Everyone knows that you need protein in your diet. it’s even more important as we age. There is a natural aging process called sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass. By the time women near 80 years, the Mayo Clinic observes, they may have lost as much as half of their skeletal muscle mass. Eating enough protein reduces the impact of that muscle wasting.
“Your protein needs depend on how much you weigh,” the Clinic adds. “For women over 50, experts recommend 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of weight (1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds). If you weigh 140 pounds, for instance, you would need at least 63 grams of protein a day.”
Get the right amount of protein at the right time
But did you know that when you get your protein is vitally important too? Because of the way the body dispenses energy and rebuilds cells and muscle, the protein you eat for breakfast performs a very different role from proteins you eat for dinner. Are you getting the right amount of protein at the right time? Let’s explore.
Breakfast protein helps you get off to a good start
For starters, when you wake up, your body needs protein because your muscles have been breaking it down as you were sleeping, according to research from McMaster University, Canada. “You want 30 grams at breakfast,” says researcher Stuart Phillips.
Jessica Crandall, a registered dietitian and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agrees: “The most common mistake we make is not enough protein at breakfast”. According to Crandall, adults need 20-30 grams of protein in the morning, which varies by gender and how active you are, to keep up our muscle mass and metabolism.
Protein for breakfast sets your body up to function optimally
Protein provides the amino acids our brains need to function optimally. A high protein breakfast raises the levels of tyrosine in the brain, one of the 20 standard amino acids cells need to synthesize protein. This helps the brain produce two neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and dopamine, which boast our energy and make us feel awake and alert.
Eating a breakfast rich in protein can also help you feel a sustained sense of fullness until later in the day. Researchers from the University of Missouri used MRI scans to compare the brain activity of participants who had eaten high-protein breakfasts to ones that had either skipped breakfast or had eaten breakfasts with moderate protein. By lunchtime those who had skipped breakfast were the hungriest. MRI scans on participants who had eaten the high-protein breakfast showed less brain activity in regions that control food motivation, or hunger, than those who ate cereal for breakfast.
If you eat a high-protein breakfast, your brain will have all of the neurotransmitters you need to help your entire body function properly. Two amino acids that act as neurotransmitters, glutamate and aspartate, come from protein. You also need several others, including tyrosine, tryptophan and phenylalanine, to produce the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine.
Brain function, muscle mass, energy
While eating incomplete proteins, such as wheat toast or peanut butter alone, will give you some of the amino acids you need, eating wheat toast with peanut butter can give you all of them, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
To wrap it up, writes Aubrey Hawley for the American Nutrition Association, “A high protein breakfast has been shown to benefit muscle health and to support weight loss by increasing muscle mass, energy expenditure (calories burned), satiety hormones, glucose regulation and by decreasing the desire to snack at night. High protein breakfasts have also been shown to improve the body’s response to a high carbohydrate food up to four hours after the breakfast meal.”
And those of us over 60 actually need more protein than when we were younger. Why? Our aging bodies process protein less efficiently and need more of it to maintain muscle mass and strength, bone health, and other essential physiological functions.
How much protein do I need?
To get a general idea, a 150-pound (68 kilo) woman needs about 68 grams of protein a day. Experts recommend that older adults increase their protein intake to 1-1.2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight. Since a 150 pound woman is equivalent to 68 kilos, she needs 1-1.2 grams of protein per kilo or 68 grams of protein a day. You can calculate your weight in kilos here. Then multiply it by 1-1.2 grams of protein to calculate your recommended daily protein requirement.
Let’s assume that your daily recommended requirement is 68 grams of protein. You’re probably thinking, no sweat. I can have a buttery croissant for breakfast with jam and coffee. For lunch, I can have 2/3 of a cup of quinoa salad (12 grams of protein) and a 1/3 of a cup of hummus (7 grams of protein) with some crudités. Then I’ll have a grilled six-ounce sirloin steak for supper (52 grams of protein) with some French fries. At 71 grams of protein, that exceeds my daily requirement.
Aim for 20g in the morning
Uh, not so fast. It also matters when you get your protein.
Good morning, protein
If you followed the schedule for eating protein just described, your diet would resemble the chart on the left. While you ate enough protein, your timing would be off.
The ideal timing for eating protein is closer to the chart on the right: your protein for the day is divided equally between three meals. This means that you need to increase the amount of protein you eat at breakfast–the meal when most of us tend to eat the least protein.
I don’t have time for breakfast. What about protein shakes?
Protein shakes are for young people on the go.
That’s why they were invented.
But they are not a good substitute for breakfast protein. And they are not recommended for aging bodies. Grabbing a protein shake once in a while won’t hurt you. But no protein powder in the world can substitute for the life-giving protein that is found in whole, real food.
High protein breakfasts for fall
You may be thinking, it’s not easy to have protein for breakfast. Sure, I can have bacon and eggs one day which packs a good protein punch but what do I do the rest of the week?
Try these protein-rich, and sometimes surprising, breakfast ideas, which average 20g of protein.
The easiest: a carton of Fage yogurt
If you have no patience for breakfast, if you’re a grab-and-go-type, then yogurt is for you. Greek yogurt, which has a higher protein content per volume than the creamier kind. Ideally you will purchase a multi-serving container and spoon 8 oz. into a bowl to reduce plastic waste and save the oceans.
If you really have to run, the 7 oz. container of plain Fage Total 2 % is for you, with 20g of protein tucked into its little cup. (We checked other brands of Greek yogurt in individual containers and they contain less yogurt, and thus less protein, than Fage. Fruit-flavored yogurts have even less protein and more sugar.) Add a complex carb in the form of berries or a whole grain something to keep you going until lunch.
Cottage cheese with fruit and nuts
Cottage cheese is loaded with protein. 2/3 cup with some fruit and nuts can yield as much as 23g per serving. When in season, cantaloupe or other melon with a tablespoon of pistachios make good partners. In the winter try chopped pears, apple compote, or applesauce with walnuts.
A two-egg veggie omelet averages 14g of protein, according to My Fitness Pal. Healthy additions are spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, and herbs. Add some cheese–feta or goat cheese would be delicious–and the protein increases to 20g.
Avocado toast variations
Avocado toast is super trendy these days but, while it’s abundant in heart healthy monounsaturated fats, it doesn’t really offer any protein. But it’s easy to add protein with one or two ingredients. Using whole wheat or whole grain bread gives you a head start, with an average of 5 g of protein per slice. Some suggestions:
- 1/4 c. cooked edamame beans + 1 T. shelled pepitas
- 1 oz smoked salmon
- A poached egg
- 1/3 c. ricotta cheese
Whole grain toast with nut butter and bananas
Whole grain bread, either bakery bought or something like Ezekiel 4:9 (found in the frozen aisle/health food section) gives you a head start with 5 to 6 grams of protein. Add 2 T. peanut or almond butter and slices of banana for a good dose of protein and potassium. A cappuccino will round out the protein count to 20g total.
French toast with ricotta and walnuts
Make a batch of French toast when you have a slow morning. Have one slice for breakfast and freeze the rest for another day. Use whole grain bread and fresh farm eggs for the toast. Top with 1/3 c. ricotta cheese, 1/4 c. crumbled walnuts, and a drizzle of maple syrup.
Breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs and black beans
Scrambled eggs, black beans, a spoonful of cheese, and some salsa wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla is a healthy, filling, savory breakfast with 17g of protein. Make a batch and freeze them for another morning. This recipe from Cooking Light is a good guide: Make-Ahead Black Bean and Scrambled Egg Breakfast Burritos.
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