Should You Eat Protein For Breakfast?

Jun 5, 2023

 by Stephen Conca

Should You Eat Protein For Breakfast?

This is a controversial topic on many levels, however, my hope is to present the approach from nutritional biochemistry and research that looks at overall health and longevity and not from the latest fad on the internet.  This way you can take the information and decide what's best for you. There is not ONE diet or exercise plan that will work for everyone. There is a foundational-based approach but after that, it should be a bio-individualized approach to nutrition and wellness in order to optimize your health.  

This post will cover how eating protein for breakfast affects hormone production, muscle gain or loss, autophagy (which is the breakdown of cancerous cells in the body), and overall longevity so you can decide which way is the best for you to optimize your health.  This is a high-level topic so I'll do my best to simplify the concepts into easily digestible chunks. 

Many of you reading this are already making changes to your food intake, how long you are eating in between meals, and are not consuming the standard American Diet.  So you're off to a great start.  If you are already willing to do these things then you are saying you have control and are well on your way to making further changes to optimize your health. 

So the question is...whether you should be eating protein or higher amounts of protein for breakfast? 

Why does this matter?  Fasting typically happens when we sleep. This is where autophagy takes place and is the process where the body breaks down and destroys old, damaged, or abnormal cells and proteins. This is essentially the body cleaning house.

After the body is finished intaking food (digestion) which takes hours and uses a lot of energy, the body then has to find other sources of fuel.  During sleeping (fasting), the body looks to break down weak mitochondria, bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, zombie, and dead cells. This is a process of phagocytosis. The process of where white blood cells surround ad engulfs dead or weak cells.  

Another important process that happens during a fast (8,10,12 or 16hrs) is something called activated protein kinase, or AMPK. This is a cellular-based energy sensor. AMPK is activated when the amount of fuel (food) is reduced and the body begins to downregulate other processes such as ATP or energy production.  The issue becomes that when too much fasting takes place the body becomes too catabolic, or the process of breaking down amino acids (muscle tissue) becomes accelerated. This can cause sarcopenia (muscle loss), osteoporosis (bone loss), and a weak immune system. This can cause hormonal imbalances in men and women. 

Fasting is important. Overfasting is not good, especially as you age. However, if you are trying to lose weight, intermittent fasting, and not getting enough protein can lead to losing muscle mass.  There needs to be a balance. 

If we don't want to become too catabolic then the opposite of catabolic is anabolic. Anabolic is the process of growth and repair of tissue. This anabolism has many factors behind it. One of those factors is called mTOR, (Mammalian target of rapamycin) which shuts down AMPK, autophagy, and apoptosis. mTOR is switched on when there is more protein or amino acids available and regulates cell growth. 

This process enhances the body's ability to grow muscle tissue and recover faster. An anabolic diet boosts hormones like testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen. 

Here's the problem. Too much mTOR shuts down AMPK, autophagy, and apoptosis to a degree and favors cellular growth. If you push too far with mTOR this accelerates the potential growth of cancer cells, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. 

Many people are pushing toward one side of this equation or the other. On both extremes, just like anything in life will be bad.  You will never win in the LONG game with extremes. A carnivore diet works really well with turning on mTOR and a vegan diet works really well with turning on AMPK. This is why some people see short-term results when they swing from one side to the other.  They see benefits each time. What the body needs for long-term optimal health is balance. 

This brings us back to the question of what should you do for breakfast.  Should you skip it? There is just too much overwhelming evidence that eating earlier in the evening allows a natural occurrence of 8-12-16 hours for the body to naturally cleanse itself. 

Should you eat more or less protein?  

You have to ask yourself...what are you trying to optimize?  

When I was in college and in the Marines, it was all about gaining muscle. So I ate all the time, morning, and late at night, and ingested lots of (protein) amino acids. It worked! I was close to 180lbs for several years.  Fast forward 30 years, my mindset and health goals have changed. 

Finding the balance between catabolic and anabolic eating is key. You need to understand where you want to optimize your diet depending on your goals.  If some weight loss is your goal along with helping the body to clean itself, it is important to lean towards being more catabolic which would be consuming lots of vegetables and low glycemic fruit.  So eating breakfast with light, plant-based proteins and fruits, and vegetables will keep AMPK activated. You will want to avoid animal-based proteins for breakfast as these will activate aMPK and put you in a more growth-based state.  This is aligned with the research on the disposable soma theory of aging which is a topic for another day.  So a better option for this person might be to consume a heavier amount of protein later in the afternoon for dinner. and try to consume that dinner 3 hrs before you go to sleep. 

If you are looking to build muscle and gain weight, you may want to be on the anabolic side of this equation. This means having heavy protein throughout the day, not only just for breakfast. This is the steak and eggs mentality.  In your youth, this more anabolic approach will work. Just be aware that you will be shutting down AMPK and turning on mTOR. If you look at the longest-living populations around the world, those that are still functioning at a high level at 100 years old, this anabolic approach is not being used. 

Here is a middle-of-the-road approach that is supported by longevity research. It has helped me over the last 5 years to strike a balance of eating for health while maintaining muscle and bone mass to be able to do the physical things I enjoy. 

I have 50 years to go before I'm 100 so I need to optimize my muscle mass while keeping my cells healthy to fight off disease and cancer.  

You can decide which direction you need to take depending on your health goals.

My breakfast starts with a vegan-based protein, usually in the form of a smoothie with berries. Lunch is usually a vegan-based protein with lots of veggies or grains (brown rice or quinoa or potato.  Dinner is usually the same with a flesh-based protein such as fish, chicken, or grass-fed bison.  

If you are looking to be a little more anabolic then you can add a more animal-based protein for lunch.  The type of animal you consume matters which we will cover in another post.  

This is just something to think about, There is no one right answer.  

If you need some guidance on how to navigate a more catabolic or anabolic approach to optimize your health feel free to contact us for a complimentary consultation at