High-Protein Breakfast for Better Muscle Gain?

Once again we return to T-Nation and an article focused on protein and muscle gain based on a study they found that can help them sell more protein supplements. While I do agree that you need more than ‘one meal a day’ to efficiently build muscle mass and maintain an athletic physique, let’s see where they go with this — and if the study is even relevant to world case scenarios (which they almost never are.)

The Breakfast Hack

If your daily protein intake is imbalanced, you won’t be getting maximal results from your hypertrophy training. Here’s why and what to do.”

Well, if you as a human actually eat according to your species, this should never be a problem, but we’ll get to that later. Let’s see what you’ve got.

Statistically, the average overweight person skips breakfast. Also statistically, the average person who does eat breakfast eats a low-protein morning meal. Even the average lifter gets most of his protein in the evening. Call it an “imbalanced” protein intake.

Yes, that’s a bad idea, even if you follow an ‘intermittent fasting’ way of eating. It’s always better to have your meals earlier in your day than later, and if muscle mass and looking good nekkid is a priority, two to four meals a day is usually ideal depending on your level of muscularity, body weight, and activity level.
However, I doubt that the ‘average lifter’ does not get enough protein in any of his or her meals.

The scientists found that men whose protein intake was asymmetrical – who took in more protein at dinner than at breakfast and lunch – had less muscle protein synthesis compared to those who had proportional amounts of protein for all three meals, even if the total daily protein intake was equal between the two groups.

That is kind of logical if one or several meals are extremely low in protein. Protein in itself, especially the amino acid leucine, stimulates protein synthesis. And if you exercise, as in lifting weights, where you put a demand on your body to adapt by becoming stronger and more muscular, your protein requirements for remodeling tissue will be higher. So, a more consistent intake of protein will be more suitable and beneficial.

The Study

The scientists took 26 men and divided them into two groups:

  • One group received three daily meals, each containing roughly the same amount of protein. At breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they ate meals that contained 0.33, 0.46, and 0.48 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, respectively. This was the high-protein breakfast group.
  • The other group also got three meals, taking in 0.12, 0.45, and 0.83 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, respectively. This was the low-protein breakfast group and it reflected the societal habit of skewing most protein intake towards dinner.

Regardless of the group they were in, each subject ingested 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The main difference in the diets was that the high-protein breakfast group drank a protein shake with their breakfast and the low-protein group didn’t.

The experiment lasted 12 weeks and all the subjects lifted weights three times a week.”

Too bad that the second group had a protein shake at breakfast, which implies that their breakfast was complete garbage, as in some cereal or bread, as in unnecessary and toxic carbohydrates (we’ll get to that in  a moment.)
Still, both groups likely had the same toxic junk diet, so it will even out. Ideally, they would have had some meat and eggs as breakfast, or at least eggs — that would really have boosted the results of the study.

Also, both groups only consumed a total of 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, which is a ridiculous low 104 grams of protein per day for a man at 80 kg (176 lbs.)
Anyone considering building muscle mass should at least consume 2.2 to 2.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight — about double that of this study. And that single fact makes this study rather irrelevant. But let’s continue.

What Happened?

The high-protein breakfast group put on over 40% more muscle than the low-protein breakfast group.

Screenshot from the actual study, all numbers in reference to kilograms of bodyweight.

Not surprisingly, as the low-protein group only consumed 0.12 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight at breakfast, which is about 10 grams for a 80 kg (176 lbs.) man, while the high-protein group had an equivalent of 26 grams. Still, this is very low protein and their gains would have been much better if they doubled their protein intake. Heck, a 120 kg (264 lbs.) man would only get 14 grams of protein at breakfast in the low-protein group!

However, 10 or even 14 grams of protein is nothing, especially if the quality is low, as in only getting it from 100g of yogurt, some granola, cereals, and honey which was the case according to the study authors. Such sources do not provide complete protein (except for yogurt at a measly 3 grams) and thus the content of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) would be abysmal, especially that of leucine which drives muscle protein synthesis. In other words, the group with the low-protein breakfast did not get enough BCAA to stimulate protein synthesis, much less enough protein for the ongoing muscle repair process from their workouts. They simply consumed toxic sugars and some traces of low-quality protein, where most of the protein was attached to the fiber of the cereal and granola and thus not even absorbable.

The other group on the other hand, while having a similar breakfast, got a protein shake consisting of the Japanese Savas Whey Protein 100, a protein whey isolate, which means that it’s very rich in BCAA’s and thus leucine. Although they only got about 20 grams of the whey isolate protein powder, it was enough to provide more than 3 grams of leucine, thus activating muscle protein synthesis while providing some highly bioavailable key amino-acids required for muscle growth.
In other words, the high-protein group got three spikes of muscle protein synthesis a day, while the low-protein group only got two. Also, the high-protein group had more available amino-acids in their bloodstream for repair during a 24-hour cycle.

So, again, nothing surprising with the results, but still poorly executed.

“The scientists concluded: To maximize muscle accretion with resistance training, not only daily total protein intake but also protein intake at each meal, especially at breakfast, should be considered.”

Yes, I’ve already explained all that above.

How To Use This Info

You may have guessed that protein intake should be evenly distributed throughout the day. Even so, you probably wouldn’t have guessed the magnitude of the difference. More importantly, it adds to the growing stack of evidence supporting the importance of breakfast in general.

Yes, but you failed to provide the information that the figures and calculations for their protein intake used in the study actually meant in real life — as in only 10 grams of protein for an 80 kg man for breakfast. None of your readers, which are all gym rats and muscle heads, would consume that little protein — and they would surely consume more than 26 grams, which was the breakfast protein intake in the “high protein” group for an average 80 kg male. Most people who lift will never consume less than 30 grams of protein in a meal (which used to be the old ‘golden standard’.) However, for the majority of inactive and overweight people, around 10 grams might be the case. But most of them will never read our articles anyway, and those who work as coaches will likely make sure that their clients get more than 10 grams of protein in a meal. So, in short, this study was pretty useless as the total protein intake at only 1.3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight was ridiculously low. No one who lifts will consume that little protein, which means that their meals will never reach such a low protein content that they will suffer the consequences that the low-protein group did in this study.

The fix for this asymmetrical daily protein intake is simple: eat breakfast and make sure it contains a lot of protein, just like your other meals. How much? Based on other studies, roughly 35 to 44 grams of protein. If you don’t feel like eating six or seven eggs or a big steak for breakfast, do what the high-protein group did in the study: have a protein shake.”

First off, your headline that says, “Gain 40% More Muscle with This Diet Strategy” is total misinformation as no-one who is currently reading your website and lifts weights would have a breakfast with only around measly 10 grams of protein.

Now, 35 to 44 grams might be okay if you follow a harmful and toxic ‘balanced diet’ that contains unnecessary carbohydrates. And of course, a protein shake is convenient, especially as T-Nation sells several different protein powders (which was the contents of the rest of the article.)
However, real food as in steak and eggs are far superior and gives you all the other essential nutrients that your body needs and craves.

A much easier and healthier approach is simply to adopt our natural species-appropriate and species-specific carnivorous diet. At a good balanced ratio of 1 to 1 in grams between fat and protein, divided between two or three meals, you will get more than enough protein of the highest quality for building muscle if so desired. I covered this in many protein-oriented articles and all of them can be found in my Nutrition Quick-Start Archives under the ‘Protein’ and the ‘Fat Loss’ sections.

Also, as you get fat-adapted and return to our normal fat-metabolism, you will be able to manufacture as much glucose as your body need in any given moment through gluconeogenesis, and that process is instant, way faster than consuming toxic carbohydrates and upset your metabolism and homeostasis. 

And if you need help with your body composition, your health, or simply transitioning to our natural and species-specific way of eating, I’m available for both coaching and/or very in-depth consulting sessions.

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