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Home/Blog/14 High-Protein Foods (and Recommended Protein Powders)

14 High-Protein Foods (and Recommended Protein Powders)

By Rachel Link, RD, MS

July 22, 2023

High protein foods

High-protein foods are a crucial component of a balanced diet, as they provide essential amino acids (the “building blocks of protein”) that are necessary for various bodily functions. You need adequate protein for normal muscle repair, hormone production, healthy immune system support and much more. 

When it comes to maintaining a healthy body weight, including protein foods in your meals can help you feel fuller for longer, support a healthy weight and help you recover from exercise more easily.

So what foods are high in protein? Among the best foods or products for boosting your protein intake are grass-fed meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and various protein powders. Below, find out the benefits of eating protein foods, plus the top choices to include in your diet regularly.

Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including supplementation. 

Why You Need Protein 

Protein is a macronutrient that is made up of smaller amino acids chained together. Our bodies use protein from the foods we eat to support the normal building and repairing process of tissues (such as muscle, skin and joints) and to create enzymes, neurochemicals and hormones.

Focusing on high-protein meals is not only good for managing your appetite, it also supports many other functions, too. Research shows that people who eat moderate to high amounts of protein on a regular basis experience these general benefits:

  • Normal muscle growth and repair, as well as preservation of lean mass during weight loss

  • Healthy weight management, including helping to reduce hunger pangs and food cravings

  • Increased thermogenesis (energy expenditure from digesting foods that supports a healthy metabolism) — hence high-protein foods are fat-burning foods

  • Bone health support

  • Promoting healthy blood sugar levels (already in the normal range)

  • Healthy energy levels and stamina

  • Healthy, normal cognitive functions including focus and concentration

  • Create satiety, aka feeling full

How much protein/how many high-protein foods should you eat each day?

Individual protein needs can vary based on factors such as someone’s age, sex, activity level and overall health. You should consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to determine the right amount of protein for your specific needs.

That said, here are general protein guidelines:

  • For most adults: At least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 0.36 grams per pound. This guideline is typically aimed at sedentary individuals and represents the minimum amount of protein needed daily to support overall health. 

  • For active individuals: For those who engage in regular physical activity or exercise, protein needs may be higher to support normal muscle repair and growth. The range typically recommended for active individuals is 1.2 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 0.54 to 1 gram per pound.

  • For athletes: Athletes and individuals involved in intense resistance training may have higher protein requirements. The range often recommended for this group is 1.4 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 0.64 to 1 gram per pound.

  • For older adults: Older adults may benefit from slightly higher protein intake to counteract normal age-related impacts on muscles and bones. Some studies suggest a range of 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 0.45 to 0.68 grams per pound.

Best Foods High in Protein

How can you eat high protein everyday? Focus on the protein foods below, which can keep your appetite in check and your energy levels up:

1. Grass-Fed Meat

Grass-fed meats, such as steak or ground beef, are high in protein plus many other nutrients, such as iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid. 

Opting for grass-fed types usually results in you consuming more nutrients, so it’s worth the splurge. Try beef and steak in tacos, burgers or casseroles.

Protein content: A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of cooked beef typically contains around 22–26 grams of protein.

2. Turkey 

Poultry including turkey is a relatively lean protein that’s also full of B vitamins and iron. It can be roasted or grilled and served sliced in sandwiches, wraps or salads. Turkey can also be added to soups, stir-fries or pasta dishes.

Protein content: A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of cooked turkey (such as roasted or ground turkey) generally contains around 22–25 grams of protein.

3. Chicken 

Chicken breast is a lean source of protein and a staple for many fitness enthusiasts because it’s low in calories. That said, dark meat chicken and turkey is also a good option as it’s richer in iron. 

Chicken can be grilled, baked or sautéed and seasoned with herbs and spices. Try it added to salads, wraps or sandwiches.

Protein content: A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of cooked chicken (such as breast or thigh meat) typically provides around 25–30 grams of protein.

4. Salmon and Sardines

Fish like salmon and sardines are not only rich in protein but also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart and cognitive health support. Salmon is also a good source of vitamin D and some antioxidants. 

Salmon can be grilled and baked, while sardines are great pan-seared with some olive oil and seasoning. Lox/smoked salmon can also be enjoyed on bagels, in wraps or added to omelets for a protein-rich breakfast option.

Protein content: One 3-ounce (85 gram serving) of salmon typically provides 22 grams of protein.

5. Tuna and Other Fish

Tuna is a convenient fish to eat regularly considering it’s mild-tasting, inexpensive and canned. However, experts recommend eating it about 1–2 times per week max to avoid too much mercury. (Canned wild salmon can be a great option here.)

Enjoy tuna on salads, in sandwiches, or seared and served with vegetables. 

Protein content: One 3-ounce (85 gram serving) of tuna typically provides 22 grams of protein.

6. Eggs

Eggs are a versatile and affordable protein source. They contain all nine essential amino acids and are also rich in vitamins and minerals including B12, choline, vitamin A and iron.

A staple of many high-protein breakfast ideas, eggs can be boiled, scrambled, poached or fried according to personal preference. They can be enjoyed on their own, used in sandwiches, or incorporated into various recipes like frittatas, omelets or quiches.

Protein Content: 6 grams per whole egg.

7. Yogurt or Kefir

Fermented yogurt and kefir provide protein along with calcium, probiotics and many other nutrients. Opt for types that are unsweetened, then add your own toppings. If you specifically want lots of protein, opt for unsweetened Greek yogurt, which is a creamy and tangy dairy product known for its high protein content. 

Yogurt and kefir can be enjoyed on their own or used as a base for smoothies. Try topping them with fresh fruits, nuts or muesli for added flavor and texture. Greek yogurt can also be used as a substitute for sour cream in recipes or as a creamy dressing for salads.

Protein content: A typical serving (about one cup) of yogurt/kefir contains about 8 to 17 grams of protein (Greek yogurt has the most).

8. Beans and Legumes

Legumes and beans are plant-based protein sources that are also high in fiber. They are excellent options for vegetarians and vegans since they provide protein and other minerals too. 

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a popular legume with a nutty flavor. They are a key ingredient in hummus and can also be roasted and enjoyed as a crunchy snack or added to salads, soups, or stews. Also try black beans, kidney beans and others in vegetarian burger patties, tacos or as a filling for wraps.

Protein content: Approximately 15 grams of protein per cup of cooked beans.

9. Lentils

Lentils are legumes packed with protein and fiber. They come in various colors and are a great addition to soups, stews and salads. They can also be used as a base for vegetarian burgers or mixed into salads for added texture. Try them seasoned with herbs and spices, such as curry, to enhance their flavor.

Protein content: 1/2 cup (approximately 100 grams) serving of cooked lentils typically contains around 9 grams of protein, or about 18 grams per cup. 

10. Organic Tofu and Tempeh

These soy-based products are popular among vegetarians and vegans due to their high protein content. They are also versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes.

For example, tofu can be crumbled and used as a substitute for ground meat in recipes like tacos or pasta sauces. Unlike tofu, tempeh is fermented, which can help in digestion and the absorption of nutrients. To avoid consuming GMO soy, opt or organic soy products.

Protein content: One 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of tofu generally contains around 8–15 grams of protein, depending on the firmness and brand. Firm tofu and tempeh usually have a higher protein content.

11. Edamame

Edamame is the whole, immature soybean. These young soybeans are a good source of protein and are commonly consumed as a snack or added to salads and stir-fries. They’re a complete protein and great for plant-based eaters.

Try them boiled and sprinkled with salt, or added to various dishes like rice stir fries.

Protein content: 1/2 cup (approximately 100 grams) of cooked edamame typically provides around 11 grams of protein.

12. Nuts (Like Almonds and Cashews)

Nuts such as almonds are a nutritious snack rich in protein, healthy fats and vitamin E. They can be eaten as a snack on their own or added to trail mixes. 

They’re also sometimes crushed and used as a coating for meats or as a crunchy topping for salads. Another option is nut butter which can be spread on toast, added to smoothies, or used as a dip for fruits and vegetables.

Protein content: The protein content of nuts can vary, but as a rough estimate, a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of nuts typically contains around 4–7 grams of protein.

13. Seeds (Like Hemp, Chia and Flax)

Hemp seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds are examples of protein-rich seeds that also contain healthy fats and other beneficial nutrients. Hemp is especially high in protein and a rich source of many amino acids.

Chia seeds are tiny black seeds that are rich in protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Like hemp and flax, they can be added to smoothies, yogurt or baked goods. Seeds can also be mixed with liquid to create a gel-like consistency and used as an egg substitute in vegan baking recipes.

Protein content: Two tablespoons (approximately 20 grams) of chia seeds contain around 4 grams of protein, while two tablespoons of flax seeds contain around 3 grams of protein. Hemp has the most protein, with about 6 to 7 grams of protein per two tablespoons. 

14. Quinoa

Quinoa is a grain-like seed that is a complete protein source, containing all essential amino acids. Known as a “whole grain,” it’s values for its high protein content and makes a great alternative to rice or pasta.  

It’s also gluten-free and can be used as a base for salads, side dishes or even as a breakfast cereal. Additionally, quinoa can be flavored with vegetable or chicken broth while cooking to add more depth to its taste.

Protein content: One cup of cooked quinoa contains around 8 grams of protein.

Extra: Protein Powders

Sometimes it can be challenging to eat enough protein foods. That’s when it’s recommended to consider protein powders — such as collagen, bone broth, whey, casein and plant-based varieties (like pea protein, soy protein, or hemp protein) — as convenient options to supplement protein intake, especially for athletes or those with specific dietary needs, such as vegans. The healthiest types are low in added sugar and made without additives. 

For additional joint, skin and gut support, try Multi Collagen Protein or Bone Broth Protein powders that come in a variety of flavors, such as chocolate, vanilla and tomato basil. If you’re a plant-based eater, Plant Protein+ powders are great options that are made with organic seeds and nuts, such as pumpkin, flax and chia seeds.

Protein content: The amount of protein varies by type, but most contain about 15 to 20 grams of protein per serving.

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