If you’re trying to get fit, gain muscle and lose fat, then you probably already know that your diet matters just as much as your exercise regimen — and protein is an essential part of that equation.
Protein helps your body regrow tissues that are broken down during exercises Common sources of protein are also known for offering other essential nutrients, like iron and B vitamins, plus, it helps you stay fuller longer, which can help curb your appetite and promote weight loss.
Unfortunately, many people get confused about how much protein they really need in their diets, particularly if weight loss or maintenance is the goal.
Here are six of the very best lean protein sources to incorporate into your diet.
Low in fat and high in nutrients and protein, fish is one of the best and most popular sources of lean protein available worldwide — about 1 billion people rely on fish as their primary animal protein. Salmon is typically higher in fat than other fish, but boasts heart-healthy omega-3s, which have been proven to reduce inflammation. Other lean types of fish include rainbow trout, pike, porgy, cod and snapper. We love fish for its variety and versatility; raw, smoked, grilled, broiled, pan-fried or baked, fish is delish, no matter how you serve it.
Small, perfectly portioned, cheap, and super convenient: There’s a reason why bodybuilders eat eggs by the dozen. With 6 grams in one large egg, they pack the perfect protein punch. They’re also one of the few foods considered to be a “complete protein,” because they contain all 9 essential amino acids, as well as Vitamins A, B, E, calcium, zinc and iron.
Enjoy an egg-filled breakfast to start your day off right, or enjoy these little suckers as a snack, on an egg sandwich for lunch or even on a salad for dinner. For an extra-powerful dose of protein (especially post-workout), combine eggs with other lean meats or legumes.
3. Lean, Grass-Fed Meats
If red meat is your preferred source of protein, choose lean, antibiotic-free, grass-fed organic meats from your local butcher. Options such as London broil steaks and extra-lean ground beef may cost a little more, but the benefits are priceless. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet recommends 175 grams of lean meat a day to lower blood pressure.
If you’re watching your red-meat intake, choose cuts of meat that are lower in fat, such as eye, round, and top cuts of steak, and look for cuts with little marbling, too. Try to pair your lean meats with plenty of veggies for a well-rounded, heart-healthy meal.
4. Nuts And Legumes
Legumes are a rare, almost-perfect food that fills you up while providing a ton of essential nutrients. Containing more protein than any other plant food, legumes are high in complex carbs and low in fat. A cup of cooked lentils will provide almost 18 grams of protein — comparable to a T-bone steak (and much, much cheaper!). Replace white rice or pasta with your favourite legume to easily up your protein intake at your next meal.
Nuts have less protein than legumes, and some nuts contain less protein than others, so opt for pumpkin seeds, pistachos and peanuts if you’re aiming to up your protein intake.
From chicken wings and mom’s noodle soup to spicy curries and cordon bleu, chicken is one of the more popular global ingredients when it comes to meat. A 3-½ oz piece chicken breast will provide you 21 grams of protein. You can even make broth out of bone-in chicken, which is extra rich in vital nutrients and provides a delicious base to countless recipes.
While chicken breast is the most technically lean in terms of fat and calories — try grilling it, searing it, or baking it — dark meat, while higher in fat, has been found to be just as nutritious and contains more iron than the white variety.
And don’t forget about chicken’s larger cousin, either. Like chicken, turkey is quite versatile, and is great for making sandwiches or as a substitution for red meats, such as turkey burgers, turkey fajitas, or turkey pot pie.
6. Organic Dairy Products
If you are looking for lean sources of protein snacks, look no further than dairy products. From yogurt to cheese and plain old milk, dairy products are easy to include in meals, as a snack or in a smoothie to boost your protein intake throughout the day.
The best part? While we’ve been told to stick to low-fat and non-fat sources, new evidence suggests that the creamy, delicious full-fat variety may actually be better for us after all, so long as you’re choosing the cleanest possible dairy sources, with few added ingredients and no added sugar.