Earlier this year, Tobias wrote two posts about how to calculate your daily calorie need and macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) that became very popular here on TheFitBlog (they are our most read posts that aren’t a chicken recipe 😀 ).
Since then, a lot of you have asked for good examples of what good proteins, fat and carbohydrates are, so I have decided to start a series of posts about exactly that. This is the first one, where I will give you some insights into what we consider good protein sources. You can read my next post about healthy carbs here.
As Tobias mentioned in his post, protein is the building block for muscles and ligaments and is essential for muscle growth. It is also excellent for weight loss since it fills you up and has a relatively low-calorie density (4 cals/gram) without the blood sugar spikes you get from carbohydrates.
I have divided the list below into “Lean” and “Less lean” protein sources. The less lean sources aren’t necessarily worse than the lean sources, as they often contain other healthy nutrients (like healthy omega 3 fatty acids in salmon), but you should be aware that they have more calories per serving than the lean sources and plan your meals accordingly.
The calories and macros for each protein are for a 3 oz. serving.
Lean protein sources
Egg whites (46 calories, 9.3g protein, 0g carbs, 0g fat): I use plain egg whites a lot. We buy liquid egg whites in one-liter jugs and eat them as omelets or add them to anything from smoothies to baked goods. Recipe ideas: Protein Pancakes and Raspberry & Banana Mousse.
Tilapia (80 calories, 16g protein, 0g carbs, 2g fat): This was my go-to protein when I was leaning out to be stage ready for my fitness show in 2014 and it’s still a part of my diet. It has a very mild flavor and almost no smell, so you need to marinate it and spice it up. Then it becomes delicious!
Chicken breast (95 calories, 20g protein, 0g carbs, 1g fat): Chicken breast is my favorite lean protein source. It’s a very versatile and filling protein, that can be dressed up however you like. It can be baked, grilled, or boiled and is very easy to bring along when you are on the road. It’s fairly odorless as well if you hold back on the spices, so if you are self-conscious about eating on the go chicken breast is perfect. Recipe ideas: Stuffed Chicken Breast and Mustard baked Chicken Tenders.
Turkey breast (115 calories, 25g protein, 0g carbs, 1g fat): I love to use ground turkey breast for stir-fry or burgers. Turkey has a stronger, meatier flavor than chicken, so it’s a great substitute for beef in a lot of dishes. Recipe idea: Turkey Patties with Spaghetti Squash.
Protein powder (100 calories, 20g protein, 2g carbs, 1g fat): This is such an easy way to get more protein into your diet. Chose the right brand (like Met-RX or Quest) and it can be an easy on-the-go shake or you can add it to other dishes throughout the day. I often substitute flour almost completely with Met-RX when baking and it works wonderfully. Be careful to choose a brand with no (or little) added sugar or fat. Recipe ideas: Strawberry Banana Shake and Baked Oatmeal Cinnamon Roll.
Less lean protein sources
Tofu (40 calories, 5g protein, 1g carbs, 2g fat): Not everybody eats meat, or at least not all of the time, and tofu is a great option. It’s relatively easy to work with and, like Tilapia, it doesn’t really taste of anything in itself. The good thing is that it will absorb the taste from whatever you mix it with. If you sear the tofu and add some fish sauce to the pan, you would swear you were eating fish.
Lean Steak (140 calories, 18g protein, 1g carbs, 6g fat): Steak is really tasty and can feel like an indulgent treat, but it’s also a good protein to include in a well-balanced diet. I don’t recommend having steak as your main protein for every meal, due to the relatively high calorie and animal fat content, but if you are looking to build some quality muscle, include it a few times per week. Recipe idea: Marinated Steak With Rice & Broccoli.
Salmon (130 calories, 18g protein, 0g carbs, 6g fat): Salmon is not only delicious, it’s also high in healthy Omega 3 fatty acids, which should be a part of any diet. If you are on a very low-calorie diet, it might be hard to fit salmon in your calorie budget, but having salmon (or another fatty fish) at least once per week is definitely advisable. Recipe ideas: Salmon & Shrimp Pasta.
There are of course a lot more sources of protein out there, but these are my personal favorites. I really enjoy eating high-protein foods, since they fill me up, support muscle growth and just taste yummy 😀