If you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight or have a hard time keeping your hunger in check in the morning, you probably already know how important starting your day with a high-protein breakfast is. It’s easy enough for most of us to get enough of the nutrient at lunch and dinner, but breakfast, meanwhile, is a different story. Considering bagels, cereal, and fruit-heavy smoothies don’t always pack a protein punch, you may be looking for some new high-protein breakfast ideas.
Even worse, if you skip your morning meal, you’re not getting any protein at all. Breakfast really is as important as it’s chalked up to be—and it’s a great way to fit extra protein into your diet. Here’s what to look for in high-protein breakfasts, plus how much you really need to power through your day.
Why is protein important at breakfast?
Protein makes you feel satiated and gives you the energy you need to function, making it ideal for the first meal of the day. When you eat in the morning, you’re essentially coming out of a multi-hour fast, says Danielle Levy-Wolins, R.D., in-house dietitian at meal-delivery service Thistle. Protein offers up long-lasting energy when we need it most, preventing our bodies from running on empty.
Eating protein in the morning can also affect overall health. “In numerous studies, a high-protein breakfast habit has been linked to weight management or weight loss,” says Cynthia Sass, R.D., C.S.S.D., a New York City- and Los Angeles-based performance nutritionist. “Protein is filling, and triggers the release of satiety hormones that blunt appetite.”
In other words, filling up on protein at breakfast may mean you eat less all day long, including in the evening. Protein also boosts alertness and helps stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels, meaning you’ll have the focus and energy to face the day, she adds.
How much protein do you need at breakfast?
The ideal amount of protein at breakfast is about 30 grams, according to a 2018 review by nutrition researchers at Purdue University. However, registered dietitians like Sass say that 15 to 20 grams at breakfast is a good goal for weight loss and hunger management.
Levy-Wolins recommends starting with at least 15 grams of protein at every meal if you’re hoping to see results at the gym. An even intake of protein throughout the day “provides the most support of muscle mass maintenance,” she explains, pointing to a separate 2018 review. “This is equivalent to two hard boiled eggs or a half cup of oatmeal and two tablespoons of nut butter.”
Ready to start your day off right? Try one of these dietitian-approved high-protein breakfasts next time you’re tempted to reach for the cereal box.
Yep, a stack of pancakes can actually pack in protein. Fifteen grams of protein from peanut butter, combined with the fiber and nutrients from bananas, ensure that you'll feel full until lunch. For an extra boost of protein, skip the syrup and serve with yogurt and chopped nuts, plus extra bananas and honey.
Fruit-forward breakfasts can actually be chock-full of protein. Just ask this simple parfait, which provides an unbelievable 22 grams of protein. Topped with nuts, seeds, and spices, it's everything you could want in a morning meal.
This breakfast staple packs in 19 grams of protein per serving—and it’s actually pretty easy to make at home. We especially like these morning sandwiches because they’re easy to make ahead and just reheat in the morning. They even freeze up to three weeks, meaning you can make a batch of these portable, protein-powered sandwiches well in advance.
“This is perfect if you’re tired of oatmeal,” Jones says. Millet is an ancient whole grain that produces a hearty texture somewhere between oatmeal and rice pudding. It’s easy to find in most grocery stores, and topped with berries, mint, chia seeds, and sliced almonds, it’s an irresistible, healthy breakfast. (For extra protein, swirl in some protein powder or pair with an egg on the side!)
Does anything beat a giant pancake topped with mushrooms, bacon, and herbs? We don’t think so. This brunch dish includes 15 grams of protein, but just 352 calories—a godsend for when you’re craving something rich that won’t ruin your lunch or dinner.
There’s a reason salmon shows up so many times on this list: On top of being loaded with protein, it’s also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and nutrients like vitamin B12. Paired with veggies and eggs, the result is a nutrition powerhouse, packing in a whopping 37 grams of protein at less than 400 calories per serving for this filling hash.
Need to feed a crowd? These adorable little tacos can’t be beat for breakfast (or dinner, if you’d like). Just two of them pack 25 grams of protein, and your morning meal will be anything but boring. Tomatillos, jalapeño, sharp cheddar, fresh cilantro, and lime juice will certainly liven up your healthy weekend brunch.
This Mediterranean breakfast staple comes together super quickly with just a few spices, fresh tomatoes, and protein-packed eggs. Each serving has 14 grams of protein, and serves the entire family right out of the pan. Just be sure to serve with some crusty bread for optimal dipping.
Many smoothies with just fruit are—delicious, yes, but not very filling or protein-packed. “To maximize protein and create more balance, add a scoop of protein powder,” Hultin says. Look for a protein powder with no more than 5 grams of sugar, Kubal recommends, and unsweetened is best since the fruit provides plenty of flavor. Throw in a handful of greens and some nut butter or hemp seeds for more protein and healthy fats.
This nutrient-packed bowl is a stellar choice to start the day. Avocado, egg, grains, and tomato provide tons of protein, healthy fats, and fiber—not to mention an incredible 14 grams of protein per serving (add an extra egg to make it 20!).
With 29 grams of the nutrient per two tacos (thanks to a delicious combo of eggs and black beans), this is one of the most protein-rich breakfasts on the list. And although they look like something you might order at an upscale restaurant, they take just 15 minutes to throw together.
This breakfast pizza includes an impressive 22 grams of protein, breezing past the 15 to 20 for beginners suggested by Levy-Wolins. It’s got all the hallmarks of a great pie—melted Gruyère, sweet ham, crunchy crust—but with plenty of greens served right on top. It’s dinner for breakfast (or breakfast for dinner) done right.
Remix your waffle habit with these veggie-powered treats, which include protein-rich ingredients like chickpea flour, eggs, and Greek yogurt. Each waffle provides 7 grams of protein but only 85 calories, meaning you can eat three or four in a serving.
Next time you make your favorite overnight oats, stir in a scoop of protein powder, Levy-Wolins says. Combine the oats and plain or flavored protein powder, then add water or unsweetened nut milk. Stir until well combined. Let the oats soak in the fridge until the morning, then top with berries, pumpkin seeds, or nut butter for an extra boost of protein.
Eggs are a no-brainer for protein. Sass suggests mixing in veggies and herbs and topping with avocado for healthy fats, which will boost the satiety factor. Using three eggs will give you about 19 grams of protein, so fold in some cheese, black beans, or meat if you want to get closer to 30 grams
Chia seeds are loaded with fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and they’re even a complete vegetarian protein. Still, only one tablespoon of chia seeds gets you less than 5 grams of the muscle-building nutrient, so amp up your morning chia with soy milk and crushed almonds to get closer to 15 grams. To boost protein (and thickness!) even further, stir in your favorite protein powder.
Cottage cheese is a great start to the day. Half a cup of 1% cottage cheese has 14 grams of protein and only about 80 calories, so one portion is super protein-packed. “Combine with chopped or shredded veggies like spinach, bell pepper, tomatoes, zucchini, and red onion, and mix with EVOO-based dairy-free pesto. Chill overnight and grab to go in the a.m.,” Sass says. If you prefer a sweeter breakfast, top with fiber-rich berries instead.
By itself, oatmeal isn’t high in protein. But you can easily increase that amount. “Make it with one cup of nonfat or low-fat milk, 2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter, and chia seeds,” says Keri Gans, R.D.N., nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet. Add some berries or a banana on top if you crave something sweet in the morning.
“Some mornings I find myself craving a traditional ‘egg platter’ type of meal that you find in most diners,” says Georgia Rounder, R.D.N., C.D.N. To make your own (without the grease some diners cook in), she suggests scrambling two eggs and cooking a link of organic chicken sausage. Toast a slice of whole-grain bread topped with jam, add a cup of joe, and you have a DIY diner meal.
Sweet potatoes with two tablespoons of nut butter are a delicious, low-calorie dish—especially during brunch. “With the sweet potato, you’re getting a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals,” says Jerlyn Jones, R.D.N., L.D., owner of The Lifestyle Dietitian. “Always look for unsalted nut butter.” For even more protein, sprinkle them with seeds, cheese, or other toppings.
Perfect for vegans and meat-eaters alike, tofu can mimic eggs with a little doctoring up. “Crumble a block of tofu in a pan and scramble it like you would eggs, adding your favorite veggies, herbs, and spices for flavor,” says Ginger Hultin, R.D., a Seattle-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Half of the recipe gives you about 22 grams of protein. Extra-firm tofu tends to work best, and if you have time to press it first, go for it. Your scramble will still be yummy if you don’t press it, though.
Although you can have it savory in the morning too, quinoa also makes a good sweet breakfast if you’re sick of oats. “This whole grain contains 12 grams of protein in just 1/2 cup uncooked,” says Hultin, who recommends adding in more protein by topping with nuts, seeds, and soy milk (which contains about 8 grams in one cup). Plus, it’s fairly quick to cook, or you can make it the night before and reheat in the morning.
With 20-plus grams of protein per cup, there’s good reason this thick, creamy yogurt is a go-to breakfast. “Yogurt parfaits are hands-down one of my favorite high-protein breakfasts,” Rounder says. She tops plain, full-fat Greek yogurt with whatever toppings she’s in the mood for—usually a combination of walnuts (for added protein and healthy fat), berries (for fiber), a few spoonfuls of granola (for crunch), and a drizzle of honey (extra sweetness!).
Muffins don’t have to be loaded with sugar and empty carbs. Rethink your omelet so you can take it on the go and make egg muffins, says dietitian Amy Kubal, R.D.N. Since one egg has about 6 grams of protein, mix in some turkey or ricotta cheese in addition to veggies, she adds. If you’re eating at home, you can also top them with cottage cheese or Greek yogurt and salsa for extra protein and flavor.
Jones is a fan of breakfast burritos because they’re so easy to customize. All you really need is eggs and whole-grain or corn tortillas, and anything else you add is up to you. She loves to add black or pinto beans for a boost of protein, plus any vegetables you happen to have, including tomatoes, spinach, peppers, onions, and sliced avocados.
Avocado toast is still trendy, but just toast and avocado don't add up to a ton of protein. An easy solution: Add two eggs, cooked however you like. “Throw them on top of a piece of whole-grain bread, avocado, and some Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel Seasoning for an extra kick,” Rounder says.
Greek yogurt enjoyed its time in the spotlight, and now there are many plant-based yogurts that have a good amount of protein. For instance, there’s Kite Hill’s almond milk “Greek” yogurt with 11 grams of protein and Silk’s plain soy milk yogurt alternative with 10 grams of protein. “Aim for an unsweetened variety so you can mix in your own fruit,” Hultin says. “Then maximize protein as well as omega-3 fatty acids by adding in flax, chia, or hemp seeds.”
It’s not a traditional morning meal for most Americans, but a salad is great any time of day and helps you get in those veggies first thing in the morning. “Stir an EVOO-balsamic dressing into canned wild salmon. Place the salmon over a bed of greens along with a scoop of lentils and a sprinkle of chopped nuts,” Sass suggests. Plus, it’s easy to prep the night before if you want to take it on the go.
Craving something savory in the morning? Jones recommends a breakfast bowl with a base of roasted sweet potato and any kind of beans (with plenty of seasonings like curry or nutmeg), which is bursting with plant-based protein and fiber. Add avocado, blood orange, spinach, nuts, or anything else that sounds good to you.
Switch up your morning slice by topping whole-grain bread with a few spoonfuls of cottage cheese instead of your go-to cream cheese or avocado. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon, a drizzle of honey, and a handful of nuts for extra crunch and protein. This combo is super versatile, so if you prefer savory toast, you can top it with veggies and nuts instead.
This is one of the easiest breakfasts to prepare, on top of being rich in protein and flavor. “Farmer’s cheese is a type of cheese that’s low-fat, low-calorie, and has a firmer texture than cottage cheese,” Jones says. “It’s also packed with probiotics.” To add some natural sweetness and fiber, top it with fresh blueberries, mango, papaya, or other fruit.
This is a great portable, protein-packed breakfast option. “All you need is a whole-grain English muffin, eggs, pizza sauce, shredded cheese, and maybe some oregano,” Jones says. Scramble the eggs, pile your toppings onto the English muffin, and pop it in the oven for a few minutes.
A bagel breakfast doesn’t have to be carb overload. It’s all about portions and proper toppings. “Top either half a whole-wheat bagel or whole-grain crackers with smoked salmon, a tablespoon of whipped cream cheese, capers, and some salt and pepper for a high-protein breakfast that always hits the spot,” Rounder says.
Outside of America, Jones says, soup is a common breakfast, especially for those who prefer a savory, filling start. Use either dry or canned lentils as a base, and add chopped carrots, chopped celery, chickpeas, fire-roasted tomatoes, herbs, and anything else you’d like in the mix. Jones especially loves a high-fiber lentil soup because the lentils will keep you full until lunchtime.
If you’re not in the mood for eggs, try 4 ounces of smoked salmon, or lox, which has about 20 grams of protein. “Top 100% whole-grain bread with tofu-scallion cream cheese, lox, avocado, and diced red onion and tomato,” Gans suggests.