Should You Eat Carbs or Protein in the Morning on a Diet?

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially for dieters. Carbohydrates fuel the brain and body, while protein helps reduce hunger and builds muscle. A breakfast high in complex carbohydrates may be the most familiar way for dieters to jump-start the day, but some researchers say a high-protein breakfast, or better yet, a mix of carbs and protein, may help you feel full longer.

A bowl of cereal and raspberries on a breakfast table with fresh orange juice. (Image: tashka2000/iStock/Getty Images)


Eating breakfast bolsters metabolism more than any other meal of the day and can help protect against heart disease and other life-shortening health conditions, according to the Harvard Medical School. Skipping breakfast leads to overeating later in the day and may contribute to obesity, according to Mary Ellen Camire, a nutrition professor with the Institute of Food Technologists. A healthy, filling breakfast helps control appetite throughout the day, encourages the body to burn more calories, and can even improve memory and school performance.


Complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grains and fruits form the best base for a healthy breakfast. Steel-cut oatmeal, boxed whole-grain whole cereals, or whole-grain toast supplemented with fresh or dried fruit has a better health payoff than either simple carbs, like a white-bread bagel, or protein sources like eggs or bacon, according to the Harvard Medical School. Breakfasts rich in whole grains help prevent cardiovascular disease, help you feel awake, and may improve alertness and memory. Both school children and elders perform better on memory tests after a high-carb breakfast, The Franklin Institute reports. Carbohydrate-dense breakfasts may also help weight loss over time; less than 5 percent of low-carb diets are successful after two years, diet doctor Daniela Jakubowicz noted at The Endocrine Society's 2008 meeting.


A high-protein breakfast takes longer to move through the stomach, allowing dieters to feel full longer, which bolsters their ability to resist reaching for more food. High-protein breakfasts reduce the amount of ghrelin -- a hormone that stimulates a feeling of hunger -- in the bloodstream more effectively than do high-carb breakfasts, according to the Institute of Food Technologists. A high-protein breakfast led to greater satiety and lower reward-driven eating behavior than a low-protein breakfast, according to a University of Missouri study published in "Obesity" in 2011. Yogurt and beans are both low-fat protein sources that can be part of a healthy breakfast, and eggs remain a highly a valuable breakfast protein food. People who eat two eggs along with toast and fruit for breakfast show reduced caloric intake for a full 36 hours after eating the breakfast, according to the Institute for Food Technologists.

Carbs and Protein

A big breakfast packed with both carbohydrates and protein, followed by low-calorie, low-carbohydrate eating the rest of the day, may well be the best method of not only losing weight, but keeping it off over the long haul, according to a study presented to The Endocrine Society in 2008. An eight-month study of low-carb dieters who ate a small breakfast compared to dieters who ate a significant allotment of their daily calories as carbohydrates and protein at breakfast found that the low-carb dieters lost more weight in the short term but regained it quickly, while big-breakfast eaters went on to continue losing weight at a modest pace over several additional months. Chewy whole grains that are rich in dietary fiber can increase feelings of satiety, while slowly digested protein helps keep that full feeling longer. Eating a balanced breakfast daily will help you get and keep those extra pounds off.

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