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Protein rich foods

31st July 19 - 7 minute read

Headshot of James Hudson

Performance Nutritionist at Nutrition in Sport

Our expert:

James Hudson, Performance Nutritionist at Nutrition in Sport. James played Premiership Rugby for Gloucester, as well as lining up for London Irish, Newcastle Falcons and England Saxons. He has a degree and masters in biochemistry from the University of Bath and has completed the International Olympic Committee’s Diploma in Sports Nutrition. He is currently working towards a PhD at Liverpool John Moores University.

What’s in this article…

  • Protein rich food groups
  • List of high protein foods
  • High protein foods for vegetarians and vegans
  • Getting protein rich foods into your diet

Calories are made up of macronutrients (also called ‘macros’) in the form of protein, carbohydrates and fat.¹ The key to a healthy diet - whether you want to gain muscle or simply stay fit - is finding the right balance of each.

Protein makes up a large part of this balance, playing a crucial role in repairing, maintaining and growing the body’s tissues². It’s also responsible for the growth and maintenance of muscle mass.³ James Hudson, Performance Nutritionist at Nutrition in Sport discusses why getting enough protein is important and how to go about achieving the perfect balance.

 

At a glance:

  • Eating protein after a workout helps repair muscles
  • Vegan products usually have less protein than animal-based products
  • Eggs and protein powders are some of the easiest protein rich foods to prepare
  • You should balance out your protein intake throughout the day

 

Protein rich food groups

Eating a high-protein meal directly after working out helps your muscles rebuild and repair, meaning less time recovering and more time building muscle mass.

James says: “Protein is really important in our diets because most of the protein we eat is directed towards muscle.

“It forms new proteins in the muscles and is also involved in bone health and immune health, which is key, especially as we age.”

But which food groups have the most protein?

Meat and fish

Most meats and fish are classed as protein rich foods. Chicken breast holds the most protein overall, but any lean meat will have around 30% protein content per 100g.

Choosing lean meats allows you to get more protein in your diet while cutting down on calories and fat.

Fish contains slightly less protein (around 20-25%), but are still great sources. White fish, canned fish and shellfish are the best types to incorporate into your protein rich diet, but pretty much any seafood has high levels of protein and is usually low in fat.

Eggs and Dairy

The average egg contains around 6-7 grams of protein, making it a great option for a protein-fuelled breakfast or quick and easy snack. Contrary to popular belief, both egg white and the yolk contain lots of protein, so try making meals using the whole egg.

When using dairy in your diet, look out for low-fat alternatives. For instance, milk is a good food source that contains two types of protein – whey and casein.

Pulses

Another low-fat, high-protein food source to introduce to your diet is pulses such as beans, lentils and peas. They can easily be added to meals like soup, chilli or stews to get an extra intake of protein and count as one of your five a day¹⁰.

Need to know: We need protein to help our muscles grow. Meats have the highest levels of protein, but eggs and protein supplements can be easier to incorporate into a diet.

List of high protein foods

Protein can be found in a range of foods, so it’s fairly easy to get more protein into your diet. Use this list below to create a protein rich food plan:¹¹, ¹², ¹³

Food groups

 

Eggs and dairy

Eggs, milks, cheese, yogurt

Meat and fish

Salmon, cod, tuna, shellfish, chicken, turkey, lean pork, lean beef

 

Beans and Pulses

Black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, white beans, baked beans, edamame

Chickpeas, lentils, split peas

 

Nuts and seeds

Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, peanuts, hazelnuts

Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, squash seeds, sesame seeds

Grains

Quinoa, oats, Ezekiel bread, amaranth

Soy

Tofu, tempeh

Supplements

Protein powder

 

High protein foods for vegetarians and vegans

There are plenty of non-meat and non-dairy protein sources such as nuts, soy, grains, beans and pulses. Many can be used alone or as meat replacements such as using pulses or tofu in a curry or adding nuts and seeds to a salad.

But, when it comes to getting a sufficient amount of protein rich foods into your vegetarian or vegan diet, James says the key is both quality and quantity.

“Products which aren’t from animals tend to have lower amounts of protein, so you may need to eat a larger portion to get the same effect.”

Need to know: Vegan products normally contain less protein than animal products, but it is still possible to achieve a high-protein diet if you are vegan or vegetarian.

 

Getting protein rich foods into your diet

It’s really easy to get protein into your diet. On average, a man needs 56g a day while women should aim for 46g¹⁴.

But how much you need depends on a range of factors. For instance, someone who works out several times a week and has a high percentage of muscle mass will need a lot more protein than someone who doesn’t exercise.

James says: “The important thing is to spread the protein out evenly throughout the day. If you overeat protein, you’re unlikely to get anymore benefit.”

Breakfast

Starting your morning with a high-protein meal is a great way to kick-start your day. Studies show protein on a morning can keep you feeling fuller for longer, helping you stay energised and avoid unnecessary snacking¹⁵.

When it comes to getting protein into your breakfast, eggs are king. They’re versatile, quick to cook and easy to take with you on the go.

Protein yogurt is also great to pour over grains and berries.

Lunch

One of the best ways to stay healthy and maintain a high protein diet at lunchtime is by prepping them at home.

Salads are an easy option, giving you the nutrients you need, as well as high amounts of protein. Pick your greens and load them up with marinated chicken breast and your choice of protein rich seeds or nuts. For a vegetarian option, use quinoa and chickpeas.


Working out

When hitting the gym, a protein yogurt is a great way to reduce your recovery time, build up muscle and get some extra protein into your diet¹⁶.

It’s been hotly debated whether it’s more effective to have a protein shake before or after a workout. However, getting enough protein in your diet in the first place is the most important element affecting your recovery time and build¹⁷.

Evening meal

While it’s important to include at least one protein rich food in every meal, dinner is where it matters most.

Indian dishes are great options here, as they can easily contain multiple protein rich foods. Most curries contain some type of dairy as well as meats, legumes and nuts. It also offers more variety for vegetarians, swapping out lean meats for lentils, beans or tofu.

Need to know: Balance your protein intake out throughout the day with at least one protein rich ingredient per meal.


[1] https://www.womenshealthmag.com/uk/food/weight-loss/a703806/introducing-the-macro-diet-fats-carbs-protein-levels/

[2] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/functions-of-protein#section10

[3] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-reasons-to-eat-more-protein

[4] https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/heres-why-you-need-protein-after-a-workout

[5] https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?start=4

[6] https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?start=4

[7] https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/best-sources-protein

[8] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/protein-in-egg#section2

[9] https://www.dairynutrition.ca/nutrients-in-milk-products/protein/milk-products-source-of-high-quality-protein

[10] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/beans-and-pulses-nutrition/

[11] https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/good-protein-sources

[12] https://www.choosemyplate.gov/protein-foods-group-food-gallery

[13] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/20-delicious-high-protein-foods#section3

[14] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-protein-per-day

[15] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/protein-at-breakfast-and-weight-loss

[16] https://www.menshealth.com/uk/nutrition/a755033/the-8-most-common-protein-shake-mistakes/

[17] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-time-to-take-protein#section2

Headshot of James Hudson

Performance Nutritionist at Nutrition in Sport

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