Protein makes up the building blocks of organs, muscles, skin, and hormones. Your body needs protein to maintain and repair tissues. Meanwhile, children need it for growth.
Studies show that eating protein can also help you lose weight and belly fat while increasing your muscle mass and strength
Eating a protein-rich diet can help people lose weight because it can help them avoid overeating. A high protein foods can help build lean muscle when combined with exercise. Lean muscle helps to burn more calories throughout the day, which can also help with weight loss.
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 protein is. It’s easy enough for most of us to get enough of the nutrient at lunch and dinner—breakfast, meanwhile, is a different story, since bagels, cereal, and fruit-heavy smoothies don’t always pack a protein punch.
The following are some of the best high protein foods that a person can consume to help them lose weight.
What Is Protein?
Protein is an essential macronutrient, but not all food sources of protein are created equal, and you may not need as much as you think. Learn the basics about protein and shaping your diet with healthy protein foods.
Protein is made up of amino acids that are attached to one another in long chains. There are 20 different kinds of amino acids, and the sequence in which the different amino acids are arranged helps determine the role of that particular protein.
Proteins play a role in:
- Transporting molecules throughout the body
- Helping repair cells and make new ones
- Protecting the body from viruses and bacteria
- Promoting proper growth and development in children, teenagers, and pregnant women
Without filling your diet with appropriate amounts of protein, you run the risk of missing out on those key functions. Eventually, that could lead to problems, such as a loss of muscle mass, failure to grow, weakened functioning of the heart and lungs, and even early death.
When you eat protein, it is broken down into the 20 amino acids that are the body’s basic building blocks for growth and energy. The amino acid tryptophan influences mood by producing serotonin, which can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve overall cognitive function.
Most animal sources of protein, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, deliver all the amino acids your body needs, while plant-based protein sources such as grains, beans, vegetables, and nuts often lack one or more of the essential amino acids. However, that doesn’t mean you have to eat animal products to get the right amino acids. By eating a variety of plant-based sources of protein each day you can ensure your body gets all the essential amino acids it needs.
How Much Protein Should I Eat?
For most people a daily dose of around 0.8-1g of protein per 1kg of body weight is recommended. For weightlifters and strength athletes 1.4 – 2g of protein per kg of body weight is recommended per day, with a recommendation of 1.2-1.6g of protein per kg of body weight per day for endurance athletes. After exercise, protein is particularly important since muscles need it to recover and grow. A portion of protein (15-25g) is recommended within 30 minutes of exercise, when your muscles are particularly receptive to protein synthesis.
It’s important to note that millions of people worldwide, especially young children, don’t get enough protein due to food insecurity. The effects of protein deficiency and malnutrition range in severity from growth failure and loss of muscle mass to decreased immunity, weakening of the heart and respiratory system, and death.
However, it’s uncommon for healthy adults in the U.S. and most other developed countries to have a deficiency, because there’s an abundance of plant and animal-based foods full of protein. In fact, many in the U.S. are consuming more than enough protein, especially from animal-based foods
Delicious High Protein Foods
Whether you’re looking to get lean, tone up or lose weight, there’s no denying it that protein is perhaps the most important macro-nutrient when it comes to eating a healthy diet. Here, we chart 74 healthy (and easy) high protein recipes to help you recover from your gym workouts, keep you feeling fuller for longer and give your body the energy it needs to carry on.
Whole eggs are among the healthiest and most nutritious foods available.
They’re an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, eye-protecting antioxidants, and brain nutrients that you need.
Whole eggs are high in protein, but egg whites are almost pure protein.
Egg and foods containing egg are not suitable for people with an egg allergy.
Protein content: 33% of calories in a whole egg. One large egg has 6 grams of protein and 78 calories.
Dairy foods are packed with protein and contain bone-building calcium, too. Chocolate milk is the age-old recovery food after exercise, since it contains energy-replenishing carbohydrates and a blend of both slow and fast release whey and casein proteins. You can get the same recovery-boosting effects from a milk-based fruit smoothie
Your standard 130g chicken breast contains 34g of the muscle macro, making it “an excellent, complete source of protein,” says Dom Haigh, nutritionist at Hero. “‘Complete’ means it contains all nine essential amino acids that are vital for optimal physiological function and must be provided to your body from food.”
From burgers to BBQ, beef is a mainstay in many recipes. When it comes to protein, a 4-oz portion of 90% lean ground beef contains 23 grams. Keep in mind, ground beef and other red meats are often higher in unhealthy saturated fats than other protein sources, London says. “You can still enjoy beef, just aim to add a mix of other lean options (like beans and seafood) to your diet,” she recommends.
Almonds are a popular type of tree nut.
They are rich in essential nutrients, including fiber, vitamin E, manganese, and magnesium.
Almonds are not suitable for people who have a nut allergy.
Protein content: 15% of calories. 6 grams and 164 calories per ounce (28 grams)
Edamame (soybeans) is one of Taylor’s favorites: “Edamame’s a fantastic source of protein. In the plant world, there are very few sources of protein that have all of the necessary essential amino acids. Soy is one of those rare plant sources of complete protein.”
The skinny on one-half cup of fresh edamame:
9 grams of protein.
Less than 100 calories.
4 grams of fiber.
How to use them: “Buy them frozen and shelled, so you don’t have to do any work,” says Taylor. “Just throw into stir-fries. Or eat them plain. My toddler loves edamame as finger food.”
Nutritionally, one 5-oz salmon filet provides up to 27 grams of protein and is packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in their most bioavailable form (aka the most useful to your body). Salmon is also an excellent source of potassium and vitamins B6 and B12, and naturally provides vitamins A and D. Most Americans aren’t eating enough seafood, according to the USDA.
(For reference, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating a variety of seafood for a total of at least 8 ounces per week.) Salmon is a great way to help hit that target—enjoy it on your morning bagel, in pasta, baked with veggies, or even as a dip! You can also try experimenting with other fish like cod, snapper, arctic char, or trout.
Oats are among the healthiest grains available.
They provide healthy fibers, magnesium, manganese, thiamine (vitamin B1), and several other nutrients.
Protein content: 14% of calories. One cup of oats has 11 grams and 307 calorie
Black beans are often an inexpensive source of protein. Black beans can be prepared in a variety of ways, making them a very versatile ingredient when preparing meals.
Some Lima beans offer about 21 grams (g) of protein per 100 g serving.
Yellow corn has about 15.6 gof protein per cup. Additionally, corn also contains a good amount of fiber and minerals, including calcium.
Lentils are another legume powerhouse. “I love lentils. They’re really economical when you buy them dried,” says Taylor. “While there are different types of lentils, they are all similar in terms of their nutritional value.”
The skinny on one-half cup of cooked lentils:
9 grams of protein.
8 grams of fiber.
How to use them: Lentils cook fast — in 20 to 30 minutes — so they’re easy to incorporate into soups. “I also throw them into other dishes, like if I’m making brown rice, which by itself is very … lackluster. By adding lentils, you’re suddenly at a higher protein count for the dish.”
The protein content of cheese varies depending on the style. Parmesan, Swiss, Pecorino, Edam and Gouda offer the most bang-for-buck, providing between 26g and 35g of the muscle macro per 100g serving, along with around 1.3g carbs. Pair with a handful of antioxidant-packed olives to power yourself through the 3pm slump.
Canned tuna is a great source of vitamin D and omega-3’s, and as a shelf-stable lean protein source, it can’t be beat for convenience! One 3-oz serving of tuna in water (half a can) delivers around 16 grams of protein. You’ll also get other key nutrients, including potassium, selenium, and calcium. Canned tuna can often get a bad rep because of mercury concerns, but this mostly applies to white (albacore) tuna.
That said, the FDA recommends limiting this type to 6 ounces per week or about one can, but light tuna and other types of canned, fresh, or frozen seafood can all help you get closer to the goal of at least 8 ounces of fish per week.
Broccoli is a healthy vegetable that provides vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber, and potassium.
It also provides bioactive nutrients that may help protect against cancer.
Calorie for calorie, it’s high in protein compared with most vegetables.
Protein content: 33% of calories. One cup (96 grams) of chopped broccoli has 3 grams of protein and only 31 calories
Potatoes have a reputation as a starchy carb but are good sources of nutrients, including protein. One medium potato with the skin on contains just over 4 g of protein. People should use caution when preparing a potato as the extras that people often put on potatoes can increase the calorie count.
Meat supplies branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are key in supporting muscle recovery. Leucine, in particular, makes up one third of muscle protein and helps to stimulate repair after exercise. Pork is one of the richest sources of leucine and therefore a great addition to a post-exercise meal or snack. Eggs, chicken and lean beef also provide good amounts of leucine.
It would be remiss to discuss the best high protein foods without giving steak a mention. While you probably shouldn’t eat it every day, lean red meat boasts 26.4g protein per 100g serving, “with a full spectrum of amino acids,” says Hobson. Like pumpkin seeds, “lean red meat is a good source of zinc, which is essential for men’s reproductive health,” he says. It’s also exceptionally high in iron, which your body needs to release energy from cells.
Shrimp, or prawns, are a delicious addition to many dishes and are packed with omega-3s and protein. Three ounces of cooked shrimp deliver 20 grams of protein. Shrimp often gets a bad rep due to its cholesterol levels, which are higher than other seafood options at 189 milligrams per 3-oz serving. However, recent research shows there’s no evidence to suggest that dietary cholesterol can increase risk of cardiovascular disease. The actual dietary culprit? Saturated fat. Shrimp has 0 grams of saturated fat per serving, making it a lean source of protein and a heart-healthy meat alternative.
Quinoa is a popular pseudo-cereal that many consider a superfood.
It’s rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.
Quinoa has numerous health benefits.
Protein content: 15% of calories. One cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa has 8 grams and 222 calories
Spirulina is a bacteria that grows in both fresh and salt waters. It offers a variety of nutrients and protein from a small amount of its powdered form.
Legumes are both high in fiber and protein. This makes them a good choice as part of a weight loss diet because they can be quite filling. Some people may have trouble digesting legumes, however.
People can use hemp seeds in salads as a substitute for croutons. Hemp seeds offer about 9.5 g of protein per tablespoon. They are fairly easy to find in most grocery stores but can be expensive.
As nuts go, pistachios are among the lowest in calories and one of the highest in protein content, delivering 6.3g in every 30g handful. “They are a great source of poly and monounsaturated fat – the more beneficial types of dietary fat, leading to a decreased risk of heart disease,” says Haigh. “Finally, they contain an abundance of antioxidants, which prevent cell damage and risk of disease.”
Plain Greek yogurt is one of the most useful dairy-aisle finds—you can swap it for sour cream in dips or mayo in chicken salad; use it as a baking ingredient; add it to smoothies; or enjoy straight-up with fruit, nuts, or nut butter for a satisfying breakfast or snack. Unflavored nonfat Greek yogurt delivers 20 grams of protein per 7-oz serving. You’ll also hit 25% of the recommended daily intake of calcium with each serving. Once you’ve found your favorite way to enjoy it, experiment with plain natural yogurt and tangy skyr. While skyr is nutritionally similar to Greek yogurt, it’s actually a strained cheese made from skim milk.
Pumpkins contain edible seeds called pumpkin seeds.
They’re incredibly high in many nutrients, including iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Protein content: 22% of calories. One ounce (28 grams) has 9 grams of protein and 158 calories.
Artichokes are high in fiber and offer a good amount of protein. Artichokes are very versatile and are suitable for use in a variety of recipes. Artichokes are typically easy to find in most grocery stores.
Peas are high in protein, fiber, and other nutrients. Peas are inexpensive, easy to find, and can be used in lots of recipes.
Bison meat is another excellent source of protein. Bison is lean meat, offering less fat per serving than beef. Bison is becoming more available, and some people use it as a substitute for beef.
Tricky to say but easy to cook, tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. It’s a complete protein, and a rich source of minerals like iron, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium, says Haigh. “As well as being nutrient-dense, tempeh provides you with probiotics, which protect your gut health,” he adds. “Due to the importance of the gut-brain axis, harbouring a healthy gut helps protect mental health.”
Avocados not only contain protein and heart healthful unsaturated fat, but they also contain good levels of fiber and nutrients, such as potassium.
Portion control is necessary, however, since avocados are very calorie dense.
Pistachios are a reasonably low calorie nut that contain a big serving of protein.
One ounce of pistachios contains about 6 g of protein and a wealth of other nutrients including a high dose of B-6.
This tiny seed packs more than 5 g of protein per ounce, along with omega-3s, fiber, and calcium. Vegans often use chia seeds as an egg substitute, and many people enjoy adding them to smoothies or salads for extra health benefits.
No time to meal prep? Grab a pouch of tuna, salmon, trout, sardines or mackerel from the nearest supermarket. Not only is fatty fish an exceptional source of high-quality protein, but it also provides a rare dietary hit of vitamin D, and is one of the most concentrated sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Rip the top off and dig in.