant to be a diagnosis or treatment. If you would like further recommendations on proper protein intake talk to a knowledgeable medical provider.
What is a Good Protein Breakfast Besides Eggs?
There’s also the misconception that recipes must use eggs. While hard-boiled eggs and scrambled eggs are one of my favorites (for scrambled eggs I use 1 whole egg to two egg whites for a more healthy breakfast option) there are myriad high protein breakfast recipes that don’t include eggs and are packed with protein. Options include smoked salmon, chicken breakfast sausage, Canadian bacon, greek yogurt, and cottage cheese. For people that choose a vegan diet, high protein at breakfast can be accomplished by eating black beans in breakfast burritos or using Silk Protein Milk vs. its lower protein counterpart almond milk in smoothies, in overnight oats, or on high fiber, whole wheat or whole-grain cereals. Vegan protein powder can also be mixed into overnight oats- see the recipe below. There are many high quality and delicious plant-based brands of protein powder on the market (I recommend adding Sun Warrior brand chocolate protein powder to smoothies to add protein to your morning meal) that will help you achieve a protein-packed breakfast.
We’ll also go over common “high protein breakfast” ideas that I recommend limiting or saving for special occasions. Foods like cheese and cream cheese (sub in drained cottage cheese, or skim ricotta cheese in recipes) should be used in moderation. On the same note, chia seeds, avocado toast, olive oil, chia pudding, etc. while a good source of protein and certainly nutritious and rich in healthy fats can pack a lot of calories into one morning meal. Don’t get me wrong, I love avocado toast but if I’m making it I’ll add a few slices of smoked salmon or a few fried egg whites to add even more protein to balance out the fat, albeit healthy fat in this highly touted “high protein” breakfast. Please remember, fat is fat, even if it’s healthy. For example, protein has 4 calories per gram while any kind of fat (be it healthy or not healthy) contains 9 calories per gram. This is a good reminder for those of us who like to sprinkle nuts or chia seeds on yogurt parfaits or add peanut butter or nut butter into our smoothies. While foods like nuts, peanut butter, and nut butter are certainly delicious and have a decent amount of protein they’re not exactly good for weight loss if you’re watching your fat grams and overall calorie intake. A healthy breakfast doesn’t always mean a calorie friendly breakfast even if it’s high protein.
As a weight loss doctor and also someone who loves food -did I mention I live in Philadelphia where there’s a ton of delicious, calorie-laden breakfast options on every corner-I have many high protein, low fat, macro-friendly breakfast recipes in my repertoire. The good news is that many common breakfast recipes can be altered to include more grams of protein with simple meal prep and minimal planning. Remember, we want your breakfast option to contain 12 grams of protein or more in each serving, and be delicious and easy to prepare.
High Protein Breakfast Recipes
Here are some of my favorite high protein breakfast recipes. Some include eggs, some don’t. All are high in protein and around 300 – 350 calories per serving. Any one of these recipes is great for a healthy breakfast if you’re trying to lose weight and/or build muscle. I mean, who doesn’t like starting their morning with breakfast sandwiches or protein pancakes that will keep you full until the afternoon?
Recipe for: 3 Ingredient Yogurt Parfait
1, 5.3 oz. cup of Chobani Madagascar Vanilla and Cinnamon Greek yogurt
1 cup of halved strawberries
3/4 cup Kashi Go Rise Original cereal.
Layer three ingredients in a tall glass and enjoy! Makes 1 serving. *plain or flavored Greek yogurt may be used in place of the Chobani Madagascar Vanilla and Cinnamon greek yogurt.
277 calories, 47 grams carbs, 4 grams fat, 20 grams of protein per serving
Recipe for: Breakfast Protein Pancakes with Strawberry Jam
1/2 cup dry oats
1/2 cup egg whites
1/2 cup 1% cottage cheese
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 Tbsp. of butter for frying or fewer calories try cooking spray
1 Tbs. Strawberry (or any flavor you like) preserves
Place the first seven ingredients into a blender and blend on high until oats are pulverized and the mixture is smooth and creamy. The batter will be thin. Meanwhile, heat a large non-stick pan and melt butter or spray with cooking spray. Use the batter to make 3 medium-large or 2 very large pancakes. Top with 1 tbs. of strawberry preserves for sweetness. Makes 1 serving.
*You may use maple syrup which has the same calories as preserves per tbs., BUT 1 tbs. of preserves (50 calories) goes much farther than 1 tbs. of maple syrup (50 calories). The typical serving size of maple syrup is a 1/4 cup which adds 150 calories.
375 calories, 44 grams carbs, 9 grams fat, 33 grams of protein per serving
Recipe for: Vegan Dark Chocolate Protein Smoothie
2 scoops Sun Warrior, Warrior Blend chocolate protein powder
1/2 large, ripe, frozen banana
1 to 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 – 1 1/2 cups water
1 – 2 cups ice
Place the first four ingredients into a blender and add water and ice in 1/2 cup increments. Blend until smooth and creamy, adding more water and ice until desired consistency is reached. Makes 1 very large serving.
276 calories, 25 grams carbs, 6 grams fat, 36 grams of protein per serving
Recipe for: Egg and Cheese BLT Breakfast Sandwiches
1 whole wheat, whole grain, or white English muffin
1 slice Canadian bacon
1/2 cup egg whites
1/2 tbsp. butter
1 wedge Laughing Cow Light Swiss Cheese Wedge
1 tomato slice
1 large leaf of lettuce
1 tbs. light mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter in a small to medium nonstick pan. When hot, add egg whites and salt and pepper to taste. Fry egg whites until golden at edges. Remove from pan. Place Canadian bacon in the pan and cook until warmed through. Meanwhile, lightly toast English muffin. To assemble: Place English muffin on a plate. Spread one side with light mayonnaise and the other side with cheese. Layer with lettuce, tomato, and fried egg whites, and Canadian bacon. *For even more protein add a whole egg or another slice of Canadian bacon. Wheat bread or white bread may be used in place of English muffins – track additional calories appropriately. Makes one serving.
313 calories, 26 grams carbs, 11 grams fat, 25 grams of protein per serving.
Recipe for: Black Bean Breakfast Bowl
1/2 cup egg whites
1/2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
Salt, Pepper, hot sauce to taste
1 cup shredded lettuce
1/3 cup fresh salsa (can be found in the deli section-made with fresh tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, cilantro)
2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
In a nonstick pan fry the egg whites in 1/2 Tbs. butter until edges are brown. Remove from the pan and add beans and heat them through. To construct, place a few handfuls of shredded lettuce in a bowl, top with fried egg white and black beans. Add salt and pepper and hot sauce to taste. Top with salsa and sour cream. Makes one serving.
385 Calories, 44 grams carbs, 10 grams fat, 28 grams of protein per serving.
*To make this into a breakfast burrito wrap all ingredients in a low-fat tortilla or better yet a Bake Sense Natural Lavash Bread Roll-Up for an additional 110 calories and 10 grams of protein.
.Recipe for: Protein-Packed Overnight Oats
1/3 cup oats
1/2 cup Silk Protein Milk
1/2 scoop Warrior Blend Vanilla Protein Powder
1/2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 Tbsp. Chia Seeds (optional)
Shake of cinnamon
Place all ingredients into a jar or similar sealed container. Stir and refrigerate overnight. * You may serve with 1/2 – 1 cup sliced berries or fruit of your choice. Just remember to track additional calories.
287 Calories, 32 grams carbs, 9 grams fat, 20 grams of protein.
Recipe for: Salmon Hash – this is a great weekend breakfast that even the kids will like!
1 tbsp. olive oil
12 oz. Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 oz. sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 tsp each sea salt and ground black pepper
12 oz. cooked salmon, flaked (NOTE: If you don’t have already-cooked salmon, simply roast about 14 oz. of salmon fillets for 8 to 10 minutes in a 375°F oven, then set aside until cool enough to handle before flaking.)
2 tbsp. chopped fresh chives
1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
In a large skillet nonstick skillet heat oil. Add white and sweet potatoes, cover, and cook until softened and browned in spots, about 10-15 minutes, scraping up with a spatula and stirring halfway through. Stir in onion, bell pepper, salt, and black pepper. Cook uncovered until onion and bell pepper are cooked, about 5 minutes. Stir the hash, then gently stir in salmon, chives, and dill. Cover and cook until heated through, about 2-5 minutes. If at any time in the cooking process the hash becomes too try or is on the verge of burning, add water, 1 Tbs. at a time. Makes 4, 1 1/3 cups servings. *For extra protein add 1-2 eggs, fried over easy or 2-3 fried egg whites. Instead of sour cream add 1/4 – 1/3 cup 2% small curd cottage cheese as garnish. Just remember to track the additional calories.
300 Calories, 14 grams carbs, 12 grams fat, 21 grams of protein.
If you try some of these high protein breakfasts for your morning meal you’ll be reaching your protein goal in no time. If you try a recipe or two from this blog post let us know how you like them! Questions about weight loss, health, and fitness? Reach out to me or my staff, we’re here to help. – Dr. Charlie