What foods are rich in protein?
Protein is a macronutrient that your body needs to stay healthy and function as it should - it is vital for growth and repair, and provides the building blocks for your body's tissues, including muscle, bone and even your hair!
Amino acids are the compounds that make up protein, and although some amino acids are produced naturally by your body, others are only available from food sources. Adequate protein intake is crucial for women who train, as it helps to build and repair your muscles more quickly, so that you become fitter and stronger.
There are a few things you should consider when choosing protein-rich foods, but the good news is that you can meet your protein needs by eating a variety of different ingredients, while building muscle with a plant-based diet!
How much protein do you need?
Everyone's protein needs are different, depending on gender, age, activity level and general health. For people over 18, the recommended daily intake is 0.75 g of protein per kg of body weight.
However, very active people often need 1.2 to 2 times more. Why? Exercise damages muscle tissue that your body then repairs, rebuilding the muscle even stronger than it was before.
Protein is the key nutrient in this process, so if you train regularly, it is important to make sure you get enough protein.
In fact, research shows that an optimal amount of protein after exercise is about 20-25g. If this amount isn't achievable immediately after your workout, don't worry! Any protein you eat throughout the day will still contribute to your daily intake and keep your body functioning at an optimal level.
Choosing protein-rich foods
Some protein-rich foods are considered to be of higher quality than others because of the number of amino acids they contain. There are about 20 different amino acids in protein, and nine of them come from food.
When a food contains all nine essential amino acids (those that your body cannot make), it is called a 'complete protein'. These foods usually come from animal sources and include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy products.
Foods made from plant proteins foods are considered "incomplete protein" sources, so if you're following a vegetarian or vegan diet, eating a variety of foods will ensure you get a good mix of essential amino acids to support your health and fitness goals.
Protein-rich foods for all eating styles
Including a wide range of protein-rich foods that you enjoy will help you reach your recommended protein intake, in addition to providing a range of other micronutrients and macronutrientsincluding carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals, and fiber, to help your body function at its best.
Some protein-rich foods have a very high percentage of pure protein and others contain a percentage of carbohydrate, fat or both. This may be something to consider if you have specific health and fitness goals. and there are a range of protein-rich foods that you can incorporate into your diet that will also complement your chosen training style.
High protein, low carbohydrate foods
Here are some examples of low-carbohydrate, high-protein foods:
Grilled or baked, lean chicken breast contains 31g of protein per 100g serving. Chicken can be prepared in a variety of ways, like this healthy Middle Eastern spiced chicken. The way the chicken is cooked is important - highly processed, fried or breaded chicken can have less nutritional value than whole foods.
Beef contains about 25g of protein per 100g. It is also an excellent source of bioavailable iron and vitamin B12, two important minerals for women's health.
Good news for egg fans: eggs contain about 6g of protein, including all the essential amino acids. Most of the nutrients are found in the egg yolk, so be sure to include it when making dishes that call for eggs, such as protein pancakes!
Fish can be a healthy source of protein - canned tuna contains 22g of protein per 85g can. Oily fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. This protein-rich food can be a healthy choice for anyone on a keto or pescetarian diet.
High-protein, low-fat foods
These foods are high in protein and low in fat. They are also suitable for anyone following a vegetarian diet.
Lentils and beans
Lentils contain about 9 g of protein per 100 g. Pulses like lentils and chickpeas are low in fat and high in fibre. You can include them in your snacks and meals like Chilli Kale Toast With Hummus.
Skimmed milk and yoghurt
Plain low-fat Greek yoghurt contains about 10g of protein per 100g. When choosing a yoghurt, look for an option with no added sugar.
One cup of skimmed milk contains about 8g of protein and includes other important nutrients. This means that having a latte on your way to work can help you reach your daily protein goal!
This gluten-free cereal is high in protein, with about 8g of protein in each cooked cup. It is also a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids. Enjoy it in this vegetarian rainbow quinoa bowl or add quinoa flakes to your breakfast smoothie.
Protein-rich vegan foods
For those following a plant-based or vegan diet, some of the foods already mentioned will be suitable. Here are some other protein-rich plant foods:
Nuts and seeds
Many nut seeds contain more than 10% protein, including peanuts, almonds, pistachios and chia seeds. Peanut butter and other types of nut butters can be added to smoothiesPeanut butter and other types of nut butters can be added to foods such as bread, toast or crackers, or enjoyed with raw vegetables such as celery or carrot sticks.
Tofu contains about 8 g of protein per 100 g, including all nine essential amino acids. It can be scrambled, used in stir-fries or added to a noodle salad
What if you still don't have enough protein?
In general, you should consume enough quality protein when eating a balanced and nutritious diet. However, if one of your goals is to build muscle, a protein-rich supplement may be an option, such as a daily protein shake.
There are a variety of dairy and plant-based protein powders that can be incorporated into your diet. These should always be used as a supplement and should never replace whole foods. For the best advice, talk to your health professional who will be able to provide you with information specific to your needs.
The benefits of protein-rich foods go beyond building muscle!
Protein plays a role in the functioning of the immune system, appetite management and the maintenance of healthy bones, nails and skin.
Knowing approximately how much protein you need each day can also help with portion control. Once you know your protein requirements, you can select foods that will provide the different nutrients you need to feel better!
How do you get enough protein every day? Let us know in the community!