The Meat and Nut Breakfast: Why it works
Why the Meat and Nut Concept Works
The meat and nut breakfast has been popularised by Canadian Strength and Conditioning Coach Charles Poliquin. Of all the things I have learnt from Charles and the Biosignature courses this concept of protein and fat in the morning for breakfast is probably the one I apply the most with great success. Whilst it is not for everyone, I have found that in around 95% of cases this is a great breakfast choice, especially if you are storing a little excess fat around your mid-section and on the side of the body, or for those that have poor morning energy or mental clarity.
Here's the science
The use of high fat and high protein foods is beneficial in the morning because:
- Proteins and Fats have less of an effect on blood sugar levels than your typical carbohydrate dense breakfast such as toast, cereal and fruit, thus less of an increase in blood sugars means a minimal insulin response after eating. Why do we want to minimise insulin responses?
- Balanced blood glucose levels mean more balanced energy levels, preventing peaks and crashes in blood sugar that often lead to dips in energy, poor mental function, food cravings and overeating in the next meal. Scientific research has consistently shown that breakfast that contains protein and fat can help reduce overall calorie intake through the rest of the day and help reduce intake of sugary foods.
- High levels of blood glucose from the standard carbohydrate rich breakfast will make the body respond by releasing high levels of insulin to bring the blood sugar levels down. For those of you that do not know, insulin acts as a storage hormone, we can use it in our favour after a workout when we want to replenish and deliver nutrients to the cells, at the point when our cells are at their most receptive to pulling sugars into the muscles to be stored as glycogen. However in times where we do not need to replenish our glycogen stores, these peaks in blood glucose levels will make insulin act as a storage hormone that is able to facilitate in the conversion of the blood sugars into fats to be stored in the body. Also the process of conversion will also increase triglyceride levels in the blood, one of the most important markers for cardiovascular risk.
- Poor management of insulin levels due to a poor diet is undoubtedly the main cause of central obesity, especially fat storage on the sides of the body. Various research papers and a huge number of doctors are now in agreement that mismanagement of insulin through poor dietary habits will lead to fat gain on the sides of the body and around the stomach because of its close relationship with the hormone cortisol.
- Those that are constantly secreting high levels of insulin are at risk of making their body more resistant to the effects of insulin on their cells. This is one component that can lead to insulin resistance. When the cells of your body become more insulin resistant we become less efficient at pulling the sugars into the cell to then be used for energy production, not only can this lead to a worsening of energy levels but also the body sugar levels can then begin to remain high. This is when type 2 diabetes occurs.
- High Protein breakfasts compared to high carbohydrate decrease gastric emptying, this decrease in gastric emptying will slow the absorption of food, therefore blunting the glucose and insulin response.
Another great aspect of the meat and nut or a high protein and fat breakfast is the effect it can have on mental clarity and performance. Much of that can be put down to the improvement in blood sugar regulation but also you can improve the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and acetylcholine. Dopamine and acetylcholine are two neurotransmitters that are tightly linked to improved metal function.
How does a breakfast high in proteins and fats such as the meat and nut breakfast help up regulate these neurotransmitters?
The up regulation of these neurotransmitters can be amino acid dependant; amino acids are forms of proteins. Two of the most important amino acids for this are tyrosine for dopamine activity and phenylalanine for acetylcholine. The richest sources tend to be meats, fish, eggs, different types of nuts and certain vegetables.
Proteins and fats such as those foods in the meat and nut breakfast make you feel fuller quicker and will keep you fuller for longer. This means that for those that struggle with gorging on foods and simply overeating this is a great way of reducing the calorie intake slightly without compromising hunger. This becomes beneficial because most people then find it easier to stick to eating this way if they are not always hungry, which is often the case when you decide to reduce your calorie intake. Why is this?
- Protein foods especially help with the release the hormone PYY which helps slow the rate of gastric emptying so food gets delivered to the intestine slower which can then aid the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. Whilst Carbohydrates do help release PYY, the levels are very different. In fact one study demonstrated that 2 groups given free rein to eat as much as they wanted to, with one group allowed protein based foods and the other carbohydrate based meals, the carbohydrate group on average ate around 4,000 extra calories in the day. Some of the participants reaching over 10,000 calories in the day. Another study in mice showed that mice without the PYY gene could eat and eat and would gain significant amounts of weight.
- Ghrelin a hormone in the digestive system that increases appetite is suppressed when we eat, especially by fatty acids and proteins. Ghrelin is not all bad though as it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, enhanced learning and memory and an ability to increase growth hormone levels. However it has been regularly shown in research that those with higher levels of ghrelin tend to have higher levels of obesity and poorer sleep quality.