And I’m not surprised since that’s the cornerstone for designing any meal plan, whether it’s for fat loss, building muscle, or just living a healthy lifestyle.
But knowing your calorie and macro needs is only the first step. You also need to gain a good understanding of the best high-quality foods to include.
In today’s food jungle where even high-sugar cereal is now labeled “Healthy”, it’s hard to know which foods to include in your diet. This is the first post in a series where I will cover exactly that and today, I will give you some insights into what we consider good protein sources.
Why is protein important?
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 calories/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.
White fish & Shrimp (tilapia, cod, mahi-mahi, shrimp, etc.) (80 calories, 16g protein, 0g carbs, 2g fat)
White fish and shrimp have been my go-to proteins whenever I’ve been focused on leaning out and they’re still a part of my diet. Most white fish have a very mild flavor and almost no smell, so you need to marinate it and spice it up. Then it becomes delicious!
Tuna (93 calories, 21g protein, 0g carbs, 0.3g fat)
I really enjoy tuna, whether it’s tuna steak, raw tuna, or canned tuna. It has a great texture, excellent macronutrients, and is great both cold and hot.
Since tuna is often eaten raw or only lightly seared, I highly recommend you get sushi-grade tuna at the fish shop. It has to be very fresh to use for sushi or poke!
Of course, you can also get much less expensive canned or frozen tuna that tastes great as well. Just don’t eat it raw!
I also recommend that you buy “dolphin-safe” tuna and, if you get canned tuna, choose the tuna in water, not the tuna in oil.
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.
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.
Protein powder (100 calories, 20g protein, 2g carbs, 1g fat)
This is such an easy way to get more protein into your diet. It can be an easy on-the-go shake or you can add it to other dishes that could use a protein boost.
I often substitute flour almost completely with protein powder when baking and it works wonderfully. Be careful to choose a brand with no (or little) added sugar or fat.
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 white fish, it doesn’t really taste of anything in itself. The good thing is that it will absorb the taste of 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.
Recipe idea: Tofu Scramble
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.
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 into your calorie budget, but having salmon (or another fatty fish) at least once per week is definitely advisable.
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!