Biohacking Protein: A scienced-backed shift.
For years, we’ve been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but “fasting enthusiasts” over the last decade have made ‘skipping breakfast’ a norm— the convenience of skipping the first meal of the day because “we’re not hungry” and for convenience. Yet, this usually results in ravishing cravings throughout the day and gorging on junk food in front of the TV at night. All those bags of chips, a handful of candy or nuts, an extra cookie— add up.
What if I told you, this can be fixed?
I know because that used to be me.
In the fall of 2020 when my body and gut shut down, the first thing I noticed was how the state of my gut affected my mood and productivity so, of course, we can link it back to food.
I’ve been studying science as a hobby for a decade but decided to become a holistic nutritionist to heal myself.
And I did. My results
✔️ Zero cravings.
✔️ Hormones are on point.
✔️ No more light-night binging.
✔️ Brain & clarity is over-the-top.
✔️ Stable energy throughout the day.
I won’t sugarcoat it. This won’t be an easy journey. Our brains are fickle objects and like their old, familiar ways. It took me a long time to overhaul my habits but I always asked myself, “how bad do you want it?” when I felt my discipline begin to wane.
Here are some new habits I managed to put on autopilot:
✔️ Never have coffee on an empty stomach.
✔️ Eating a huge breakfast loaded with protein, fiber, and healthy fats to avoid late night binging.
✔️ Beginning a 16:8 fast around 6-7pm (not strict about this). I aim for a minimum 12hr fast depending on the day (travel, social gatherings), so I’m not strict about time-restricted eating (TRE) but simply maintain best practices.
✔️ Optimizing my life around good eating habits for metabolic health is my priority and it’s on autopilot like brushing my teeth
I can teach you how.
A paradigm shift in the conversation of muscle mass and fat gain.
The verdict is in— according to the queen of musculoskeletal science, Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, the loss of lean skeletal muscle is more dangerous than the impact of gaining fat (obesity) because of the metabolic implications and survivability going forward. Lean skeletal muscle mass is directly linked to longevity if not one of the most important biomarkers.
Losing skeletal muscle means losing mitochondria that produce energy in your cells. This creates a disease cycle: fatigue → less energy → burning fewer calories than consumed → calories stored as fat → leading to obesity.
Let’s go on a deep dive into the reasons behind this paradigm shift, examining the criticality of protein-loading in the morning, and why breaking your fast with protein while your muscles are in a catabolic state can revolutionize your health.
Breaking Free from the High-Carb Breakfast Narrative
Let’s face it, how many people do you know:
- eat sugary, carb-loaded breakfasts
- don’t strength-train consistently
Let me warn you: you are shortening your lifespan significantly with these habits— but don’t worry.. they’re easy to fix!
I used to have a coffee and croissant for breakfast if I ate at all. Or just a coffee on an empty stomach. Both of which are terrible if you are playing the long game. At first, my thoughts were filled with dread, how could I ever give up my coffee or my croissant?!?
But I did, and although it took some time to rewire my brain, it was so worth it.
High-carb, sugary breakfasts that are commonly consumed, leads to energy crashes, unstable blood sugar levels, and poor dietary choices throughout the day. The narrative is changing as we recognize the detrimental effects of excessive sugar intake.
Now that we know insulin resistance and metabolic diseases may be the root cause of all evil, it’s time to shift towards a protein-focused breakfast, we can experience a multitude of benefits.
Protein provides sustained energy, promotes feelings of fullness, and stabilizes blood sugar levels. It also supports muscle repair, enhances metabolism, and aids in weight management. Think of it as a solid foundation for a day filled with vitality and productivity.
Protein-Load For Better Habits
A study conducted by Dr. Heather Leidy examined the impact of a protein-rich breakfast on daily eating patterns. The study involved 20 overweight or obese adolescent females aged 18-20, divided into three cohorts. Cohort 1 skipped breakfast, Cohort 2 consumed cereal (providing 13g of protein), and Cohort 3 enjoyed a high-protein breakfast (providing 35g of protein) featuring eggs and lean beef. The meals were matched in terms of dietary fat, fiber, sugar, and calorie content, each providing 350 calories.
The high-protein breakfast group maintained a balanced 1:1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates, while the cereal group had 13g of protein and 57g of carbohydrates in a 1:4 ratio. Before dinner, a brain scan using functional magnetic resonance imaging tracked neural signals related to food motivation and reward-based eating behaviors. The findings were remarkable.
Members of the high-protein breakfast group reported greater feelings of fullness and satiety, with corresponding brain activity indicating reduced food cravings. Compared to the groups that had cereal for breakfast or skipped it entirely, the high-protein breakfast group consumed fewer high-fat and high-sugar snacks in the evening.
The verdict: if you want to stop binging on chips and candy before bed— eat less carbs and protein-load for breakfast.
Pure Evil: A History of High-Carb Breakfasts
It’s crucial to approach dietary choices with an ethical and critical perspective, recognizing that what works for one person may not work for another.
High-carb and high-sugar breakfasts have become popular for various reasons. The advent of breakfast cereals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, driven by companies like Kellogg’s and Post, played a significant role in promoting high-carbohydrate breakfasts. They marketed cereals as convenient, quick, and healthy morning options. These cereals were often loaded with sugar, and they became a staple in many households.
Advertising and marketing have also played a big role. Companies that make cereals and sweet breakfast foods spend a lot of money on ads to convince people that these foods are the best choice for breakfast. They used colorful packaging and catchy jingles to make their products appealing.
Cultural influences cannot be overlooked. In several cultures, sweet breakfasts are deeply ingrained in tradition, with pastries, sweet bread, and sugary coffee being morning favorites. However, in today’s fast-paced world, we’re stuck in states of chronic fight or flight due to environmental stressors, toxic, workplaces, and relationships, social media, constant comparison, and arguing with strangers on the Internet. Our bodies are already overloaded with toxins, and can’t handle the added stress of insulin spikes from processed sugars.
Convenience plays a substantial role as well. High-carb, high-sugar breakfasts are often seen as quick and easy, which is important for people with busy mornings. It’s easier to grab a sweet cereal or a pastry on the way to work or school than to make a protein-rich breakfast. It is appalling to me how hotel breakfasts are usually filled with carbs and fruit— and it frightens me even more how many people have zero protein on their plates (especially women).
Let’s acknowledge the rise of “influencers” who advocate for extreme dietary practices, often promoting the elimination of entire food groups (eg. veganism). Their brand, identity, and financial interests are closely tied to their dietary beliefs, making their views biased. In reality, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to nutrition, and advising others to cut out entire food groups based on personal experiences is dangerous and potentially harmful to individuals’ well-being.
There is one philosophy we cannot deny: the importance of protein.
A Mindset Shift To Protein: The King of Satiety
Humans and many other animals have a natural tendency to prioritize protein intake. This means that we’ll continue eating until we’ve consumed enough protein, even if it means consuming an excessive amount of non-protein energy, such as carbohydrates and fats. In essence, our bodies signal a “protein quota” that needs to be met for optimal functioning.
Protein is renowned for its satiating properties. When you consume protein-rich foods, they trigger the release of hormones, including peptide YY (PYY), a gut hormone that drives fullness, as well as reduced levels of ghrelin, which drives hunger. PYY communicates to your brain that you’re full, effectively curbing your sensation of hunger.
Maintaining a higher percentage of protein in your diet can naturally lead to consuming fewer overall calories. This is because your body’s focus on meeting its protein needs reduces the desire to eat more carbohydrates and fats.
As a result, you naturally eat less when protein intake is prioritized. This results in better insulin control, less inflammation, less brain fog, and better mood.
Thermic Effects: Eating Proteins Burns Calories
The thermic effect of food (TEF) represents the energy expenditure, in the form of calories, that your body uses during the digestion and metabolism of the food you consume. Among the three main macronutrients, protein has the highest TEF, meaning a significant portion of the calories in protein is spent during its digestion.
For example, when you eat protein-rich foods, your body burns a notable amount of calories simply to break down and process the protein. This elevated energy expenditure during protein digestion not only aids in burning more calories but also facilitates calorie control, making protein an advantageous component in weight management and dietary strategies.
Amino Acids: Not All Proteins Are Equal
Important point to note: we‘re not eating for protein but for amino acids which support all the body’s physical structure and physiological functions such as neurotransmitter and antioxidant production, and protein synthesis.
Have you noticed food labels separate different types of fats (saturated, unsaturated, monosaturated)— yet they don’t break down the different types of amino acids in proteins? This is extremely important and has been overlooked.
Pssst, this is the elephant in the room.
Not all protein sources are made equal (eg. animal versus plant) due to different amino acid compositions. We also have non-essential and essential amino acids.
Proteins are made of amino acids— the building blocks of your body. When amino acids link together in a specific sequence, they form a chain called a polypeptide, which can fold into a three-dimensional structure, ultimately creating a protein.
Essential Amino Acids
These are amino acids that the human body cannot synthesize on its own, meaning they must be obtained through the diet.
Non-Essential Amino Acids
Your body produces these on its own, only if you consume adequate total protein.
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic acid
Isn’t it fascinating to consider that all the proteins in our bodies consist of just 20 different amino acids? When it comes to calculating our dietary protein intake, the real task is ensuring a proper balance of amino acids absorbed through different food sources.
Out of all these amino acids, three are particularly significant to indicate food quality: leucine, lysine, and methionine. These amino acids work best when consumed together, and among them, leucine stands out as the most significant for muscle health.
Leucine plays a pivotal role in triggering and initiating muscle protein synthesis, which is the process of building new proteins in muscle cells. Without sufficient leucine, the signal for protein synthesis may not be strong enough to support muscle growth.
Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS)
Muscle Protein Synthesis is the processing of amino acids into skeletal muscle.
Groundbreaking research related to MTOR shows that leucine is necessary to trigger muscle-protein synthesis.
You need approximately at least 30g of protein per meal to trigger MPS.
Quick Lesson On MTOR
MTOR, the mammalian target of rapamycin mechanic, was discovered in the 1990s and is almost like a control center inside each of our cells. It plays a vital role in deciding whether our cells should make new proteins or not. Think of mTOR as a switch that can turn on or off the process of building proteins in our cells. When mTOR is active, it’s like giving the green light to create new proteins, which is important for various functions in our body, like keeping our muscles strong and healthy.
The mTOR mechanism really likes one amino acid, leucine.
Leucine specifically activates a component of the mTOR signal complex, which plays a vital role in initiating and sustaining protein synthesis within cells. Imagine leucine as the key you turn to start a car’s engine. mTOR is like the engine, and amino acids are the fuel. Together, they help create new proteins in our muscles. But here’s the twist: this system is a bit tricky.
mTOR’s activity can change as we get older, and it can also be influenced by the food we eat, especially amino acids like leucine. The older you get, the more protein you need.
Understanding the Catabolic State
Let’s cut to the chase: if you’re serious about supercharging your muscle growth and turbocharging your metabolism, meal timing is your secret weapon.
When we wake up in the morning, our bodies have been fasting throughout the night. During this fasting period, our muscles enter a catabolic state, which means our body is in a breakdown mode. To counteract this breakdown and support muscle health, we need to provide them with the necessary nutrients, especially protein.
The Proper Way To ‘Break Your Fast’
My ultimate key to eliminating cravings, snacking, energy crashes, weight gain, brain fog, and mood disorders: BREAK YOUR FAST WITH PROTEIN.
To kickstart your metabolic engine and support muscle development, a protein-rich breakfast is non-negotiable, regardless of when you break your overnight fast. A robust dose of protein is the key. This isn’t just about taming your hunger; it’s about arming your body with amino acids for an all-day power play.
Break Your Fast With Sufficient Leucine
Without sufficient signaling from the amino acid, leucine, our muscles will interpret a meal as inadequate for supporting the nutrient demands of protein synthesis. Instead, your body will store the meal calories as fat while muscle breakdown continues until adequate protein is consumed.
The dose of protein you eat in a single meal is either sufficient to trigger MPS or it isn’t.
Any diet that fails to meet this threshold is missing a key component toward the optimization of muscle and metabolic health.
Foods high in leucine include a variety of protein-rich options. Lean meats like beef, poultry, and fish, along with dairy products such as Greek yogurt and cheese, offer abundant leucine. Plant-based sources like tofu, legumes (beans and lentils), nuts, seeds, and quinoa provide vegetarian-friendly alternatives. Eggs, a protein staple, contain leucine, too. Incorporating these foods into your diet not only supports muscle health but also ensures you’re getting an ample supply of this essential amino acid.
Protein & Meal Timing
Other than breakfast, when are other important times to make sure you consume adequate protein?
Last Meal Of The Day
Equally significant is the last meal before your overnight fast. Choosing foods rich in essential amino acids can help stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the night means high-quality sleep and preps your body for the morning hustle. For those looking to maximize their overnight metabolic rate without compromising fat-burning, the International Sports Nutrition Society recommends a pre-sleep intake of casein protein, typically in the range of 30-40 grams.
Now, let’s talk about the game-changer: post-exercise protein. If you’re getting up there in age, battling the bulge, or facing metabolic roadblocks, this is your ace. After a workout, muscle contractions boost blood flow to the muscles, creating an optimal environment for nutrient uptake. Consuming protein post-workout promotes MPS.
Prioritizing protein intake during these specific windows of time is a strategy that can counteract anabolic resistance in muscle tissue. This means you can achieve favorable results with a lower overall dietary protein intake when combined with regular exercise. By strategically timing your protein consumption, you’re not only supporting muscle growth but also optimizing your metabolic health.
Recommended Protein Guidelines
- 30-50g of protein in the first and last meal of the day (depending on your protein needs).
- You need a minimum of 30g in each meal to stimulate muscle-protein synthesis.
- An easy ratio to begin with is 50g protein + 50g carb (1:1)
- Minimum 1g of protein per pound of body weight and more if you’re active (I consume approx. 1.6x protein.)
- Consume less than 50g of carbs per meal to minimize insulin response.
- ALWAYS pair carbs with protein, fats, and fiber.
- Carbs have robust amounts of bioactive compounds (polyphenols, carotenoids, and other phytonutrients) in nutrient-dense plant foods that may help regulate inflammation, muscle health, etc.
- Choose carbs low on the glycemic index
- Depending on your dietary preferences, you can switch your carbs/fat ratio
- Ideally for longevity and weight loss: have 2 large meals per day (breakfast and early dinner).
- If your goal is to build muscle, split your protein between 3-4 meals.
- Consume protein 1-2hrs after waking for muscle protein synthesis with at least 50g of protein
- 50g protein + 50g carb (1:1) second meal
- Carbs: 30-50g per meal to reduce insulin response
- 90g per day + increase (start slow go slow)
- *if exercising increase to 60g per hour of moderate to intense exercise
The Take-Away: Protein-Loading Your Morning for Optimal Health
- Breakfast is crucial, and skipping it may lead to cravings and unhealthy eating habits.
- Lean muscles mass is correlated to longevity.
- The loss of lean skeletal muscle is more dangerous than the impact of gaining fat.
- Losing muscle leads to a disease cycle, affecting energy production and resulting in fat gain.
- High-carb breakfasts, influenced by marketing and cultural factors, contribute to energy crashes and poor dietary choices.
- Shifting towards a protein-focused breakfast offers sustained energy, and satiety, and stabilizes blood sugar.
- Avoid influencers advocating extreme dietary practices (eg. veganism) and understand the importance of individualized nutrition.
- Acknowledge the significance of essential amino acids, especially leucine.
- Leucine plays a pivotal role in triggering and initiating muscle protein synthesis
- Break the overnight fast with sufficient leucine-rich protein to optimize muscle and metabolic health.
- Strategically time protein intake to counteract anabolic resistance and enhance metabolic health.
- Prioritize protein at key times, including the last meal and post-workout.
- Leucine specifically activates a component of the mTOR signal complex, which plays a vital role in initiating and sustaining protein synthesis within cells
*Please note that this is not medical advice. Advise with your doctor before making dramatic changes in your diet. Also, take extreme ownership and do research. Our bodies are unique and what works for somebody else may not work for you.