3 Advantages of Consuming Protein First in Every Meal

From its impact on satiety and blood sugar levels to its potential role in weight management, let's explore how meal sequencing could be the key to unlocking better health.

By URLife Team
10 Jan 2024

While we often focus on the types and amounts of food we eat, nobody ever thinks about the order they eat their meal in chances are most of us understand and know the benefits of protein for a balanced diet and well-rounded health. However, what might come as a surprise is the significant impact of beginning a meal with protein. Research suggests that commencing your meals with protein-dense foods can bring about noteworthy advantages beyond just fulfilling your nutritional needs.


Keep reading to know how protein benefits and why initiating each meal with protein could be a simple yet powerful shift in your eating habits.


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Aids in Weight Management

According to a 2019 report mentioned in the Journal Nutrients, starting your meals with protein-dense foods followed by carbs can help with satiety, make you feel full for longer and hence aid in weight management and weight loss.


Another 2020 review in ​Nutrients​ noted that eating protein and/or fat before carbs stimulates the secretion of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) from the gut. Further, GLP-1 not only slows gastric emptying but also suppresses appetite by affecting the hypothalamus.


Does protein make you gain weight? If such questions rent your mind, then we are here to clear that for you. When you consume protein, your body expends a higher amount of energy to digest and process it compared to fats and carbohydrates. This is referred to as the thermic effect of food, where around 20-30% of the calories from protein are used during digestion. It takes a lot of energy to break down proteins, much more than breaking down carbohydrates (about 5-6%) and fats (around 2-3%).


This process essentially boosts your metabolism, leading to more calorie burning throughout the day. Moreover, starting your meal with protein can help regulate appetite and reduce cravings for unhealthy snacks. It triggers the release of hormones that signal fullness to your brain, curbing the desire to overeat or indulge in calorie-dense, less nutritious foods later in the day.


Additionally, protein is essential for preserving and building lean muscle mass. As you work toward shedding excess body fat, maintaining muscle is crucial for a healthy metabolism. Prioritising protein intake ensures your body has the necessary building blocks for muscle repair and growth, supporting your weight loss goals.


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Regulates Blood Sugar

A 2015 study in ​Diabetes Care​ found that the sequence in which we consume food had an effect on measures of blood sugar in adults with obesity and type 2 diabetes. A significant decrease in post-meal glucose and insulin levels was noticed when vegetables and protein were eaten before carbs in comparison to the reverse food order.


When you eat protein-rich foods first, they have a minimal impact on blood glucose compared to consuming carbohydrates before proteins.


Including protein in your meal first helps slow down the absorption of sugars from other foods you eat alongside it. This slows the rate at which glucose is released into the bloodstream, preventing rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. Consequently, it leads to a more gradual and steady rise in glucose, promoting better blood sugar control.


For individuals managing conditions like diabetes or insulin resistance, maintaining stable blood sugar levels is paramount. Incorporating protein can help reduce the glycemic impact of a meal, reducing the risk of sudden glucose fluctuations.


Moreover, when protein is consumed along with carbohydrates, it aids in balancing the glycemic response. This balanced meal composition can lead to improved insulin sensitivity, making it easier for the body to regulate blood sugar levels effectively.


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Enhances Muscle Growth and Repair

According to a 2009 report presented by the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, changing the kind of protein you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat it can help your body get better at using protein to build muscles after exercising.


Consuming protein at the start of a meal provides the body with immediate access to essential amino acids. These amino acids are the fundamental building blocks necessary for repairing and building muscle tissue. When you prioritise protein intake at the beginning of a meal, especially after physical activity or exercise, it ensures a quicker delivery of these amino acids to the muscles.


Muscle repair and growth require a steady supply of amino acids to rebuild damaged muscle fibres and support the synthesis of new muscle tissue. By starting your meal with protein-rich foods, you're jump-starting this process, allowing the body to swiftly absorb and utilise the amino acids to repair and strengthen muscles.


Moreover, protein has a higher thermic effect compared to fats and carbohydrates, meaning it requires more energy for digestion and metabolism. This increased energy expenditure during digestion contributes to a slightly higher overall calorie burn, albeit modest. Prioritising protein at the start of a meal not only supports muscle repair and growth but also aids in better managing body composition and sustaining metabolic health over time.


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The Case for Including Protein in Breakfast?

A 2004 research shows eating at least 20 grams of protein at breakfast can help in lowering insulin sensitivity, improving muscle mass and curbing your cravings. Protein-rich foods take longer to digest compared to simple carbohydrates, providing a steady release of energy throughout the morning. This sustained energy helps curb mid-morning energy slumps, keeping you more alert and focused.


Having a protein-rich breakfast can significantly impact our energy levels, especially during the early hours when the body tends to be in a catabolic state. At this time, cortisol levels are elevated, potentially leading to muscle breakdown. Introducing protein in our morning meals helps counteract this state by providing the body with essential amino acids that support muscle repair and growth. So try incorporating protein sources like eggs, lentils, Greek yoghurt with seasonal fruit, tofu, paneer, nuts, seeds, or lean meats for your breakfast. Traditional Indian breakfast foods like dosa can be made using quinoa or ragi to make it more nutritionally dense.


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Incorporating protein as the starting point of each meal can significantly impact overall health. Scientific findings consistently highlight the advantages of prioritising protein consumption at the beginning of meals. This simple yet impactful adjustment not only promotes better metabolic health but also contributes to sustained energy levels throughout the day. Embracing a protein-rich start to your meals could be the key to optimising nutrition and well-being, offering a straightforward strategy for anyone looking to make positive changes in their dietary habits



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