Protein: Why Is It Important & How to Get More at Breakfast
As an active individual, getting enough protein is crucial to ensure we are meeting our health and performance goals. Why is protein important and are you getting enough?
Let’s start with the basics…
What does protein do?
- Helps build and repair lean body mass (aka muscle)
- Supports a strong immune system
- Used to make enzymes, hormones and other chemicals
- Makes healthy hair, skin & nails
Benefits of a Higher Protein Diet
For those trying to lose or maintain weight, and/or build or preserve lean muscle mass, protein intake plays a huge role. Some ways getting enough protein helps with these goals include:
- Stable energy levels throughout the day; giving us energy for workouts and preventing drops in blood sugar that often lead to cravings
- Improved recovery after exercise (helps make lean muscle tissue)
- Keep you satiated after a meal which can help to reduce cravings for less healthy foods and regulate appetite
But are you getting enough?
The average healthy adult needs about 0.8 g per kg of body weight per day.
However, individuals who exercise intensely and/or strength train multiple times a week have higher protein needs, closer to about 1.2- 2 g/ kg body weight.
Of course, your needs may be at the higher or lower end depending on your weight, height, age, sex, and goals. For a personalized recommendation, do not hesitate to book an appointment with Alysha our Sports Dietitian.
Common protein choices include: chicken, beef, pork, fish, eggs, chickpeas, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, soy products (tofu, edamame, tempeh), and peanut and nut butters.
In order to make sure we are getting enough protein and absorbing it efficiently, we want to have protein throughout the day, rather than all at once.
For this reason, it is crucial to include a source of protein (or several) at every meal; we want to aim to get about 20-30 grams at a time.
Breakfast: 5 ways to add protein
Despite the benefits of having protein at every meal, a common nutrition problem is that most of us do not have enough protein, specifically at our breakfast meals. Often people will have a more carb heavy breakfast (cereal, toast, porridge, pancakes) with little protein.
Although we need carbs for energy, if our first meal of the day contains mostly carbs but lacks in protein, this can cause a blood sugar spike. This means our energy levels will rise and dip, causing us to be less productive than we would like and set us up for cravings for later on. In turn, this can impact weight loss and performance goals.
No fear, here are some simple tips to incorporate more protein into your breakfast meals!
- Choose GREEK yogurt
Greek yogurt has twice the protein of regular yogurt. Make sure to buy plain to avoid lots of added sugar, and flavour it yourself with cocoa powder, frozen or fresh berries, sliced banana, chopped nuts, peanut/nut butters, vanilla extract, cinnamon, etc.
Per ¾ cup serving: ~18 g protein
- Swap eggs for cereal
Boiled, poached, scrambled. Add some healthy fats such as avocado and 1-2 slices of whole grain toast. If you like cereal, keep the eggs and make sure to choose a lower sugar, higher fibre cereal.
1 egg = 6 g
- Add hemp hearts
Sprinkle 2-3 tbsp of hemp hearts to your cereal, oatmeal, or on your toast. Hemp hearts are both an awesome source of plant-based protein as well as omega-3 healthy fats.
2 Tbsp = 7 g
4) Go nuts!
Add crushed nuts such as almonds or cashews to your cereal or porridge for a protein boost.
¼ cup almonds: 8 g
- Play with protein powder
Add 1 scoop of your favorite protein powder to oatmeal, yogurt, chia pudding, pancake mix, smoothie… (the list goes on) to boost the protein content of your breakfast.
- Throw out the food rules!
There is no need to box ourselves into choosing only “conventional” foods like cereal, toast and eggs for breakfast time. Leftovers like chicken and veggies, or a bean stew, can make awesome breakfast meals too!
By Leigh Merotto, Dietetic Intern