People who want to build muscle and lose fat don't skip breakfast. But what are the best foods to eat? Here's what the experts suggest.
What's the very best muscle-building breakfast?
Chris Shugart – T Nation CCO
It depends on when you train, but for most lifters it's hard to beat oatmeal and protein powder.
First things first: Yes, lifters and athletes need to eat breakfast. And yes, even if their main goal at the time is fat loss. In fact, especially if the goal is fat loss or staying lean. Study after study is reinforcing what Mom and common sense have been telling us for years: breakfast is crucial.
Breakfast eaters tend to stay in better dietary control throughout the day compared to breakfast skippers, who tend to get fatter over time. Studies back this up. This is partly due to the fact that skippers often overeat at night, and partly due to the sensitivity of muscle vs. fat tissue, which changes over the course of the day. In fact, even if daily calories are kept the same, breakfast eaters tend to lose more fat than breakfast skippers / late-night eaters.
In a nutshell, that means that a big breakfast (especially one that contains a mountain of protein) is less likely to be converted and stored as body fat, while big nighttime meals are more easily stored as fat. So, breakfast is that time of the day when you can and should eat a big honkin' meal with 40 or 50 grams of protein, plenty of good carbs, and a little healthful fat.
Now, what should you eat? If your goal is muscle gain and high-performance training, it's hard to beat the nutrition and convenience of oatmeal and protein powder. Here's my favorite:
Mix cold old-fashioned oats (soaked overnight in water or almond milk) with two scoops of Metabolic Drive® Protein. Toss a handful of raw nuts on top and a handful of berries. Fast and delicious.
Cooked oatmeal is good too and plain old-fashioned oats microwave just fine. There's no need to buy those prepackaged, sweetened baggies of quick oats or spend five bucks at Starbucks on a 10-year-old girl serving of low-protein, high-sugar mush.
Oh, you just don't like oatmeal? Try hot rice cereal.
Now, what about early morning lifters? Yeah, you may not feel comfortable with a big meal in your belly during training. But since fasted lifting is like pissing from your back porch in high wind, you need to fuel up.
Amit Sapir – IFBB Pro, World Record Holder Powerlifter
All the foods! Well, mostly.
My staple breakfast has been consistent for the last 5 years:
- 12 egg whites
- 1 scoop Metabolic Drive® Protein
- 1-1.5 cups of quick oats (depending where I am in my dieting)
- 1-2 tbsp almond butter (or similar nut butter)
- 100g berries
- 1 serving Superfood
- 3 caps Flameout®
- 1000mg Curcumin
I also add honey or a banana if I require more calories and am lean enough to handle the sugars.
For building muscle you need all the food groups and this breakfast covers all your bases: complex carbs and fiber, two kinds of protein, two kinds of healthy fats, some vitamins, and a small amount of sugar to get into your system right away to trigger a small insulin spike.
I blend all of this together with the egg whites as the liquid base and throw in calorie-free items to make it tasty like Splenda, spices, vanilla extract, cocoa etc. It's a fully balanced, tasty breakfast! – Amit Sapir
Tony Gentilcore – CSCS, Strength Coach and Performance Expert
Whole eggs, oatmeal and plenty of overall calories.
I've worked with my fair share of guys trying to put on weight. Inevitably, the following conversation will transpire:
- Guy: "Tony, I can't seem to put on any weight."
- Me: "Oh, really?"
- Guy: "Yeah, I eat ALL freakin' day and the scale doesn't budge. I can't possibly eat more."
- Me: "What did you have for breakfast this morning?"
- Me: "Ah-HA! I knew it."
Listen, I'm not going to say something here like "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" or "if you don't eat breakfast your metabolism is going collapse." All else being equal, breakfast or not, the bigger factor at play here is total calories over a 24-hour period.
That said, if putting on weight/muscle is a goal and you're not even willing to do something as simple as get your ass out of bed to eat a waffle (or seven), then there's not much I can do for you.
My muscle-building breakfast of choice is:
- 5-egg omelet with spinach and cheese. That's whole eggs. None of this taking the yolks out of the equation nonsense. Be a man, eat the yolks.
- 1 cup of oatmeal with some granola, blueberries, and one scoop of Metabolic Drive® Protein.
It's almost always my largest meal of the day, chockfull of protein, carbohydrates, and fat – all the things the body needs (calories) to make muscle. Weird, right? – Tony Gentilcore
Christian Thibaudeau – Strength Coach
It's dependant on your insulin sensitivity, as well as other factors like training time and your last meal from the day before.
Two of the most muscular guys I know eat a lot of food and overall carbs at breakfast. An IFBB pro friend of mine has two bagels along with his eggs in the morning. A strongman friend of mine must have 2500 calories at breakfast and it includes about 300 grams of carbs from oatmeal!
Personally, if I eat that I will fall into an insulin-induced coma! Not to mention that I train very early in the morning, so eating that much food would make it impossible for me to have a decent workout.
The most important thing is to have a source of rapidly absorbed protein in there. Eggs (if you tolerate them) are likely the best choice. And you need some yolks to maximize growth and overall health. If someone is trying to gain maximum muscle, they might go with 3-5 whole eggs. And if they're leaning out maybe one whole egg along with 6-8 egg whites.
Since I train really early in the morning (I wake up 4:30 AM and train around 6:30), I want something easy to digest. I also don't take in carbs because I'll have carbs in my workout drink (Plazma™). Also, I have carbs in my last meal of the evening to help me relax and shut my brain off, so my glycogen stores aren't empty in the morning.
So what I like to do is make a protein pancake:
- 2 whole eggs
- 2-3 egg whites
- 1 scoop Metabolic Drive® Protein
- Cinnamon (about 5g)
I also drink 12.5g of sodium bicarbonate and will have a small amount of veggies just to lower the acid load of the meal. Easy to make, easy to digest, plenty of protein, and the cinnamon helps with insulin sensitivity. If I were not training as early I'd add almonds for more sustained energy.
I did the "meat and nuts" breakfast for a while and would still do it if I trained later, but digesting that takes too long for someone who trains early. – Christian Thibaudeau
Mark Dugdale – IFBB Pro Bodybuilder
Since I train early, my "breakfast" is Plazma™.
Wired to produce results in the gym AND in business means my alarm goes off at 4:30 AM. By 5:30 I'm moving iron for at least 60-90 minutes before showering and heading to the office.
The whole idea of breakfast conjures up visions of a guy wrapped in his morning robe enjoying a lavish spread of organic meat, eggs, hash browns and vegetables sprinkled with herbs whilst sipping English breakfast tea, listening to the birds chirp and watching the sun rise. Maybe when I retire.
The best muscle-building breakfast for me is a sweaty assault on the iron while pounding Plazma™, a pre and intra-workout nutrition formula. Plazma affords me the opportunity to train with intensity while my competition sleeps.
Lately, due to an egg sensitivity, I completely shifted traditional breakfast post-workout to Finibars and coffee. Seriously, the chocolate Finibar paired with black coffee, a dash of lactose-free whole milk and stevia is the best part of my day!
Two Finibars provide 30 grams of protein and 80 grams of carbs. This constitutes the best muscle-building breakfast for those like me who wake up and go full throttle seeking another opportunity to make progress. – Mark Dugdale
TC Luoma – T Nation Editor
Cured meat from even-toed ungulates, bird ovum, fermented dough, and the leaves of camellia sinensis steeped in hot water.
Okay, I'm being cute here, but if I answered "bacon and eggs with toast and a cuppa' Joe," you'd think it so ordinary, so pedestrian, so uninformed, that you might have just read the description and moved on to the next answer, writing me off as a nitwit in the process.
I get it, but while my breakfast order is virtually the same one your 90-year-old nana and papa still gum down today, despite reading in the big city newspaper that their food choices were sure to drastically shorten their lives, it's a perfectly healthy breakfast – when done right – and an exceptional bodybuilding breakfast.
Let me make my case:
- Eggs. Lots of protein. No argument there, right? But consider also that eggs contain cholesterol, which is a precursor to testosterone production. They also contain vitamin D, B12, selenium, riboflavin, and big squawking amounts of leucine, which plays a monumental role in protein synthesis.
- Bacon. While it's often portrayed as the poster boy for bad eating, bacon is actually one of the healthiest foods. It's of course a protein source, but its nutrient density is almost unparalleled and its fat is benign, if not downright healthful. Nearly 50% of the "grease" it floats in as you cook it is oleic acid, which is the same stuff we worship in olive oil. The rest of the fat is mostly stearic acid, which is, yes, a saturated fat, but the body converts most of it into, again, oleic acid.
And both bacon and eggs contain relatively large amounts of arachidonic acid, which, while pro-inflammatory in some instances, plays an important role in testicular production of testosterone.
- Toast. Not just any toast, but sourdough toast. Sourdough is the sauerkraut of breads. It's made by exposing the dough to millions of lactobacilli, which produces an incredibly complex bread with tons of nutrients. Furthermore, the fermentation process has broken down any gluten it contains, which should placate the anti-gluten people. It also contains almost no phytic acid, thereby allowing your gut to absorb most of its nutrients.
Lastly, the fermentation process has changed the molecular structure of the bread, thereby lowering its glycemic index and improving your glucose metabolism in general. Toasting it accentuates these changes. Top it off with a tablespoon of grass-fed butter, which contains lots of body-building and fat-burning conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
- Green tea. Truth be told, I wouldn't bellyache if you had coffee – which has plenty of healthy attributes – but green tea is particularly suited to bodybuilders because it burns fat. It also gives a buzz similar to coffee, but with less of the anxiety-producing effects.
So yeah, while the age-old bacon, eggs, toast, and a cup of coffee/tea breakfast is an American cliche, it's also a breakfast choice that makes a whole lot of sense, especially for the athlete or bodybuilder. Here are some things to keep mind:
- Have 4 to 5 eggs (since each egg contains only about 6 grams of protein).
- Have at least 2 to 3 slices of bacon (each contains roughly 3 grams of protein).
- Make sure the bacon is "pastured" or grass-fed.
- Put grass-fed butter on your toasted sourdough. Kerrygold's pure Irish butter appears to be the best.
- Steep your green tea leaves in hot water for at least 5 minutes. Take it with fish oil to enhance the fat-burning effect. – TC Luoma
Lonnie Lowery, PhD – Exercise Physiologist and Nutritionist
To me, the best muscle-building breakfast is whey and berry oatmeal.
The leucine-rich whey is anabolic, the soluble fiber from the oats prevents abrupt blood sugar swings, and berries are the phenol-rich, antioxidant superstars of nature.
Fortunately, home preparation methods don't harm – and probably enhance – the benefits of blueberries. According to a recent paper by Gao and colleagues (Food Sci Nutr. 2017): "Microwaved blueberries had greater level of extractable malvidin-3-O-glucoside or cyanidin-3-O-glucoside than its counterpart" and "microwaving significantly increased the availability of total phenolic contents in blueberry extracts." Sweet.
But my interest is more than just scientific. I first heard of blueberry oats from bodybuilding legend Paul DeMayo, who craved it like a treat when dieting. Years later, during geekier travels, I learned from professor after professor at a conference in Oxford that each of them made blueberries or mixed berries a daily part of their routine. Hearing valuable things from the horses' mouths carries weight with me, too. I've eaten oats and berries with a scoop of whey several times per week for 30 years.
There's one last attraction of whey and berry oatmeal for me: preparation speed. Often, I'll boil my oats on the stovetop rather than nuking them. Now, anyone who's waited for oatmeal to cool in the morning knows it takes forever. It holds its temperature so well they should insulate houses with the stuff. However, add a half-cup frozen berries to that thermonuclear bowl of oats and a titanic struggle ensues – one in which both come to perfectly edible temperature and tenderness within two minutes. I add the scoop of whey (20-25 gram) after the temperature comes down, to prevent any weird cooking or clumping.
So there's my favorite muscle-building breakfast. It's both meathead and egghead approved. It provides long-acting energy to train and go about the day, it stimulates muscle protein synthesis, and it brings you enough antioxidants to live to be 100... or at least combat free radical damage from time and training. – Lonnie Lowery, PhD
Mike T. Nelson, PhD – Metabolism and Fitness Expert
An omelet with veggies.
Use a minimum of 4 eggs to get in about 30 grams of high quality protein with enough leucine to spike muscle protein synthesis. Add in your favorite colored veggies to get in a wide variety of different phytonutrients: tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, red onions, and garlic.
Here is a tip: Cut up the garlic small and let it sit exposed to the air for 10-15 minutes to increase the beneficial compounds that are both antibacterial and antiviral to boost your immune system. – Mike T. Nelson, PhD
Chris Colucci – T Nation Forum Director
Meat and veggies, with a twist.
The best breakfast for lifters (and non-lifters, actually) is a slight twist on the classic "meat and veggies" meal. Pairing animal protein with preferably-green vegetables delivers high-quality protein, healthy fats, a good hit of under-appreciated and overlooked fiber, and some of those vitamins and minerals you're supposed to pay attention to.
But since most people don't have time for steak and broccoli or a salad with grilled chicken first thing in the morning, two big handfuls of green vegetables thrown into three or four whole eggs can make a pretty filling, relatively quick, and super-nutritious all-purpose breakfast.
In just a few minutes, you end up with around 30 grams of protein, 300 or so calories, and the knowledge that you started the day off with more vegetables in one meal than your co-workers ate last week.
Trying to gain size? Add an extra egg or two and throw in some pre-cooked rice. Trying to drop fat? Use even more vegetables and swap out one whole egg for a generous pour of some liquid egg whites.
Frozen vegetables are super-convenient to use in a good ol' scramble. Heat some oil or butter in a pan, add your power-packed vegetables like spinach or a broccoli/cauliflower mix, let them cook for about two minutes, then add all the eggs. Give it all a stir or flip after a minute or so and cook it all through, then go tackle your day. – Chris Colucci