What’s your breakfast look like? I assume many people would answer this question with something like “cereal,” “toast,” “coffee,” or “nothing.” I’m sure many MindBodyGreen readers have answers that sound more like “green juice,” “oatmeal,” or “fruit.” While none of these are horrible choices, I’d like to take a moment to explain why these options may not fit the bill for an optimally healthy breakfast.
Protein is critical for maintaining healthy muscles, but what you may not be aware of is protein’s essential role in hormone and neurotransmitter synthesis. As a nutritionist, I advise most of my clients to eat within two hours of waking, with that first meal ideally containing 15-20 grams of high-quality protein. That might seem like very arbitrary advice, but trust me: there is a method to my madness.
Let’s take a look at the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in many sources of protein. Tryptophan is one of the key biochemical drivers of serotonin production, and serotonin is the neurotransmitter that plays a large role in our general sense of happiness and well-being. So when you eat protein, some of that protein is converted to serotonin, leading you to maintain your ability to feel joy and wellness. After that occurs, some of that serotonin subsequently goes on to help form melatonin, the “sleepy hormone,” helping us drift off to a much-deserved restful sleep every night.
Several studies have shown that while tryptophan will generally cross the blood-brain barrier and begin the serotonin-melatonin production process, often there are other amino acids that jump ahead in line, slowing the rate at which tryptophan can start its helpful process.
So what does that all mean for you and I? In short, beginning the day with a protein rich meal sets you up to have all the building blocks for these chemical processes to occur later in the day. Adding a carb-rich afternoon snack to your routine may help the process even further. Of course, nutrition is still a young science, and how to apply this information is still more theory than hard fact, but I personally find it fun to take the information and set up a simple experiment, even if it’s just an experiment on myself.
The self-experiment: Have eggs, yogurt, or even leftover meat and fish from last night’s dinner for breakfast. See how your body reacts to this routine over a seven-day period. In my case, eating this way seemed to help me regulate both my mood and sleep, leading me to feel happier (and less irritable) and better rested. I’ve also had several clients who were struggling with intermittent insomnia report that this little shift in routine largely eliminated their struggles with sleep (please note that if you're suffering from chronic insomnia, see a sleep specialist).
I encourage you to try this shift in routine to see if you find the same benefits to mood and energy levels. My bet is that you’ll feel the positive effects pretty quickly. Whether it works or not, I’d love to hear about your experience: What protein-rich breakfasts did you like? What afternoon carb snacks have you found? Are there any other changes you’ve discovered that have lead to a happier, healthier and better-rested state of being? Please leave a comment below to share with us.