Protein: Make the Shift from Dinner to Daytime
Protein: Make the Shift from Dinner to Daytime

Are you striving to eat better? Are you trying to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to get plenty of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber? It may be time to add protein-rich foods like milk and lean meats, beans and nuts to that list of healthy foods.

You may have read that Americans get too much protein over the course of a day. While this is true, research shows we don't get enough protein at breakfast and lunch, and we tend to get far too much at our dinner meal. Most people are actually protein deficient for much of the day, with muscle synthesis at less than maximal levels. The large amount of protein eaten at dinner is mostly wasted because the body can't use so much at one time.

For the body to best use the protein we eat, we should shift our consumption from dinner to the daytime, increasing our portions at breakfast and lunch and decreasing them at dinner to provide a steady amount over the course of the day.

There are many conditions that would benefit from a higher protein intake, the most important of which is probably healthy aging; after all, we're all getting older! More health benefits of eating the right amount of protein throughout the day:

  • Protein affects how full we feel and how well we manage our weight.
  • More even distribution of protein throughout the day is linked to chronic disease prevention, preservation of lean body mass and bone health.
  • Protein boosts the effects of exercise by helping the body more effectively make muscle, which is of interest to athletes, of course, but it's also important for the elderly to prevent muscle wasting.
  • Protein is also great for bones. When people think of osteoporosis, they tend to think of calcium, but protein is also key in maintaining strong bones. Strong muscles, which are made of protein, help support healthy bones.

The solution? Shift that big protein load from dinner to breakfast and lunch. Instead of eating 10 grams of protein for breakfast, 15 for lunch and 65 for dinner (a common eating pattern for Americans), try to eat about 20 to 30 grams for each meal.

Here is a sample set of menus for the day. Try any of these ideas, along with plenty of the fruits, vegetables and whole-grains you enjoy eating.

  • For breakfast, eating an egg, a piece of toast with a tablespoon of peanut butter and a glass of milk will get you to about 20 grams of protein. Other good protein sources for breakfast include almonds and yogurt. Mix and match a few protein sources to get 20 grams.
  • For lunch, a turkey sandwich with a glass of milk or a bean, cheese and rice burrito will get you to 25 to 35 grams of protein.
  • At dinner, most people should try to reduce the amount of protein they eat to three ounces of meat. Add a glass of milk (the amount of protein in a glass of milk is 8 grams) and you'll be eating 25 to 35 grams of protein.

A diet that includes protein-rich food sources such as milk, dairy foods, lean meats, eggs, fish, poultry as well as plant sources like beans, nuts and seeds can help support weight loss, improve disease outcomes and support bone health. New research shows that higher protein intake is associated with greater bone mass and fewer fractures when calcium intake is adequate. This is just another reason why milk is so good for our bones—it delivers a package of nutrients that includes both calcium and protein, which you may not find in other calcium fortified beverages or supplements.


Mamerow MM, Mettler JA, English KL, Casperson SL, et al. Dietary proteinn distribution positively influences 24-h muscle protein synthesis in healthy adults. J Nutr. 2014 Jun;144(6):876-80. 

Paddon-Jones D, Short KR, Campbell WW, Volpi E, Wolfe RR. Role of dietary protein in the sarcopenia of aging. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1562S-1566S. 




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