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Curb Hunger, Boost Energy With a Protein-Packed Breakfast

Experts say it can help you halt age-related muscle loss and prevent weight gain

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If a bowl of cereal or a bagel is your go-to morning meal, it may be time for a change. A growing body of research highlights the importance of kicking off your day with a dose of protein.

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Because of the way our bodies change as they age, getting enough protein at every meal is particularly crucial for older adults, says Stuart Phillips, a kinesiologist who studies muscle loss and aging in his lab at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.  

On average, adults lose about 12 to 15 percent of muscle mass each decade after age 50, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Eating more protein throughout the day can help prevent age-related loss of muscle and strength, studies show.

Protein is the money in the bank for your muscles,” Phillips says. “In combination with being physically active, it builds a strong pool of muscle that allows you to be more resilient as you get older.”  

Although increasing muscle mass and strength is protein’s most well-known function, it also helps bone density, supports the digestive process and builds antibodies to fight off infection, says Stephanie Kay, a registered nutritionist and founder of  

In addition, protein curbs hunger, so you feel full longer, and balances your blood sugar.

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More protein, earlier

Many experts agree that Americans need more than the U.S. government’s recommended daily allowance of .36 grams per pound of body weight, or about 54 grams of protein per day for a 150-pound person, Phillips and Kay say.

“The recommended daily requirement is actually the minimum amount for basic health,” Kay says. “As you age you’re going to want to try and consume more than that.”

According to Kay and Phillips, .5 to 1.2 gram per pound of body weight (or at least 75 grams a day for a 150-pound person) is a better goal, especially for older adults.

But even Americans who get that much protein in a day often don’t get maximum benefits because they tend to get most of their protein grams at lunch and dinner, Phillips says. Because your body has no way to store extra protein, if you consume more than your body can use at one meal, it just goes to waste, he explains.

Research indicates you are better off trying to evenly distribute your protein intake throughout the day. 

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For example, a study in Nutrition Journal focused on older German adults who got about the same amount of protein each day. It revealed that those who concentrated their protein grams at lunch and dinner were significantly more likely to be frail than those who ate protein at every meal. Uneven protein distribution was also associated with slower walking speed and fatigue, the study found.

Americans especially tend to skimp on protein at breakfast, often choosing cereal, a muffin, a bagel, oatmeal or pancakes for their morning meal, none of which have significant amounts of protein.

“Breakfast is the meal I like to target because it’s the first meal of the day,” Phillips says. “If you add protein at breakfast, you feel full, it’s very nutritious, and it sets the tone for the rest of the day.”

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Good sources at breakfast include eggs, tofu, milk, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and smoothies made with protein powder.

Putting a halt to weight gain

The research on protein timing is the impetus behind a new AARP book published by Simon & Schuster, called The Whole Body Reset. Based on research conducted exclusively on adults age 50 and older, it recommends that older people aim to get 25 to 30 grams of protein with every meal.

That simple change, coupled with exercise, can stop, and even reverse, age-related weight gain and muscle loss, says Stephen Perrine, AARP executive editor author of The Whole Body Reset.

“Our bodies are radically different than the bodies of younger people,” Perrine observes. “Every day is either a muscle-gain day or a muscle-loss day, and what you eat for breakfast is the determining factor in that. By the time the second half of the day comes around, it’s too late. If you skip breakfast or had coffee and a croissant, it’s too late.”

Here is a healthy smoothie from The Whole Body Reset to boost your morning protein intake.

“Dessert for Breakfast” Smoothie

(Gluten-free, vegetarian)

It’s so delicious that you may want to serve it in smaller portions as a dessert. But trust us, it’s really a delivery system for powerful, health-boosting nutrients.



½ cup 1 percent milk

½ cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 ½ tablespoons peanut butter

1 small banana (can use frozen)

1 tablespoon avocado

2 teaspoons hemp seeds

Handful of ice (or more, based on preference)

Dash of cinnamon

To prepare:

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Nutritional information: 440 calories, 25g protein, 22g fat, 44g carbohydrates, 7g fiber, 308mg calcium, 989mg potassium, 198mg sodium, 1.16 mcg B12, 1.12g leucine, 11mg vitamin C

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