Best High Protein Foods for Healthy Eating

Written by
Lisa @ 8fit
 chicken fillet salad
Written by
Lisa @ 8fit
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Take a moment to appreciate that beautiful body of yours — that body that supports and guides you through life, fighting to keep you safe, giving you a place to call home. We wouldn’t have this body (or any body for that matter) without protein.

Protein is the foundation of our body. It constructs cells, muscles, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and immune antibodies. It also helps with growth and repair, keeping us healthy and strong. Just like building a house, we need the right materials to lay the foundations to structure our body.

Types of amino acids

High protein foods are composed of amino acids, the building blocks of life. There are 21 amino acids that arrange themselves in different combinations according to your body’s needs. Just like the building and upkeep of a house, you need the right amount of wood, cement, bricks, piping, plumbing, paint, etc., on hand whenever you need to make additions, changes, or repair your home.

Amino acids are classified as essential, conditionally essential, or nonessential. Consider these classifications as a general — not strict — guideline when designing or selecting a food plan. It’s difficult to know the specifics about each person’s daily amino acid usage and needs as it can depend on many different circumstances (stress, illness, growth, activity).

shoulder injury

Nine of those 21 amino acids are essential amino acids, meaning that your body can’t produce them on its own and acquires them from high protein foods. They each serve a different purpose, benefiting everything from brain health and cell formation to detoxing.

  1. Histidine: Used to produce neurotransmitters helpful for sexual, digestion, and sleep cycle functions.

  2. Isoleucine: One of three branch-chain amino acids which help build muscle. It also supports the production of red blood cells and energy metabolism.

  3. Leucine: Another one of the three branch-chain amino acids that enables building muscle. It also assists with wound healing and regulating blood sugar.

  4. Valine: Last of the three branched-chain amino acids known to stimulate muscle growth and energy production.

  5. Lysine: Enables hormone and enzyme production, aiding in the absorption of calcium. It increases energy, improves the immune function, and produces collagen.

  6. Methionine: Needed for tissue growth and absorbing minerals (zinc and selenium). A key player in the detoxification process.

  7. Phenylalanine: Helps produce neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine, responsible for fight or flight instincts.

  8. Threonine: Supports skin and connective tissue health by producing collagen.

  9. Tryptophan: A precursor to serotonin, the “happy” neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, sleep, and mood.

pasta carrot and egg bowl

Conditionally essential amino acids

Considered to be non-essential conditionally essential amino acids may be required in more substantial amounts during certain circumstances such as illness, post-surgery, injury, or stress.

  • Arginine

  • Cysteine

  • Glutamine

  • Tyrosine

Nonessential amino acids

Required for normal health and growth, nonessential amino acids can be synthesized by the body.

  • Alanine

  • Asparagine

  • Aspartic acid

  • Glutamic acid

  • Proline

  • Serine

Pairing high protein foods

Foods with all of the essential amino acids mainly come from animal products (meat, eggs, poultry, dairy, fish). Soy (like the tofu in our Orange Tofu Stir-Fry photo below), quinoa, and buckwheat are a few of the plant-based variants that contain all of the essential amino acids. Other plant-based foods such as legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, and vegetables are considered to be incomplete as they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. However, you can remedy this by simply mixing and matching your foods.

Orange-tofu-stir-fry

These pairings of plant-based foods, eaten throughout the day will ensure you meet all of our amino acids needs. Mix and match the foods below while focusing on a consistent variety of high protein foods.

  • Primary food: Corn

  • Limited amino acid: Tryptophan, lysine

  • Complementary foods: Legumes (beans, lentils)

  • 8fit recipe: Lentil Tacos

Lentil tacos
  • Primary food: Vegetables

  • Limited amino acid: Methionine

  • Complementary foods: Seeds, nuts, and oats

  • 8fit recipe: Sesame Wrap

sesame wrap
  • Primary food: Nuts and Seeds

  • Limited amino acid: Lysine

  • Complementary foods: Legumes (beans and lentils)

  • 8fit recipe: Soaked Peanut Butter Oats with Orange + Flaxseed

soaked peanut butter oats with orange
  • Primary food: Grains

  • Limited amino acid: Lysine, threonine

  • Complementary foods: Legumes (beans and lentils)

  • 8fit recipe: Smashed White Beans on Bread

smashed white beans sandwich vegan
  • Primary food: Beans

  • Limited amino acid: Methionine

  • Complementary foods: Grains, nuts, and seeds

  • 8fit recipe: Tuscan White Bean Stew + Sunflower Seeds

 tuscan-white-bean-stew

Want to make sure you have enough protein variety in your life? Sign up for the 8fit Pro app. Our in-house nutritionists make sure that all of the recipes meet your minimum daily protein intake, so you enrich your body with all those fantastic amino acids.

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