I don’t usually read mainstream media but I happen to come across an article from the magazine Health which was titled 25 High-Protein Breakfast Ideas To Fuel Your Day. You can read the article for free if you would like, but as you might guess, the mainstream media is not exactly hip to the latest recommendations from the leaders in protein research. I also realize that most of you reading are not either, and that is perfectly OK, that’s what I am here for!
If you look at nearly all of these 25 recommendations, I can with a lot of confidence say these may include protein in them, however when you look at the amount of protein per calorie of these meals the ratio is very low.
Why is this ratio important?
You want to be eating the most amount of protein grams for every calorie you consume. The reason being is that most people are already eating too many calories, but are not eating enough protein. By following these “high protein meals” in reality people are adding too much to something they clearly have enough of (calories) but adding very little to something they are missing (protein).
Instead of thinking about reaching your protein goal in terms of the complete meal, I encourage you to think of the protein source first and then build a meal around that. By taking this approach, you are making sure you are getting the thing you are low in (protein) and not getting too many of the things you are already eating enough of (calories).
Let’s start with an example.
Say you are looking through the list of meals from this website and you pick no-bake protein balls, that sounds good, plus you are crunched for time in the morning and you can just grab a few of these and head out the door.
According to this website “To make them, most people use a combination of oats, peanut butter, chia seeds, flax seeds, and chocolate chips. Some also add honey and protein powder.”
It just happens I make these for my kids as a snack. Here is the recipe I use.
- 1 ½ cups no stir creamy peanut butter 2500 calories 84g protein
- ½ cup honey 515 calories 0.5g protein
- 1 ⅓ cups old fashioned oats (rolled oats) 345 calories 11.5g protein
- ½ cup vanilla protein powder 110 calories 23g protein
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup mini dark chocolate chips 640 calories 8g protein
Let’s go through the exercise of calculating the protein of all the ingredients..
1 ½ cups of peanut butter: 84g of protein
½ cup honey: 0.5g protein
1 ⅓ cups old fashioned rolled oats: 11.5g protein
½ cups vanilla protein powder: 23g protein
⅛ teaspoon salt: 0g protein
½ cup mini dark chocolate chips: 8g protein
The total protein for the whole recipe is 115.5 g of protein.
Not bad, for most people that’s a good chunk of their daily protein intake.
But remember this is the amount of protein for the entire recipe.
When I make these it usually yields about 25 balls, doing the math, that ends up being 4.5g of protein per ball.
Let’s say you need to eat 120g of protein per day (By the way you want to eat about 1g of protein per pound of body weight or ideal body weight if you have weight to lose.). If we divide that up into 3 meals, that’s about 40g of protein per meal. To get that from these protein balls thats about 8 balls.
I bet if I put 8 of these balls in front of you, you could eat them without an issue.
So what is my point here?
Let’s go through and look at the calories you get from these protein balls.
1 ½ cups peanut butter: 2500 calories
½ cup honey: 515 calories
1 ⅓ cups of rolled oats: 345 calories
½ cup protein powder: 110 calories
⅛ teaspoon salt: 0 calories
½ cups chocolate chips: 640 calories
The total calories for the entire recipe is 4110 calories…thats about 2 days worth of calories for the entire recipe.
How many calories per ball (if there are 25 balls)? That about 164 calories per ball.
Remember we need 8 balls to reach around 40g for our breakfast, that means our breakfast is 1,312 calories…more than ½ a day’s calories for most people!
So are these balls really a good idea to include more protein in your breakfast?
Maybe…but only if you are trying to gain weight…which most people reading this are not trying to do.
This is why I said instead of selecting a high protein “meal” we select a high protein food and build the rest of the meal around that.
As an example let’s look at the ingredients in these protein balls and figure out which ones are giving us the most protein for the calories they concern.
While peanut butter gives us 84g of protein it comes along with 2500 calories, not what we want. However the protein powder gives us 23g of protein for 110 calories. While that is a lot less protein than the peanut butter, we could have 4 servings of protein powder and equal the same amount of protein while consuming 440 calories! But again, at breakfast we don’t need 84g of protein we need half that, so we can get that from 2 servings and 220 calories!
Protein powder seems like a better choice as a source of our protein for breakfast, so how can we construct a breakfast around this?
You could take 2 scoops of protein powder and throw it in some water and go with that…but that lacks any kind of micronutrients or much enjoyment from that meal. You could make a shake with 2 scoops of protein powder with some fruit and veggies and that is a bit better.
In general though I discourage people from drinking their food, it makes you feel less full which is a struggle for many people.
A better option would be to take some low fat greek yogurt or cottage cheese, add a scoop of protein powder to it, and top it with some fresh fruit and a couple of nuts or seeds.
Low fat greek yogurt and cottage cheese are also a high protein food, so we are combining 2 high protein foods and adding some other foods you may enjoy around that!
If you are looking for more foods that are higher in protein but lower in calories here are some suggestions.
Pick any of these foods and build a meal around it and you can’t go wrong, it will be hard to turn the meal into a caloric bomb just in an effort to get some protein in.
You might be saying…
“Great Ryan, I can select one of these but how do I turn that into a meal?”
Your first thought might be to pick one of these foods and Google breakfast ideas using that food. While this is one way to come up with ideas you might run into posts like the one we started with at the top of this post.
Instead I suggest you do this. Pick your protein, pick a vegetable, pick a fruit/starch/carb you like. Also don’t be afraid to combine protein sources (like we did in the protein powder and greek yogurt example). For example, you can pick steak and eggs as your protein source.
Now how do you turn that into breakfast?
Alongside your steak and eggs you can have some cherry tomatoes, half an avocado, and a bowl of berries. Simple, easy, and delicious. Best of all it’s packed with protein and nutrients!
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