Protein is an essential macronutrient that everyone needs in relatively large amounts to function properly.
You have probably heard a lot of gossip about high-protein, low carb diets, but do you know why protein is needed within the body?
We want to share some of the best high protein meals and foods you can eat, why protein is important, and how much you need for your individual goals.
Why Is Protein So Important?
Our bodies rely heavily on protein to function. In fact, our hair and nails are made mostly out of protein and your body uses protein enzymes to help build muscle, cartilage, skin, blood, and to repair muscle tissue.
Protein is also a macronutrient, which means that we need large amounts of it, along with fat and carbohydrates in our diets.
With all these vital functions relying on a protein source to keep moving, it is easy to see why we need to ensure we are consuming enough of it daily.
How Much Protein Do We Need?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance or RDA for protein is about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Essentially, this is the minimum amount required to give your body what it needs to function and keep you feeling healthy and well.
To calculate your specific protein needs and recommendations, you can use this online calculator.
This calculator has you enter your height, weight, age, and activity level to calculate your average calorie needs and protein recommendation.
Of course, this is a general guideline and should not be used as the final say.
You can also speak to your doctor or dietician regarding how much protein is right for you and your activity levels.
High Protein Meals - The Top 11 Foods to Include
If you are aiming to consume more protein in your diet, you might not know where to start or what foods will provide the most protein per ounce.
Here are some of the best high-protein foods:
1. Tuna, Salmon, or Trout (21 grams in 3 ounces) –
Fish such as tuna, salmon, or trout are some of the best sources of protein available because they are low in calories and fat.
Consuming just 3 ounces of fish can provide you with 20 grams of protein and about 90 calories.
They are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, as well as giving you a good mix of antioxidants.
2. Turkey or Chicken (19 grams in 3 ounces) –
When you think of a high-protein food, chicken is often the first food that comes to mind.
Chicken breast is the leanest part of a chicken and will provide a high amount of protein per serving.
In addition to providing high amounts of protein per serving, chicken is also a great source of vitamin B6, selenium, and phosphorus, so you can take comfort in knowing you are getting a good source of vitamins and minerals.
Turkey is another great source of protein and is relatively low in fat.
In addition to its high protein content, turkey contains a high amount of an amino acid called tryptophan, which helps produce serotonin in the brain.
3. Plain Greek Yogurt (17 grams in 6 ounces) –
Greek yogurt is a great source of calcium, potassium, protein, zinc, B vitamins and probiotics.
Many yogurts claim to be great sources of these nutrients, but they are oftentimes masked with high sugar contents and added flavoring that can cancel out the benefits.
Greek yogurt is also lower in lactose than other yogurt brands and is much higher in protein than other yogurts on the market.
4. Cottage Cheese (14 grams in ½ cup) –
Cottage cheese is high in a nutrient called casein, which is a slower digesting protein and will keep you feeling fuller longer.
5. Beans (8 grams in ½ cup) –
If you are a vegetarian or vegan or if you just love beans, the good news is that they are an excellent source of protein and are sure to keep you full, thanks to the addition of fiber.
6. Milk (8 grams in 1 cup) –
Whether you choose to indulge in skim, whole, or a milk alternative, you can bet that an 8-ounce serving contains roughly 8 grams of protein.
Many milk alternatives have also been re-formulated to include higher protein contents, which is great for people who cannot have dairy or choose not to for their lifestyle.
7. Pasta (8 grams in 1 cup) –
Consuming just one cup of whole wheat pasta will provide you with about 8 grams of protein, while many other types of pastas on the market today are made with things such as lentils to contain higher protein amounts.
Consuming a serving of pasta with vegetables and a low-calorie sauce, as well as another source of protein if you would like is a great way to have a balanced meal.
8. Nuts (7 grams in ¼ cup or 1 ounce) –
Nuts are chock-full of protein, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids, which aid in overall heart health.
Adding just a serving of nuts per day to your diet is a great way to increase your healthy fats and add some protein into your diet.
If you are not a fan of snacking on nuts on their own, you can also try adding them into recipes you already enjoy giving your meal a boost of protein and healthy fats.
9. Egg or egg whites (6 grams in 1 or 1 serving) –
Eggs and egg whites contain some of the highest quality protein available because they contain amino acids.
Most of the nutrients are contained in the egg yolk, but egg whites still contain about 60% of the protein within the egg.
Eggs and egg whites are also very low calorie and filling due to their protein content.
You can also incorporate eggs and egg whites into recipes for things like pancakes to “hide” them and add some sneaky protein to your meals.
10. Edamame (17 grams in 1 cup) –
Soybeans or edamame are an excellent source of protein because they are a whole protein source and contain essential amino acids your body needs to function.
They are about 12% protein, which is awesome since they are a plant-based food and contain other vitamins and minerals to boot.
You might choose to eat these steamed, boiled, cold, or baked. Any way you choose to eat them, they are one of the best high protein meals you can find.
11. Tofu or Tempeh (20 grams in 1 cup)
If you are a non-meat eater and are looking for another source of protein, tofu and tempeh are a great way to boost your protein intake.
They are soy-based, so keep that in mind if soy irritates your stomach, but they can be added to almost any meal and will take on any flavor you give them.
They are extremely diverse in that you can season them however you like, and they will change flavors and textures.
The Bottom Line: Add More Protein to Your Diet
While there have been continuous discussions regarding the specific amount of protein that humans need per day, the bottom line is that protein is important to our bodies. We need protein to heal and recover, as well as to help with muscle retention and repair.
Of course, a more active person may need more protein than someone who is not active at all, but even if you are not active, you still need to consume protein daily.
Consuming less protein than what is needed by our bodies can result in feeling lethargic, being sick more often, and taking longer to recover from everyday activities or workouts.
Along the same lines, eating too much protein can make you feel lethargic and you might not feel that you can perform to the best of your ability.
The best thing you can do for your body is to find the happy medium amount of protein that makes you feel your best, recover the best and perform the best.
There are calculators available that can act as a good starting point, but experimentation is the best way to find what works for you.