What do protein, dopamine, cravings, and body fat percentage have in common? Well, everything. Check out the science.
Chubby People Skip Breakfast
It's kind of ironic that most overweight and obese people skip meals, but it makes sense when you dig into the science a little. And we can apply that same science to our bodybuilding and body comp efforts.
Here's what we know: people who skip breakfast end up eating more total calories for the day (despite skipping a meal) than those who eat breakfast. And their food choices tend to be worse. They gravitate toward both sweet foods and calorie-dense, high-fat foods.
But why? And what's the best breakfast to eat to get the opposite effect: all-day dietary control with no cravings? Let's ask Mr. Science.
To figure all this out, researchers took a group of chubby young women who normally skip breakfast and divided them into three groups:
- Group 1 had a "normal protein" breakfast containing 350 calories, including 13 grams of protein, mainly from dairy.
- Group 2 had a "high protein" breakfast also containing 350 calories, but included 35 grams of protein, mainly from eggs and beef.
- Group 3 continued to skip breakfast.
After a week, blood tests were taken, catheters were inserted, questionnaires were answered.... you know, science stuff. Researchers also looked at plasma homovanillic acid (HVA), an index of central dopamine production. Then the groups traded plans a few times as the weeks went on.
As other studies have concluded, the breakfast skippers experienced more cravings later in the day and wound up overeating.
The group that had 13 grams of protein for breakfast experienced reduced cravings and were better able to control their food intake.
The group that had a higher protein breakfast – 35 grams of protein – had the best results, leading researchers to conclude that in the Battle of Belly Fat, a breakfast with plenty of protein is a nuclear weapon.
The Dopamine Trigger
Note that both breakfast-eating groups consumed the same number of calories, but the higher protein group experienced more satiety (feeling full and satisfied) and fewer food cravings. So, a little protein for breakfast is good. More protein is better.
But what really sets this study apart is the researchers' focus on dopamine, the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine helps regulate food intake by stimulating reward-driven eating behavior.
We already know that overweight folks have a blunted dopamine response, meaning they have to eat more to flip that reward/pleasure switch and feel satisfied. The same muted dopamine response also causes them to seek out hyper-sweet and/or greasy foods. It's like the drug addict who needs more and more of the drug to get the same effect.
In this newer study, a high-protein breakfast seemed to increase dopamine synthesis. (This may be directly related to the amino acid, tyrosine.) So basically, you eat breakfast to stimulate dopamine activity. In turn, this leads to better appetite control, fewer junk food cravings, and needing less food to feel "rewarded" by later meals.
How to Use This Info
Eat breakfast. Duh. And fill your plate (or blender) with protein.
The study above was conducted on 18-20 year old females, and those who had the best results consumed 35 grams of protein at breakfast. We can probably assume that a weight-lifting male should shoot for more than that. (Looking at my own breakfast meals, I'm averaging around 55 grams of protein.)
So, load up on eggs and quality meats. Add Metabolic Drive® Protein to your oatmeal. Too busy to chew? Shotgun a shake, bro.
- Heather A Hoertel, Matthew J Will and Heather J LeidyEmail "A randomized crossover, pilot study examining the effects of a normal protein vs. high protein breakfast on food cravings and reward signals in overweight/obese breakfast skipping, late-adolescent girls", Nutrition Journal, 2014