Here are 27 high protein foods to help you reach your daily protein intake for your bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. These food selections can help athletes from runners to weight lifters.
As the types of food you eat can play a major role in your long term athletic success, it helps to get smarter about what you eat.
27 High Protein Foods For Best Performance
This guide has protein sources for your main course to build around and side dishes to increase the protein in each meal.
If you are having problems getting enough protein during your meals, there are also high protein foods that you can eat as snacks or protein sources. You can mix in with shakes, smoothies or any meal to increase your protein intake.
It’s what’s for dinner. Everybody knows beef=meat and meat=protein and protein=muscles. Essentially, this is all true and luckily beef is an easily attainable, excellent source of protein to get your body where it needs to be.
Beef also comes in many different cuts, so you can build an endless amount of meals around this protein so you don’t get tired of eating it. However, there are some of us who are vegetarian, vegan or just don’t like beef; luckily, we have 26 more excellent, high protein foods that you can choose from.
Protein content: 20-25 grams per 3 oz serving, varies with cut of meat and fat content.
2. Greek Yogurt
Although Greek Yogurt is tough for some to swallow, the benefits of it are too great to pass on. There are varieties that contain up to 20 grams of protein, but beware, many yogurts with flavors contain a lot of added sugar.
If you need something to sweeten up your yogurt, buy plain yogurt and add some fresh berries into it. Make it a delicious parfait and throw some granola in there as well.
Protein Content: 15-20 grams, varies with brand.
3. Whey Protein
A great option to add to your shakes or smoothies to boost protein intake, or even add it to ice cream to justify that after dinner snack.
My favorite thing to do with protein powder is to add it to my recovery chocolate milk (more of that to come). However you take it, whey protein is an excellent way to increase the amount of protein you consume.
Protein Content: Between 20 and 25 grams per serving, varies with brand.
The first of our plant-based protein options are a good source of protein for vegans and meat-eaters alike. These are a great snack to eat in between meals to increase your daily protein intake.
Protein content: 20 grams per cup.
Gotta get those Omega-3 fatty acids, right? By eating salmon you will get those and a whopping 40 grams of protein if you eat half of a fillet!
Protein content: 17 grams per 3 ounces serving.
6. Pumpkin Seeds
Don’t throw out those pumpkin guts next October, save them for a protein-rich snack. Pumpkin seeds are not only a good source of protein, but are also a complete protein food, meaning they contain all 9 amino acids that the body cannot produce and must receive from dietary consumption.
Protein content: 12 grams per cup.
The breakfast powerhouse food. They are affordable. Eggs are high in protein content. They don’t have added ingredients that could be harmful. They don’t contain sugar.
Eggs can be your best friend in the morning, as there are countless ways to prepare them, so you don’t get tired of eating them.
Protein content: 6 grams per egg.
Although it may not compare with the likes of beef and Greek yogurt in terms of protein content, it is nice to know there is an easy side dish that adds some protein to your daily intake. It is also an excellent source of other vitamins and minerals.
Protein content: 4.2 grams per serving.
Athletes, you are about to “meat” your new best friend. A skinless chicken breast contains an incredible 54 grams of protein. There are countless ways to prepare chicken breast and even if you tire of white meat, there are thighs, legs, and wings, which also contain high protein.
Protein content: 26-31 grams per 100 grams of chicken, varies with cut of meat.
My favorite workout recovery drink: chocolate milk. I throw in a little whey protein powder to boost my daily intake, but it already has 8 grams of protein per cup. It also has carbs and fat to replenish those burned during a workout.
Protein content: 8 grams per cup.
11. Chia Seeds
These tiny seeds really pack a protein punch. They contain 16.5 grams of protein per 100 grams of seeds. I like to add them to smoothies, as they have little flavor, the texture of raspberry seeds, and a whole lot of nutritious value.
Bonus: Chia seeds can also be used as an egg substitute! 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water should do the trick.
Protein content: 16.5 grams per 100 grams.
12. Cottage Cheese
Need a quick snack or don’t have time to make breakfast? Cottage cheese is an excellent, protein-rich option to meet your needs. I prefer dairy with fat because I need all the calories I can get, but nonfat cottage cheese is also a good source of protein, though not as good as 1% or 2% fat cottage cheese.
Protein content: 15-28 grams per cup, depending on fat content.
13. Black Beans
Black beans are not only a good source of plant-based protein, but also have a plethora of other vitamins and minerals. I like to add black beans in with taco meat as an easy way to get black beans in my diet and stretch the meat out over a couple of meals (hint: make nachos out of the leftover taco meat).
Protein content: 14.5 grams per cup.
14. Peanut Butter
Add it to protein shakes. Spread it on toast. Have it with celery and raisins as ants on a log. However you prefer to eat it, peanut butter is a must for athletes seeking high protein intake. Just be careful when selecting peanut butter, as many have added sugar.
Protein content: 8 grams per 2 tablespoon serving.
You aren’t going to get your daily protein intake solely from quinoa, but it is an excellent choice as it is a complete protein, containing all of the essential amino acids that your body cannot produce. Quinoa is an excellent source of protein for vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free individuals.
Protein content: 4.4 grams per 100 grams.
If you are craving beef but worried its high-fat content is going to take you way beyond your daily calorie limit, bison is the answer to your problems.
This lean meat has nearly a third of the calories as beef, and only 5 fewer grams of protein (hint: eat a side of broccoli and makeup that 5-gram difference).
Protein content: 18 grams per 3 ounces serving.
Because packaged oatmeal tends to have a lot of added sugar, reap the benefits of this protein-packed whole-grain food by using raw oats to make your oatmeal. Add in berries or other fruit to give it flavor, if desired.
While oatmeal is not a complete protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids, it is of higher quality than most grains. It’s well balanced and has the added benefit of being a good source of carbs and fiber.
Protein Content: 17 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Fun Fact: There are three types of protein: fibrous, globular and membrane.
A quarter-cup serving of shelled pistachios contains 6 grams of protein. This may not seem like enough to make the list of high protein foods, but who can only eat a quarter cup of pistachios? One is more likely to eat a full cup, containing 24 grams of protein.
Protein content: 24 grams per cup.
As a child, broccoli (see above) was never seen without cauliflower by its side. Therefore, this was destined to make the list. It does not have a lot of protein, but you can add 2 grams per serving when you add this to your meal.
Protein content: 2 grams per 100 grams.
20. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are a plant-based protein source that has a long list of benefits, beginning with its vast number of vitamins and minerals. These are another complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.
Hemp can be consumed as seeds, added to shakes, smoothies and the like, or as a protein powder similar to whey protein.
Protein Content: 9.5 grams of protein per 30 grams.
Similar to protein content to chicken, turkey is an excellent protein source that should be consumed more than just once per year. The white meat of the breast is going to have a higher protein ratio because it has a lower fat content.
All parts of the turkey are good sources of protein, so feel free to indulge in your favorite part (we all have a favorite piece of the turkey). Bonus: you’ll be ready for that recovery nap after eating!
Protein Content: 24-25 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving, varies with cut of meat.
Another vegetable where you are probably thinking, ‘this will give me another 2-4 grams of protein.’ On the contrary, peas boast 8 grams of protein per cup, that as much as a glass of milk! Plant-based protein can be a major source of protein for folks who don’t eat meat.
Peas are such a good source of protein (a complete protein at that), that they receive two entries in this guide (see below).
Protein content: 8 grams per cup.
23. Pea Protein Isolate
This could be listed as 22a, but I thought it deserved its own recognition because it boasts twice the amount of protein per gram consumed. This is another protein powder that can be used in shakes, smoothies or sprinkled into any meal you cook.
Protein content: 23 grams per 30 grams.
24. Sweet Potatoes
Maybe not so healthy when you eat them with smothered in sugar and marshmallows, but when you cook them in a healthy way, sweet potatoes have a long list of vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to your health.
Protein content: 4 grams per cup.
High protein. Low sugar. High Fiber. Lots of vitamins and minerals. What is not to love about lentils? Lentils are excellent to throw in soups.
Protein content: 9 grams per 100 grams.
This lean, white fish is a good source of protein, with a whopping 42 grams if you eat half of a fillet. If you follow the recommendation of eating fish once per week, this adds some variety to the salmon.
It’s a good idea to find several high protein foods that you really like. When cooked properly, halibut can bill the bill.
Protein content: 19 grams per 3 ounces serving.
Note: Do you have any other suggestions for high protein foods? Please let us know via the contact us page.
Not only the sound I expect you hear after reading this mesmerizing article, but also the grasshopper-like animal. Cricket flour has the highest amount of protein per gram of food out of this entire list.
If you were to eat the same serving size of cricket flour as one serving of beef (3 ounces), you would get an incredible 55 grams of protein. More than twice the amount of protein as the serving of steak.
Protein content: 11 grams per 2 tablespoon serving, may vary by brand.
Understanding Protein’s Place in the Diet
Your protein intake is the essential macronutrient most athletes should build his or her nutritional plan around. The daily protein intake needed is going to depend on what type of training you are doing.
You may think carbs and fat are more important because they are going to control your caloric intake, and therefore determine your weight, but if you don’t get the right amount of protein you will have problems. So, protein management is important for weight loss.
Building Blocks of the Body
Protein, specifically amino acids, are the building blocks of the body and are responsible for building muscle mass, recovering after workouts, cutting body fat, the health of the skin, bone and muscle and even healthy brain function.
The average Joe or Jan, who isn’t actively training to need a daily intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (1).
I know nobody wants to do the math, but it doesn’t make sense to use the same standard recommendation for every person, no matter what shape or size. This equation is going to give you a more personalized suggestion for your recommended daily protein intake.
Protein Intake Personalize To Training
Furthermore, an athlete needs an even more personalized protein intake based on what kind of training they are doing. Whether you are training for a half marathon and doing primarily endurance work or preparing for the clean and jerk at the Olympics and doing only resistance training, you are going to have a higher demand for protein than the average person.
Those two athletes are going to have significantly different needs for daily protein intake. The recommended daily intake for athletes is between 1.2 and 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (2). A 150-pound athlete, therefore, should eat between 81 and 136 grams of protein per day, with the pure endurance athlete eating closer to the former, and the pure strength athlete eating closer to the latter.
High Protein Foods Benefits
A food plan rich in high protein foods can be effective for muscle building, to lose weight, and reduce hunger pains. Building lean muscle works best when combined with exercise. As always, eating a well-balanced diet is a core part of staying healthy.
Nolan McMonagle has a degree in B.S. Exercise Science. He is a Physical and Health Educator, committed to guiding people towards healthy choices.
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