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‘Meno-Pot’ Belly and Morning Proteins: When, Not Just What, You Eat Matters


News: A protein-processing glitch makes that ‘meno-pot’ nearly impossible to lose. Luckily, an extra scoop of protein powder in the morning (or a protein-rich meal) floods your body with what it needs to potentially release fat, fast.

To understand the relationship between weight gain and aging and why a high-protein breakfast is so important, we spoke with three weight-loss experts. Here, discover which foods will make a difference and just how much protein you ought to eat each morning. As a bonus, check out our list of handy meal ideas below.

The Problem: Weight Gain as You Age

We know because we’ve lived it too: trying everything over the years to get those stubborn pounds to drop, but they just seem to nuzzle in deeper and hang on tighter — especially in our midsection. Indeed, Robert Lustig, MD, bestselling author of Fat Chance (Buy from Amazon, $14.95), claims that research shows women see a 400 percent increase in thick belly fat between their 20s and 60s. And this visceral fat is the most dangerous type of fat the body carries. “Just four pounds of visceral fat is enough to make a person weight-loss resistant,” he adds.

According to Paul Arciero, PhD, author of The PRISE Life (Buy from Amazon, $19.99), fueling middle-age weight gain is a phenomenon called “anabolic resistance.” This phrase describes how our body has a harder time turning protein into muscle as we age. In fact, Up to 8 percent of our muscle mass and strength dwindle with each decade after age 30. And as we surrender muscle, we lose the ability to burn calories. “The factory workers inside our cells responsible for protein synthesis and increasing metabolism doze off,” says Dr. Arciero.

The Solution: Eating Protein in the Morning

The best way to “wake up” our body’s fat burners is to start our day with a big dose of protein, says Stephen Perrine.

Perrine, as the executive editor overseeing health and wellness for AARP publications, hears from many of their 38 million members about the challenges of losing weight over 50. “The average American eats about the right amount of protein every day, she just eats it at the wrong time — all during the second half of the day,” he says. After poring over studies and talking to researchers, Perrine found the biggest predictor of weight loss over 50 was how much protein the person ate before lunch. Increase it to 25+ grams for breakfast and 7+ grams for a morning snack and weight drops!

Arciero explains that our muscles break down as we sleep, so skipping breakfast or eating a low-protein meal sets up the body for continued muscle depletion. But eating protein first thing halts the damage and flips the switch from storing belly fat to burning it, thanks to protein’s “thermic effect,” the rate at which it makes the body burn calories, which is up to 10 times higher than any other nutrient.

Potential Benefits of Early Morning Protein for Weight Loss

Arciero says, “Eating protein early is the best strategy to fire up metabolism and spot-reduce our belly.”

The National Weight Control Registry, a database of 10,000 folks who have lost weight and kept it off, proves protein’s potency. Ted Naiman, MD, found that registry members shared one thing: “It [wasn’t] not low-carb, low-fat or exercise. It [was] getting more protein earlier in the day,” he says.

Yet many of us still don’t get enough protein in our first meal. As shown in research from 2018, older adults often don’t to get enough protein. And the older we get, the less and less likely we are to eat adequate amounts.

One potential reason: It’s a little harder than it seems. Even a three-egg omelet falls short in terms of protein for breakfast, according to Perrine’s diet plan.

Fortunately, Perrine walked us through a simple dietary guideline to help us eat enough protein in the morning.

“This isn’t some sort of ‘high-protein diet,’” he says. “The average person on this plan won’t eat much, if any, more protein than she does already. What will happen is that the timing of that protein will change. And the results will be extraordinary!”

Indeed, Perrine raves that older women who tried his plan “burned fat as though they were in their 20s!” They also improved energy, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, and some women did so without increasing their physical activity.

Ready to power up your protein intake and slim fast? Read on!

Perrine’s Key Rules for Boosting Morning Protein Intake

Middle-age weight gain is fueled by loss of muscle. But women can outsmart that biological change by eating plenty of protein, which may help reverse muscle depletion and speed metabolism. The result: Your body shifts from storing fat to burning it.

Beth Woodard, 55, has kept off 30 stubborn pounds for three years this way. But timing is key. “You want to get protein in your body as close to waking up as you can,” says Natasha Turner, ND, author of the upcoming book The Protein Plan. Research shows if you don’t eat protein early, you’ve missed the fat-burn window.

That’s why Stephen Perrine created a plan where women eat a breakfast of 25+ grams of protein and a morning snack of 7+ grams to start each day off right. “The more protein, the better,” contends Dr. Arciero. “As women age, protein needs increase. After age 50, they may even need more protein than men!”

Tips for Boosting Your Morning Protein Intake

So, how do you easily pack dozens of grams of protein into your first meal of the day?

Tip Number 1: Smoothies made with protein powders are a fast and delicious option. Perrine calls them the “secret weapon that makes every day a fat-burning day!” (Looking for a high-quality product to buy? Check out our top protein powder picks.)

Tip Number 2: Opt to fill your breakfast plate with other top food sources, like eggs (6 grams each), Greek yogurt (17 grams per 6 ounces), cottage cheese (12 grams per ½ cup), oatmeal (6 grams per cup) and nut butter (8 grams per 2 tablespoons).

Tip Number 3: Use FIRST’s food chart below to create thousands of delicious, slimming breakfast combinations. Just be sure to get at least 25 grams of protein in each easy, throw-together recipe.

Tip Number 4: Pair fiber with protein. Simply getting enough fiber in your diet may be nearly as effective for slimming as following a strict no-sugar, no-fat diet. So, give yourself a slimming boost by combining fiber and protein (say, snacking on wholegrain crackers and cheese or adding fiber-rich beets to smoothies). Dr. Naiman calls the protein-fiber combo “the ultimate fat-loss diet.” Aim for 5+ grams of fiber at meals and 2+ grams of fiber with snacks.

Tip Number 5: Get this mighty amino. Look for plenty of leucine, the energizing amino acid known to play a major role in muscle building (and fat loss) for older adults. Find it in cottage cheese, red meat, eggs, nuts, and seeds.

Tip Number 6: Don’t stop with breakfast. To keep cravings quelled and energy soaring, add around 25 grams of protein to lunch and dinner too.

To learn more, checkout Stephen Perrine’s new book, The Whole Body Reset (Buy from Amazon, $16.39).

A Sample Day of Meals to Get You Started

Breakfast: Super Sunrise Scramble

Ingredients/Instructions: In a buttered pan over medium heat, scramble 3 eggs with 1 ounce of cheese and serve with 2 slices of pork bacon. Total protein: 31 grams.

Lunch: Southwest Salad

Ingredients/Instructions: Top 2 cups greens with half an avocado and 4 ounces grilled chicken breast. Garnish with tomatoes, olive oil, and red pepper flakes. Total protein: 37 grams.

Dinner: Turkey Burger

Ingredients/Instructions: Grill 5 ounce turkey burger for 5 minutes on each side. Serve with 1 slice of cheddar on a bun dressed with 2 tablespoons of hummus and sprouts. Total protein: 36 grams.

Dessert: Cottage Cheese Sundae

In a bowl, combine ½ cup of 2 percent cottage cheese with ¼ cup dried apricot and diced banana. Drizzle with honey. Total protein: 15 grams.

Testimonial: ‘I dropped from a size 24 to a 10!’

Even in the dark theater, Pam Hambach, 62, felt the eyes of everyone in attendance as she shifted back and forth, trying to shoehorn her body into the too-tight seat. As the tension built, she wondered, How did I let myself get to that point?

“Diets did not work for me,” reveals Pam, thinking of the list that rolled as long as movie credits.

Each fad left her starving and reaching for salty snacks. She shares, “The more I deprived myself, the more cravings I had.” But everything changed when Pam started eating protein-rich breakfasts. “I was never hungry. I just never had an issue with feeling starved.”

Pam lost 13 pounds the first month, thanks to those fruit smoothies with 33 grams of protein, made with either pea protein or whey protein powder, plus clean, whole foods like rolled oats and almond milk. “Weight literally fell off my body. I had to buy a new size of clothing every month,” she recalls. “People said I looked great.” And it wasn’t long before Pam’s cholesterol numbers dramatically improved too. “My doctor sent me a letter that said ‘wow!’”

Cut to the big finale: Today Pam has shed 104 total inches from her body — 15 in her hips!

Pam Hambach, 62, before (L) and after (R)
Pam Hambach, 62, before (L) and after (R)Pam Hambach/Jenny DiCola Photography. H&M: Mark Castle II

And her strength and confidence are taking center stage. She beams, “I look younger now than I did when I got married 22 years ago!”

Bonus: Protein Breakfasts May Improve Sleep

Just one extra protein-rich meal a day can lead to sweeter dreams, says a research paper in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In the study of middle-age dieters, those who increased their protein intake by 10 percent by eating a high-protein breakfast experienced better sleep quality (longer slumber and less tossing and turning) than those who didn’t change their protein intake. In fact, by the 16-week mark, the number of poor sleepers plunged by 50 percent! Creator of the protein-energy diet Dr. Naiman, theorizes that eating this way boosts levels of the amino acid tryptophan, which helps make the neurotransmitter serotonin, a precursor to the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, leading to restful nights.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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