Get Your Protein in Early and Often to Optimize Health

Written by Justin Walls on . Posted in Health & Wellness

The word “protein” comes from the Greek word proteios, meaning “primary.” The term was coined by scientists in the 19th century to reinforce the significant role that protein plays in our lives. Our bodies demand protein for the maintenance of skin and muscle cells. Protein is composed of amino acids, which contribute to the regulation of metabolism and cell function and repair. Some of the amino acids that we need to complete these functions are produced entirely by our body, and some are supplemented by diet. Recently, scientists began asking how much protein healthy people should consume, and whether the time of day they eat that protein makes a difference.

A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that at a minimum, protein should make up between 10 and 15 percent of an adult’s daily calorie intake. This study helped launch further investigations into what the optimal daily amount of protein should be, dividing studies into age groups and times of day to minimize body fat gain and improve satiety. Apparently, the 2008 study left everyone hungry AND gaining body fat — like a poor restaurant experience. And nobody wants to eat again right after going out to eat.

Dr. Heather Leidy of the University of Missouri conducted a 12-week study in 2016 using the average meal protein intake from this 2008 study, which found that Americans were eating between 10-15 grams at breakfast. In comparing the “average” breakfast to her improved high-protein (35 gram) one, her study got amazing results for the big breakfast eaters: no body fat gain, increase in lean muscle, and 400 fewer calories per day than “average” breakfast eaters. So there you have it: Big breakfast equals weight management. This was a major breakthrough in what is called “macronutrient timing,” which means that the time of day you eat one of the three primary nutrients of protein, fat, or carbohydrate contributes to how your metabolism responds in the succeeding hours of the day. In this case, eating protein earlier in the day had many significant positive metabolic responses.

Further studies found that meals containing 30-plus grams of protein were especially significant in groups that experience muscle loss. Groups of individuals above 30 years of age were the most positively impacted with the increased protein in their meals. Seniors above age 60 especially showed improvement in overall movement and muscle tone by eating more protein, more often.

The meal plan I’m recommending based on these studies could be called the “three fists full” diet because the amount of meat, fish, or some dairy can accumulate 30-plus grams of protein in food the size of your fist (about three to four ounces). Suggestions for maintaining this high-protein diet would be getting, for example, a cup of whole-fat yogurt for breakfast, a full can of tuna for lunch, and a chicken breast for dinner. Each meal should be supplemented with an equal amount of whole grains and a double helping of fruits and/or vegetables.

For recipe ideas, visit my blog and search “protein” in the search bar.

By Justin Walls


Justin Walls is the owner of Rockville Personal Training LLC in Rockville, Maryland. He specializes in post-rehab and medical exercise, general fitness for all age groups, and using the latest technology in the industry. He can be reached at 240-630-0298 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .