Whether you’re married to your travel coffee mug or make a mean omelet, you know just how important breakfast is. But just in case you still aren’t sold on having a morning meal, consider this: Breakfast is your first opportunity to fuel and nourish your bod after going hours and hours overnight without eating, so having breakfast (and one that contains nutritious foods) can make or break your day—and affect your health long-term.
“A breakfast that contains protein, carbs, and healthy fat helps to keep your energy levels up and your blood sugar levels stable throughout the morning,” explains Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., creator of Nutrition Starring You. Most of us have no problem getting carbs or fat in our A.M. grub—we mean you, donuts, croissants, and cream cheese-slathered bagels—but many of us fall short on the other key macronutrient: protein.
Not only does protein help keep us feeling fuller longer, which reduces cravings and unnecessary snacking, but it also helps maintain our muscle mass, Harris-Pincus explains. (Muscle boosts our metabolism, supports our bones, and protects us from injury.)
Since the body may only be able to use 25 to 30 grams of protein to repair and build muscle at a time, if you miss out on protein at breakfast, doubling up at lunch or dinner won’t do much for you. Eating protein at breakfast becomes increasingly important as we get older, too: “By consuming protein steadily throughout our day, we can help to prevent age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia,” says Harris-Pincus. For most, this starts somewhere around age 50, but people who are physically inactive or don’t strength train regularly may start experiencing muscle loss in their 30s or 40s.
Harris-Pincus recommends starting the day with a meal that includes about 20 grams of protein. That might look like two eggs with a piece of turkey bacon and a slice of whole-grain toast. Or a cup of plain Greek yogurt with berries on top. Or a fruit and greens smoothie with a scoop of whey protein powder blended in.
With a little creativity, you can even add extra some extra protein to your favorite Sunday morning breakfasts (you know, the ones that are usually carb-loaded, buttery, and soaked in syrup.) If you’re a sucker for a big bowl of cereal, try mixing protein powder into your milk before pouring it over your favorite high-fiber variety, suggests Harris-Pincus. (If you were a fan of chocolatey cereal milk as a kid, chocolate protein powder will make your day.)
Or, if you’re whipping up French toast, soak your bread in a blend of Greek yogurt and eggs before putting them in the pan. Then top the final product with a mixture of Greek yogurt and honey or fruit puree.