Whatever your diet, be it vegan, paleo or keto, everybody needs protein. Protein makes up the building blocks of our bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. It’s considered one of the three macronutrients — alongside carbohydrates and fat — meaning that our bodies need a significant amount of it to function correctly. Cue those healthy, high protein foods!
Aside from its cell-forming, muscle-creating properties, protein plays a vital role in regulating hunger, helping you lose weight, and increasing your muscles mass and strength. Protein also helps lower blood pressure and keep diabetes at bay.
Funny enough, even though protein offers overall repair care, it doesn’t work quite like carbohydrates and fat. Your body doesn’t store it and therefore doesn’t have any reserves to turn to during starvation periods or fasting — which is why it’s important to include various forms of protein in every meal. To add, each source of protein has it’s own amino acid profile and is absorbed and used by the body differently. To ensure you get every amino acid your body needs — nine essential ones to be exact — variety is key.
What foods are high in protein?
Many of are guilty of relying on just a few protein sources like eggs for breakfast, hummus with lunch, a protein powder smoothie for a snack, and chicken for dinner to meet our daily quota. To help you incorporate more variety into your daily meal plan, we compiled a list of healthy, high protein foods that will support your body’s needs.
Such foods include lean proteins like poultry, seafood and some cuts of red meat. If you’re trying to stick to a more plant-based diet, foods like beans, peas, soy-based products, grains, nuts, and seeds will become your diet staples — with eggs and dairy added if you’re vegetarian.
Healthy high-protein foods for standard diets
A standard diet is the one that most of the world follows. It includes every food group and means that there are a lot of high-protein sources to choose from. Here are some high proteins foods to opt for:
- Poultry: Chicken and turkey breast are one of the most popular protein-rich foods, and not without reason. If you’re eating chicken without the skin, the majority of the calories you’ll be taking in are from protein. Turkey does the same but keeps the calorie count low. Check out our Sautéed Chicken with Apple dish in the 8fit recipe book.
- Lean beef: Lean beef makes up for its slightly higher fat content by providing you with zinc, iron, and vitamin B12. Be careful when cooking leaner cuts of steak as they can overcook quickly and end up being chewy. It’s best to pan fry them for a short amount of time over high heat.
- Pork: Though not considered lean meat, the branched-chain amino acids in pork are vital in supporting muscle recovery. Leucine, notably, makes up a third of muscle protein and stimulates repair after exercise, making for a great post-workout meal. This Cranberry Tangerine Pork Stir-Fry dish is a must-try.
- Eggs: Eggs are one of the best budget forms of protein and are easily digestible. A healthy omelet is an excellent energy-boosting meal and a functional recovery snack, making them not just perfect for breakfast, but also as a post-workout snack.
- Dairy: Aside from being excellent sources of protein, dairy products contain valuable calcium. Choosing a low-fat dairy will help keep bones and teeth healthy without the unnecessary calories.
Particularly healthy, high-protein dairy products include:
- Cottage cheese: If you’re looking for a healthy late-night nibble, make cottage cheese your go-to snack. It’s high in casein, a dairy protein that digests more slowly than whey, meaning it feeds your muscles all night and stops the hunger pangs.
- Greek yogurt: With its combination of casein and whey protein, Greek yogurt has also become a popular choice because it contains double the amount of protein than other types of yogurt. The bonus probiotic bacteria are great for gut health. Give our Chickpea Harvest Salad a try.
A plant-based diet focuses on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts. It also excludes animal products entirely. If you follow a plant-based or vegan diet, here are proteins for you:
- Soy: Eating soy protein instead of higher-fat protein sources can be useful for your heart and can help lower cholesterol. Soy protein foods such as tofu and soy-based drinks are helpful for post-recovery. Try our Mexican Tofu and Broccoli Wrap.
- Quinoa: The “whole grain” is technically a seed, and is pretty unique in the sense that it contains a whole range of essential amino acids. That means that it’s a complete protein, packed with muscle-building potential. Give this Thai Peanut Quinoa Salad recipe from the 8fit app a try.
- Beans: Half a cup of these nutritious nuggets contains as much protein as one ounce of steak. Plus, the affordable beans are loaded with iron and fiber to keep you feeling full for hours. That’s proof that you don’t have to clean out your wallet for high-quality proteins. Try our plant-based Black Bean Chili recipe.
- Green peas: While most vegetables usually aren’t abundant in protein, green peas contain enough that you’ll want to keep a bag in your freezer at all times. The fact that they’re also high in fiber means that they’ll help keep cravings at bay too.
- Lentils: There’s as much protein and way less fat in one cup of lentils as there is in three eggs. Lentils are also known to speed fat loss thanks to their high fiber content leaving you feeling extremely satiated.
- Pistachios: Nuts are a practical protein choice if you’re on the go. Pistachios provide sodium and potassium (the electrolytes lost when you sweat during exercise), which makes them perfect as a post-workout snack.
- Pumpkin seeds: Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats, keeping you feeling energized for longer. They also contain manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc, which provide you with additional energy to support gym time. Give our Rosemary Garlic Popcorn a go.
Pescatarian protein sources
The pescatarian diet tends to be similar to the standard diet, except that fish and seafood are consumed instead of meat. Seafood is an excellent source of protein because it’s generally low in fat. Healthy high-protein foods for pescetarians include:
- Tuna: This meaty fish delivers a considerable amount of easy-to-digest, high-quality protein. It also provides a healthy amount of B vitamins and the antioxidant, selenium, putting it up there with the most robust, high protein foods.
- Salmon: Fish such as salmon is slightly higher in fat, but the heart-healthy kind — omega-3 fatty acids — known to reduce joint stiffness and inflammation. If you want to get the protein you need without adding extra calories, salmon is oily enough to hold its own. Try our Soy Mushroom Salmon.
- Halibut: Among white fish, halibut is a champion when it comes to protein content. The fact that it doesn’t contain much fat is a bonus. If you’re not sure which one to pick, Pacific halibut is considered to be a more sustainable choice than Atlantic.
- Sardines: Humble canned sardines are full of the good stuff. It’s a high-protein fish packed with vitamin D and omega-3 fats. Their small size means that they’re low on the food chain and have a low mercury content compared to other fish.
- Anchovies: These little fish are the surprising winners when it comes to canned protein. Like sardines, their size means that they don’t accumulate as many toxins as bigger species of fish do. Reduce their saltiness by soaking them in water for 30 minutes, then drain and pat dry.
Fuel your body in a healthy way
For most of us, a healthy and balanced diet is enough to meet our daily protein requirements, with some diet types (i.e., vegetarian and plant-based) requiring slightly more thought and effort than others. That said, it’s important not to overdo it.
In the long term, this could lead to health issues like an increased risk of bone damage or worsening of an existing kidney problem. The type of protein consumed (animal or vegetable) may also be a factor affecting the quality, which is why we stress that variety is essential.
Another issue in the Western diet, in particular, is that we don’t spread the protein intake out much throughout the day. Our breakfasts and lunches tend to be low in protein but high in carbs, whereas our dinners usually have the most protein.
If you find it challenging to balance out your meals, you can try our 8fit meal plan. Each recipe is crafted so that you consume the perfect balance of macronutrients to meet your goals. And for the more intense days at the gym, we have a selection of high protein breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for you to check out.