After reading my Guide to Eating Clean and Getting Lean and determining their caloric and macronutrient needs most of my clients' first realizations is that they need to get more protein. Whether you are "eating to your macros" or not, most of us could benefit from getting more high quality protein into our diets so I've compiled a list of my favorites that include lean meat; eggs; dairy; beans, legumes and nuts; veggies, grains and supplements that are high in protein.
Everyone's daily protein needs are different depending on body type, activity level, body composition goals and other factors. The amount of protein you need at each meal also varies. It's generally accepted that ~20-35g of protein at a time is the most efficient. Unless you are a bodybuilder or really trying to bulk up that'll likely do the trick. And some research indicates that even if you are trying to bulk up that 50g of protein has the same affect as 30g suggesting there is a cap in our bodies' ability to process it for muscle growth. Bottom line, if your daily needs are 100g it would be better to spread that out into ~4 servings of 25g rather than making one monster 100g protein smoothie and taking it in all at once. As always, consult a medical professional before making changes to your diet or lifestyle.
Note, the list below isn't exhaustive or the ONLY sources of quality protein. These are the biggies and ones I personally like and have developed some healthy recipes to share. Talk to your nutritionist and scour the Internet for more if you have special needs and tastes.
Meat and Eggs
- Lean chicken breast (grilled, ground or roasted), in general try to avoid cold cuts
- Lean turkey breast (grilled, ground or roasted), in general try to avoid cold cuts
- Lean pork like tenderloin, loin chops and sirloin (grilled, ground or roasted), in general try to avoid cold cuts
- Fish like salmon (wild), cod, halibut (in moderation due to mercury), tuna steak (in moderation due to mercury), trout, sardines, mackerel, haddock, flounder (in moderation due to mercury) and perch
- Lean red meat like fillet and sirloin (in moderation about 1-2/week according to Harvard Medical School), in general try to avoid cold cuts
- Eggs and egg whites
- Greek yogurt (it's the bomb with ~20g of protein); I mix mine with almonds and berries and it's fantastic and I also use it instead of mayo for things like chicken salad
- Cottage cheese (most have ~30g/cup)
- Milk (most milk where it's non fat or whole has ~8g of protein)
- Cheese: I have cheese as a snack or as a salad topper. I don't consider it a big source of protein, but it's a good way to add some taste, some healthy fat and to get some "incremental" grams of protein. Here are my favorites:
- Feta crumbles (1/4 cup has ~5g)
- Baby Bella Rounds from Laughing Cow (1 wheel has ~6g)
- Mozzarella string cheese (1 stick has ~7g)
- Shaved parmesan (4 tbs has ~8g)
Beans, Legumes and Nuts
- Lentils (1 cup has ~40g)
- Chickpeas (1 cup has ~14.5g)
- Black Beans (1 cup has ~15g)
- Peas (1 cup has ~8g so whether they are legume or a vegetable they are good for protein)
- Peanuts: raw (1oz has ~ 7g ) or peanut butter (2tbs has ~ 8g)
- Almonds: raw (1/4 cup has ~8g ) or almond butter (2tbs has ~7g)
- Walnuts: raw (1/4 cup has ~5g)
- Nuts and nut butters are high in calories and heathy fat so watch your quantities. They don't have lots of protein but they do have some which helps you can some "incremental" grams. Buy organic and with no added sugar/salt.
- Quinoa (1/2 cup has ~12g)
- Oats (people are going crazy for "overnight oats" which has ~10-12g/cup)
- Ezekiel Bread (people also got nuts for this low carb bread that has ~5g/slice)
The following veggies are "high" in protein compared to other veggies. So they are great choices when looking to add incremental protein.
- Brussel Sprouts
In general, I try to get my protein for "real" food. But supplementing with protein powders and bars can be a convenient and easy way to get in your daily needs. Read more about protein powders and supplements here. The following are MY favorites and certainly aren't an exhaustive list. Here are some great smoothie recipes too.
- BioChem Vanilla Whey Protein
- Pea Protein (like Vega products)
- BP2 (this is a great additive for smoothies if you want the taste of peanut butter without the calories)
- Rx Bars (these are tasty and made with egg whites and no chemical crap)
- Square Protein Bars (organic and vegetable-based)
- Siren Protein Bites (also vegetable-based and a nice treat)