Good Protein Sources

Author: Sarah Greenfield, Registered Dietitian

Most people know that in order to build muscle, you need to increase your protein intake. The problem is, where do you obtain good sources of healthy protein? There are protein shakes, powders, pills, and foods but it is challenging to understand what your body actually needs and, ultimately, what is healthy.

Most people need about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. As you workout and transition into a more intense lifting routine, the amount of protein per kilogram can increase to as much as 2 grams! With a higher demand for protein, it is very important to ensure you are consuming high quality, biologically available, and diverse sources of protein.

Proteins are a chain of amino acids that all have unique functions within the body. They are the building blocks of tissues, enzymes, and hormones, and will allow you to both recover and build muscle faster. You can get amino acids from a variety of foods and also use different protein products that are on the market.

I always encourage people to look at food sources first, and then supplement with protein powders and pills. Animal proteins are the most biologically available sources of protein and contain complete chains of amino acids. This means they will give your body everything it needs to build muscle and will be the easiest for your body to process; in other words you will get the most out of these proteins. Egg whites are one of the best sources of protein, along with chicken, fish, cottage cheese, and greek yogurt. You can also include non-animal sources of protein like tempeh, edamame, quinoa, tofu, beans, and spirulina.

There are some foods that, when combined, create complete proteins. These are a beneficial addition to any diet as they provide additional nutrients. Here are some common combinations:

  - Black Beans and Rice
  - Peanut Butter and Whole Wheat Bread
  - Hummus and Crackers
  - Cheese and Whole Wheat Bread

Another important area to consider is portion size. You may be surprised at how much protein is contained in some of your favorite foods. One cup of greek yogurt has 24 grams of protein, 4 ounces of chicken (the size of a deck of cards) has about 30 grams of protein, Ĺ cup of tofu has 20 grams of protein, and Ĺ cup of beans has 8 grams of protein. We are used to eating large amounts of foods thinking they represent a serving, when in reality a serving is a lot less than we think. You may be able to meet your protein requirements from food alone, but if not, it is important to incorporate a clean, healthy protein supplement into your routine.

There are a ton of protein supplements on the market, so how do you choose the right one? One of the first things to consider is any dietary restrictions. Some people have a harder time digesting dairy derived proteins like whey and casein. If this is you, avoid these types of products. However, if you are able to digest dairy, whey is a fantastic product and typically provides about 24 grams of protein per serving. Egg white protein powders are also great sources of high biologically available proteins and contain 24 grams of protein per serving. For those who are vegetarian or vegan try soy protein or hemp protein which contain 25 grams and 15 grams of protein, respectively. Both contain all eight essential amino acids!

The best way to choose a good protein is to examine the ingredient list. You should find a protein that has a minimal amount of ingredients, ideally less than 10. If there are ingredients that you canít pronounce or the list takes up half the label, move on to the next one! Finding a clean and natural product is the best, considering you will be taking it on a regular basis.

Next, decide what your goals are for incorporating a protein supplement. Do you want a concentrate, isolate, or casein? A concentrate is absorbed at a moderate pace and is best to use between meals. An isolate is quickly absorbed and is best right after a workout. Casein is a dairy derivative and digests at a slower rate, which makes it ideal for a bedtime supplement because protein is slowly released to your body as you sleep.

Whether you are working out, getting back in shape, or just trying to make healthy changes, proteins are an important part of a balanced diet. Thinking about the amount you need on a daily basis, where to get high quality sources, and delivery method are all important when adding protein into your lifestyle. This is your body. Fuel it with the healthiest foods and products that are available and be prepared to take on anything!!

Read more: Protein | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

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About the Author

Sarah Greenfield

Sarah Greenfield is a Registered Dietitian living in Los Angeles, California. She earned her Bachelor of Science from the Pennsylvania State University in Nutritional Science.