We’re all familiar with that kind of morning. You know, the one where you wake up late, peel out the door in a hurry, and grab a muffin at the nearest coffee shop. While there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a good pastry every once in a while, making it a habit is not so great.
“Your body is like a very needy car—it requires fuel first thing in the morning, and again every four to six hours after,” says Jessica Crandall, R.D.N., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She stresses the importance of loading up on protein and fiber in the a.m. so that you don’t crash later.
“A carb-heavy breakfast makes your blood sugar go up and back down, which causes you to feel hungry about two hours later,” says Crandall.
Below, experts share the key weight loss-promoting nutrients you really need at breakfast, and easy ways to get them. Read on for the skinny on how to optimize your breakfast for weight loss. (Lose up to 15 pounds WITHOUT dieting with Eat Clean to Get Lean, our 21-day clean-eating meal plan.)
Go For Protein
Eggs are a morning staple for a reason. According to a study published in the American Journal of Nutrition, eating a breakfast high in protein was linked to increased fullness, reduced nighttime snacking on junk foods, and reduced cravings overall. “If we fall short on protein at breakfast, that decreases our muscle mass and metabolism,” says Crandall. Many Americans eat enough protein at lunch and dinner, but not enough protein at breakfast. Women should shoot for about 20 grams at breakfast, says Crandall.
Some of Crandall’s favorite protein options: whole grain toast with nut butter or an egg on top, 1/4 cup of oats on Greek yogurt with berries and almonds, chicken apple sausage with two poached eggs, banana bread baked with a scoop ofprotein powder, and baked crustless quiche. Cooked quinoa with berries is another great option because it’s higher in protein than oatmeal. Cook the quinoa in advance and store in the refrigerator to streamline your morning.
Go For Fiber
It always comes down to this: Eat real food. “If you’re eating foods that contain fiber, you’ve automatically eliminated a lot of junk, like carbohydrate sources that are simple and refined,” says Lisa Cimperman, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Eating foods high in fiber tends to slow down the digestive process, which will help you feel fuller longer and leads to a more sustainable form of energy. Her favorite fiber options include whole-grain toast, oatmeal, overnight oats, and fruits and veggies.
Go For Veggies
We don’t focus enough on fruits and vegetables, especially at breakfast. “They should make up about half of what we eat at any meal, and people really struggle at breakfast with eating enough fruit or eating any vegetables at all,” says Torey Armul, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She suggests throwing some spinach, peppers, or zucchini into an omelet, heating up your veggie leftovers from the night before, or adding veggies to a smoothie (throw in some fruit for sweetness).
Go For Healthy Snacks
Another way to keep you full and slow down digestion: eating healthy fats. “You’ll have a long slow release of energy, which will contribute to more energy throughout the morning,” says Armul. Avocado toast is one of her favorite fast and easy staples. She also recommends adding nuts to oatmeal and topping smoothies with chia seeds or flaxseed. Also, cooking with olive oil is a good way to give you a dose of healthy fats, she notes.
Go For Something Unusual
Use your imagination. “Breakfast food doesn’t have to be breakfast food,” says Crandall, who loves to eat breakfast tacos on corn tortillas. And if you don’t like eggs, you don’t have to use them in your tacos—try beans and veggies (which you can prep the night before) instead. Crandall also likes to dip apple slices into a mix of Greek yogurt, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Spinach salads or reheated leftovers are also good bets—they’re what some of Armul’s clients go for when they don’t feel like having a regular breakfast.