Including a muscle-building breakfast in your diet might be exactly what you need to gain size and strength. Building mass requires more than just regular training. It requires proper meal timing to ensure your body has the nutrients it needs to support muscle growth.
Muscle mass gain requires a combination of strength training and proper nutrition. Not all diet and exercise programs will produce the desired results, though. Making sure you supply your body with necessary macro-nutrients, like protein, fats and carbs, in the right proportions is the key to building muscle.
Lean sources of protein and whole-food-sourced carbohydrates help increase muscle. Timing your meals and spreading your protein throughout the day are also important. Foods like egg whites, nonfat Greek yogurt and protein powders are all easy grab-and-go options for breakfast.
Prepare a Muscle-Building Breakfast
Protein is an essential building block of muscle tissue. It contains both nonessential and essential amino acids, and the body needs both. Leucine, an essential amino acid, is critical for muscle growth and repair. During a workout, muscle tissue generates tiny tears that allow for muscle growth.
Leucine stimulates growth and repair during this post-workout time. A small study of 24 older men published in August 2019 in the American Journal of Physiology has found that subjects who took leucine in addition to 15 grams of protein had greater protein synthesis post-workout than those consuming only 15 grams of protein.
Making sure your breakfast protein sources provide adequate leucine is a requisite step in reaching the muscle growth you're looking for, especially if you work out in the morning. Foods high in leucine include but are not limited to poultry, beef, pork, tuna, firm tofu, canned navy beans, milk, eggs and low-fat ricotta cheese.
Hypertrophy, or muscle growth, also requires eating more than your daily calorie needs. That means you need to stay in a calorie surplus.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that adult women need 1,600 to 2,400 calories and adult men need 2,000 to 3,000 calories. Increasing your calories slowly is the way to gain muscle. If your weight is currently stable, increasing your daily calories by adding 30 grams of protein to your breakfast is a great place to start.
Protein is essential for building muscle, but including carbohydrates in your breakfast is also important. These nutrients help replenish your glycogen stores after training.
Glycogen is an energy source for your muscles, and making sure you have enough of it pre- and post-workout is crucial. Including whole-food sources of carbohydrates, such as fruit, quinoa, sweet potatoes, oats and other whole grains, makes it easy to prepare a muscle-building breakfast.
Breakfast Food for Muscle Growth
The amount of protein you have at breakfast and throughout the day is just as important. A systematic review published in July 2017 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine evaluated more than 1,800 study participants in 49 different studies. Authors concluded that the ideal intake of protein for muscle building is up to 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight. This means that a 160-pound person needs to consume 116 grams of protein a day to support muscle growth.
While breakfast supports muscle building, it's also important to spread your protein intake throughout the day. This allows your body to have a continuous supply of amino acids, which further promotes muscle growth.
A small study published in January 2014 in the Journal of Nutrition shows that muscle protein synthesis increased by 25 percent when the participants distributed their protein intake over all their meals each day, versus eating a bulk of their protein at dinner. Subjects with the greatest gains consumed about 30 grams of protein at each meal.
For reference, four egg whites contain about 14.4 grams of protein, and one container of nonfat Greek yogurt provides 17.3 grams of protein. Combining breakfast foods like nonfat dairy, low-fat cheese, eggs or lean ground meats will help you get protein in your diet as soon as you wake up. Whey protein or a plant-based protein powder high in leucine also makes a great addition to your morning coffee in place of sugar or creamer.
Getting in a breakfast that helps build muscle doesn't have to be complicated. Try these combos:
- Whey protein with coffee and raspberries
- Two-egg omelet with low-fat cheese and fruit
- Overnight oats with pineapple, Greek yogurt and coconut flakes
- Breakfast sandwich with three egg whites, a slice of low-fat cheese and a glass of fruit juice
Strength Training Is a Must
Having a breakfast that includes about 30 grams of protein and adequate carbohydrates may facilitate muscle growth, but increased muscle mass cannot develop without strength training. Muscles can't grow on food alone. They need to be challenged by slowly increasing the resistance or the number of reps.
The weight you should use will differ depending on your current strength level and the muscle group that you're targeting. The lower body can usually tolerate heavier loads than the upper body.
To gain muscle, add weight when exercises feel too easy: about one to two pounds for your upper body and two to five pounds for the lower body. You can also add additional repetitions to your workout instead of increasing the weight right away. Make sure to complete the exercise with good form, even (and especially) when adding weight.
Recovery is essential for muscle growth as well. When you strength train, tiny tears are created in the muscle. They need time to recover from these tears in order to grow. About 48 hours of rest between workouts is ideal for most muscle groups.
Eat for Your Goals
Including breakfast in your muscle-building plan is essential for muscle growth and repair. Balanced breakfast meals containing whole food sources of carbohydrates and about 30 grams of lean protein will help fuel your workouts and muscle gains. Nutrition alone doesn't lead to hypertrophy.
Strength training and a calorie surplus are needed to create new muscle tissue. Simple muscle-building breakfast ideas include: overnight oats with Greek yogurt, egg omelet with low-fat cheese and fruit and, when pressed for time, adding whey protein to coffee and having some fruit is a great option.
Read more: How to Build Dense Muscle
Filling up on leucine-rich sources of protein like beef, tuna, pork, canned navy beans, milk and eggs will help maximize your gains. A Greek yogurt parfait or an egg omelet will cover your leucine needs.
It's also important to check with a doctor or registered dietitian before making any changes to your diet or exercise routine. A dietician can help you develop a meal plan that aligns with your goals and meets your individual needs.
- MyFoodData: "Top 10 Foods Highest in Leucine"
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: "A Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis and Meta-Regression of the Effect of Protein Supplementation on Resistance Training-Induced Gains in Muscle Mass and Strength in Healthy Adults"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults"
- MyFoodData: "Nutrition Facts for Egg Whites"
- MyFoodData: "Nutrition Facts for Nonfat Greek Yogurt"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- Harvard Health: "Add Strength Training to Your Fitness Plan"
- American Journal of Physiology: "Leucine Co-Ingestion Augments the Muscle Protein Synthetic Response to the Ingestion of 15 G Protein Following Resistance Exercise in Older Men"
- NCBI: International Journal of Exercise Science: "The Effects of Overfeeding on Body Composition: The Role of Macronutrient Composition – A Narrative Review"