Like fats and carbohydrates, protein is a macronutrient. That means your body needs a lot of it. But your body doesn't store protein, so you have to get enough in the foods you eat.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Complete proteins, like whey, contain all nine amino acids that your body needs to get from food.
You also can get protein via supplements. The most common form is protein powder, including three main types:
Importance of Protein
Protein is vital for major functions of your body, as it:
- Helps you grow and repair muscles and other soft tissues
- Is a building block of enzymes and hormones, which help regulate processes in your body
- Is the fuel that your body burns for energy
Protein also helps build:
The amount of protein you need depends on your weight, level of activity, and age. It’s best to talk to your doctor or a nutritionist about your specific protein requirements.
The average adult needs about 7 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. So, a 140-pound person needs around 50 grams of protein every day. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that about one-third of your daily calories come from protein.
Many foods contain protein, but some are better than others. Fish and beans are healthier options than processed foods like hot dogs or even red meats like beef, pork, or lamb. They're high in saturated fat, which is linked to higher cholesterol and can increase your risk of heart disease. If you want to eat red meat, eat it in moderation.
Here are some high-protein foods that are healthy options:
Fish is one of the healthiest sources of protein available. That's because it is packed with many other essential nutrients, such as:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin D
Fish is also high in protein. Three ounces of Atlantic salmon has 17 grams of protein, while the same amount of cod contains 15 grams.
Any kind of bird raised primarily for meat and eggs is considered poultry.
Chicken is one of the most common sources of protein. A 4-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast has 26 grams of protein. Turkey breast also is full of protein, with 25 grams in a 3-ounce serving.
There are so many different beans to choose from, but soybeans are hard to beat. One cup has 31 grams of protein. Chickpeas, pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans also have a ton of protein. Beans also keep you full for longer because, unlike meat, most are rich in fiber.
Almonds and pistachios are among the most protein-rich nuts. Both have 6 grams of protein in a 1-ounce serving. You’ll find good sources of protein in foods such as roasted, salted nuts, but be aware of their extra fat and calories.
Although many cheeses aren't the healthiest sources of protein because they can be high in saturated fat, cottage cheese is one exception. One cup of low-fat cottage cheese has 24 grams of protein plus 227 milligrams of calcium.
Most of the protein in eggs is found in the whites, which also contain vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and choline. Eggs are also a complete protein, which means they contain all nine essential amino acids.
Lentils are a delicious plant-based source of protein. A 1-cup serving of these little legumes has 18 grams of protein (and tons of fiber, too).
Having a protein-packed snack doesn’t have to mean filling up on protein bars and shakes. With a little planning, you can get your necessary nutrients and a filling snack all in one package.
When you compare it to low-fat yogurt, skyr has a few more calories but twice as much protein, about 15 grams per container. Skyr also has nearly the same amount of fat as low-fat Greek yogurt with fewer carbs. Top your skyr with chia seeds for even more protein.
Snacking on hummus can help control blood sugar and keep you feeling full. Eating a 2/3-cup serving of hummus with veggie sticks will give you about 7 grams of protein.
Edamame is just soybeans still in the pods. You can steam them and serve them sprinkled with a bit of sea salt. Just 1 cup of edamame in the pod makes a simple snack that has about 18 grams of protein.
Toss two cans of drained, canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans) in olive oil, sea salt, and cayenne pepper. Roast them for 20 to 30 minutes at 400 degrees. A half-cup serving has about 7 grams of protein.
Tuna and crackers
An entire can of light tuna in water is packed with about 27 grams of protein. Put some of that tuna on a few whole-wheat crackers, and you've got a filling, healthy snack.
Salmon and crackers
Swap out the canned tuna for canned salmon, and the amount of protein skyrockets to as much as 72 grams. Just 1 ounce of canned salmon has 6 grams, so even a small serving goes a long way.
Air-pop 3 cups of popcorn and sprinkle on 3 tablespoons of nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor and about 9 grams of protein.
Nut butter with apples or celery
Natural nut butters with no added sugar are ideal for dipping apple slices or celery stalks. Two tablespoons of almond butter pack about 7 grams of protein, while good old peanut butter has about the same.
This snack offers 9 grams of protein and some extra greens. Cut 2 cups of kale leaves into bite-size pieces. Drizzle with olive oil and 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 15 minutes.