High Protein Oatmeal Bowl (That Won't Make You Sleepy!)
Updated: May 10
This quick and nutritious breakfast bowl has a balance of healthy fats, high protein and nutrient-dense carbohydrates so you can be powered up for your day. Read on to learn why balancing these three macronutrients first thing in the morning can change your life!
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Crying on the Way to Work
When I was first married (to my hubby who passed in 2015), I was teaching in Tacoma Public Schools in Washington state and had the habit of eating breakfast on my way to work. My standard fare was two packets of Quaker Instant Oatmeal (maple and brown sugar was my favorite) ripped open and poured into a travel mug with boiling hot water. Out the door I went!
I had done this for years because it was super easy and I assumed, a nutritious choice.
One day as I was driving down the freeway I was battling my usual morning fatigue. This day seemed worse than usual and the thought of facing energetic, bilingual elementary school kiddos felt impossible. I just wanted to pull over, curl up in the back of my car and pass out.
I started sobbing the fatigue was so intense.
I made it through the day, but when I came home I told my sweet husband that something was wrong with me. I've never been a morning person and things seemed to be getting worse.
Nathanael was studying for his Master's in Holistic Nutrition at the time and said in his usual matter-of-fact manner:
"You need to stop just eating carbs for breakfast. Your body needs protein first thing in the morning."
The next day he taught me how to make a protein shake with yogurt, protein powder and frozen blueberries.
When I got home from work that day I announced that I had zero morning fatigue, and furthermore, I felt energized all day long. It was like the heavens were opened and I could see the light!
Cancel the Morning Carb Load
Cereal, toast, muffins, pancakes, waffles, bagels, donuts -- staples of the American breakfast table -- all have one thing in common. The white stuff. Whether it's refined flour or processed sugar, it all converts to glucose (blood sugar) not long after it hits your stomach.
Not only that, even some "healthier" carbohydrates like whole oats, whole grain toast, potatoes, and granola can do they same thing. Refined or not, all carbohydrates eventually break down into glucose and enter your blood stream. When we eat meals high in carbohydrates with the absence of the two other key macronutrients, protein and healthy fats, we risk blood sugar spikes.
High blood sugar, especially first thing in the morning, sets us up for erratic energy spikes followed by periods of grogginess (like my oatmeal outburst above), moodiness, and foggy thinking. We all know how great we feel when we get a "sugar high" and feel like climbing a mountain. Then an hour or two later we find ourselves prowling for some caffeine, something sweet to munch on or more carbs. This is your body crying out to get that blood sugar back up so your mood, energy and brain can experience that motivating dopamine high again.
This pattern can go on throughout the day and into the night.
Outwardly these blood sugar spikes and drops affect our moods, thinking and energy levels. Inwardly, our cells, tissues and organs are taking a beating from the all the blood sugar and insulin (the hormone our body uses to store extra glucose) racing through our bodies. Many recent studies show that chronically high blood sugar and insulin (hyperinsulinemia) are both linked to inflammation in our bodies.
It's now well-known that our most common metabolic diseases -- heart disease, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer's -- all have their roots in chronic inflammation.
If we want to get off this blood sugar rollercoaster and off the path of inflammation leading to scary conditions, one powerful thing we can do is learn how to eat a balanced meal. This is especially important first thing in the morning.
Macronutrient Magic: Teamwork!
Balanced meals are made up of three team players: protein, healthy carbohydrates and healthy fats.
These players are known as macronutrients and there are only three of them (actually water is technically a fourth macronutrient). Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients and there are lots of them (vitamins A, Bs, C, D, E, K, choline etc. plus all the major and minor trace minerals).
Our bodies require large amounts of all three macronutrients to maintain energy, structure and function (and smaller amounts of micronutrients).
The lesson I learned from my oatmeal breakdown was that relying on one macronutrient source-- in my case, carbohydrates-- at a single meal did not provide my body and brain with the energy it needed to face the day. When I added protein with some healthy carbs and healthy fats (whey protein powder, blueberries and whole milk yogurt, which has all 3 macronutrients) my whole day and outlook on life shifted.
Why is this combination of macros at each meal so magical? Let's take a quick look at how important each one is:
Protein: Provides us with amino acids which make for slow burning, solid energy. Amino acids also provide building blocks for neurotransmitters -- messengers that affect our memory, alertness, energy and more. This macro also provides fuel to our skeletal muscles, speeds up enzymatic reactions and helps build antibodies for our immune systems. When eaten with carbohydrates and fats, proteins make our meals more filling and satisfying which helps with cravings and blood sugar regulation.
Fats: Break down into fatty acids to provide slow burning, steady energy that lasts for hours. Fats also slow down digestion which helps offset the quick absorption of glucose from carbohydrates. Additionally, they are building blocks for our hormones, help us absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, & K) and fuel our brains, which are 60% fat. Fats are also satisfying and filling and help regulate hunger.
Carbohydrates: Convert to glucose to give us quick energy. Healthy carbs, like fresh vegetables, fruit and properly prepared whole grains and beans are loaded with micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and phytonutrients that keep us healthy and fight off disease. Complex carbohydrates are also high in fiber which helps slow down their conversion to blood sugar.
My Brain Health Breakfast Guide talks more about this and also has 8 recipes, a meal planner + food/mood journal, a macronutrient cheat sheet and more. You can grab your free copy below if you want some more ideas.
The Makings of a Balanced Oatmeal Bowl
I admit that was afraid to ever eat oatmeal again. Once I found a way to load it up with protein and healthy fats, I found it to be a game-changer and hearty breakfast that keeps me going for hours. Here's what I throw in:
Sprouted Organic Oats or Steel/Stone Cut Oats: I like sprouted organic oats because that means they have been prepared for better digestion and faster cooking (like Quaker Instant Oats without the glyphosate). One Degree Sprouted Rolled Oats is my current favorite as it's gluten-free and glyphosate-free; it's sprouted so it's easier to digest and cooks quickly; it comes from small farms and it's tasty! I also like Anson Mill's Stone Cut oats, which take a bit longer to cook, but taste amazing. Whatever you choose, be sure to check out this chart for possible glyphosate (Roundup pesticide) toxicity, which can be present even in organic oat products.
Whey Protein (Cow or Goat) or Pea Protein: These options will provide you with all 9 essential amino acids. They are essential because your body can't make them and you MUST get them from food. I like this whey protein by BioChem because it rates high for purity unlike many protein powders which are shown to have some heavy metal toxicity. I also love Mt. Capra's Clean Whole Protein made from goat whey. Here is a dairy-free, vegan friendly pea protein if you don't tolerate or eat dairy.
Collagen Peptides: I also add a scoop of collagen for even more protein and conditionally essential amino acids (meaning they can be made from other amino acids, but not very easily) like glycine and proline which support a healthy gut, brain, hair, teeth, skin and nails. I am picky about collagen due to heavy metal contamination in many brands. I currently trust Vital Proteins and Puori as they are both 3rd party tested for heavy metals and come up almost non-detect which is rare.
Nuts and Seeds: I top each bowl up on a variety of nuts and seeds which provide me with healthy, brain-boosting fatty acids. My favorite are walnuts (shown to improve memory), pumpkin seeds (this brand sources from the US, not China), hemp seeds and chia seeds which are full of minerals and fiber to keep things moving.
Pastured Butter or Coconut Oil: I also like to add some tasty fat because oatmeal just tastes freaking better with melted fat. Plus saturated fat (if you do okay on it) is great for your hormones, brain and cell integrity.
Fresh or frozen organic fruit: Usually I just toss fresh or frozen fruit right in the pot. Sometimes I make a quick compote like my Dark Berry Chia Compote to go on top. My go to are berries because they are low-glycemic (easy on your blood sugar) and full of disease-fighting, brain-boosting compounds.
I ate this bowl of "proats" almost daily for 17 months while breast feeding (via pumping) my son. As a sleep deprived mama, I now find I feel best with a couple of pastured chicken sausages on the side to up my protein game in the morning to keep my blood sugar balanced (I have tested it and there were no spikes). We are all bio-individual and that means our bodies and macronutrient (protein, carbs, fat) portions will vary day to day, season to season. Your energy levels, moods and satiety can tell you a lot about how your body is processing a meal. I still eat this regularly!
This only takes a few minutes to throw together (if you use sprouted oats)! Let's do it!
High Protein Oatmeal Bowl
Prep: 1 minute Cook: 3-5 minutes Total: 5-10 minutes Servings: 1
The links below are affiliate links chosen for product quality and purity.
1/3 cup of organic sprouted oats
3/4 cup of filtered water
dash of sea salt
1 tablespoon of pastured butter or coconut oil
1/3 cup of fresh or frozen fruit or my Dark Berry Compote
drizzle of raw honey as tolerated
First off, get all your ingredients out and lined up because this cooks quickly. If you are making for the family you can double, triple or quadruple the recipe.
As soon as it starts to get a little thicker (don't wait too long) add in your protein powder of choice and collagen and stir. If it's sticking, add a tablespoon or two of water to slow things down. Add in fresh or frozen fruit and cover until done.
Pour into your favorite bowl and top with butter or coconut oil so it melts while hot. If you didn't add fruit already, add it now. Top with nuts and seeds of your choice and a drizzle of honey if tolerated.
Let me know if you try this out! You can post in comments below or tag me in any photos on Instagram @nourishandcherish.ntp!
Environmental Working Group. (2018). “Breakfast With a Dose of Roundup?”EWG, www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/glyphosateincereal/.
Rada, P. et al. “Daily Bingeing on Sugar Repeatedly Releases Dopamine in the Accumbens Shell.”Neuroscience, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15987666/.
Sharma, Praveen. “Inflammation and the Metabolic Syndrome.”Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry : IJCB, Springer-Verlag, Oct. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3210244/.
Shoelson, Steven E, et al. “Inflammation and Insulin Resistance.”The Journal of Clinical Investigation, American Society for Clinical Investigation, July 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1483173/.
About the Author
Roxie Daggett is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) with a virtual holistic nutrition practice in Sedona, Arizona. Her passions include studying nutritional research pertaining to brain health, gut health, genetics and longevity. When she is not geeking out on nutrition she enjoys cooking, hiking, organic gardening and hanging out with her wonderful husband, and her adorable, energetic son who happens to have Down syndrome. Learn more on her About page and stay in touch by grabbing your FREE BRAIN HEALTH BREAKFAST GUIDE above or below!