15 Best Protein Sources for a Lean Body

Protein plays a MAJOR role in fat loss!

This Sriracha Salmon Power Bowl makes a great lunch or dinner!

It’s pretty common knowledge that, in order to lose weight, you’ve got to clean up your diet. Most of us also know that the amount of calories you consume plays a direct role in weight loss. For instance, if you consistently consume less calories than you use each day, you will lose weight. But protein consumption is another integral part of weight loss that is often overlooked. We’re here to shine a light on it! Below, we’ll cover why it’s so important and then share some of the best protein sources out there, as well as recipes that include them!

Why is Protein Important?

macronutrients

Not only is this nutrient vital for muscle repair, maintenance, and growth, but it also plays a key role in fat loss. It accomplishes this in multiple ways.

First, a higher protein intake increases satiety hormones. This means you will feel fuller for longer. And not only that, but it also decreases hunger hormones that fight off snack attacks!

All body processes use energy, and using energy burns calories. Whenever you eat anything, your body needs to digest it. The second reason eating more protein is beneficial to weight loss is because digesting protein, of all the macronutrients, uses up the most energy. In fact, studies show that 20 to 30% of calories consumed through protein are burned up during the digestion process! Increasing your protein intake, while reducing carbohydrate and fat intake, will help you achieve a caloric deficit.

Since protein repairs, maintains, and builds muscle, it’s also beneficial to weight loss because a greater muscle mass equates to a faster metabolism. And there is also a correlation between regular protein intake throughout the day and an increase in energy expenditure. This suggests that regular protein intake will maintain your metabolism’s speed all day long, and keep it from dropping.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

Store your prepped meals in the right containers to make sure they last you all week.

Now that we understand the importance of getting adequate protein in your diet, the question is, how much should you eat each day? That number will vary from person to person.

The DRI is 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman and 56 grams per day for sedentary males. Keep in mind that this is the suggested intake to prevent deficiency. Things like age, activity level, and fitness goals can all increase the actual amount you need. 

For a goal of weight loss, NASM recommends consuming .73 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. If you’re an athlete or are looking to build muscle, they recommend 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound. 

Or, to keep it simple, you can set aside 30-50% of your daily calories for protein. This qualifies as a “high-protein diet”. So, if your goal is 1500 calories per day, aim to get 450-750 calories a day from protein. For reference, one gram of protein equals 4 calories. 

It’s important to note that anyone with existing kidney issues should consult their doctor before increasing their protein intake.

15 Best Protein Sources for a Lean Body

greek chicken kebabs

Now that we’ve covered how much you actually need, let’s get to the fun part! Here are the best sources of protein for a lean body and some yummy recipes to go with them!

White Fish

Dig in to these delicious air fried fish tacos without any guilt. Plus, they're super easy to make!

The first protein on our list is white fish. This lean, low-fat fish is almost all protein! Some popular types include cod, tilapia, grouper, flounder, halibut, snapper, catfish, and haddock. On average, this fish type offers 7 grams of protein per ounce. 

Blue Fish

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This type of fish is fattier, and usually changes colors throughout the cooking process. While it’s higher in fat than white fish, the type of fat is essential and incredibly nutritious. Some examples of this Omega-rich fish include tuna, salmon, trout, sardine, anchovy, and mackerel. On average, this option offers 6 grams of protein per ounce. 

Love salmon? We have plenty more recipes to choose from!

Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast

Not only are these the easiest air fryer chicken breasts, but they're also the most delicious!

Chicken is an obvious choice for our list of best protein sources. White meat is leaner than dark meat, and can be found in breasts and wings. Dark meat is fattier and is found in the legs. There are 9 grams of protein per ounce of boneless, skinless chicken breast.

Browse through our recipe database for more delicious and nutritious chicken recipes!

Boneless, Skinless Turkey Breast

This savory, keto-friendly, flavor-packed turkey burger is absolutley delicious!

While chicken is a bit richer in protein, turkey is lower in fat than chicken. One ounce of cooked, boneless, skinless turkey breast offers 7 grams of protein. 

Don’t forget to check out the rest of our healthy turkey recipes!

Beef Jerky (no sugar added)

beef jerky

It may surprise you, but beef jerky with no sugar added offers a whopping 13 grams of protein per single ounce. Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to find zero sugar jerky. It makes the perfect high protein snack on the go!

Shrimp

Fast and Flavorful Chimichurri Shrimp

Shrimp is another super lean protein from the sea, although it does offer some essential Omega-3 fatty acids. A single ounce of cooked shrimp contains 7 grams of protein. 

We know you want more shrimp recipes! Don’t worry, we’ve got them!

Eggs and Egg Whites

Our flavorful egg muffins recipe is loaded with nutritious and fresh ingredients.

Whole eggs are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. There’s a common misconception that eating egg yolks should be avoided because they will raise your cholesterol. It’s important to understand, however, that while eggs have been shown to raise cholesterol, they raise HDL levels– also known as “good” cholesterol. Furthermore, this study showed that only 30% of people experienced a slight jump in LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind).

 A whole egg offers 6 grams of protein with 5 grams of fat, while one egg white offers 3.6 grams of protein and essentially no fat. Pro tip: Purchase a carton of liquid egg whites and add some to your whole scrambled eggs in the morning for an extra protein boost!

We love eggs for breakfast, but breakfast foods can be eaten for lunch and dinner, too!

Plain Greek Yogurt

Our vanilla bean yogurt shake will satisfy your sweet cravings in a healthy way!

Greek yogurt is an excellent alternative to regular yogurt. It is much higher in protein and contains way less sugar. One cup of plain Greek yogurt provides 20 grams of protein. Add it to your smoothies, use it in a parfait, or just add some berries!

Cottage Cheese

healthy breakfast ideas that aren't eggs

Most people either love cottage cheese, or hate it. If you love it like I do, you’ll be happy to know that it’s an excellent source of protein! I suggest choosing low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese. One cup contains 180 calories and offers around 24 grams of protein!

Try it in any of the recipes below, or enjoy it as a snack on it’s own with some fresh pineapple slices!

Lite Tofu

Black bean and Tofu Enchiladas with Creamy Cilantro Lime Sauce

Regular tofu is a good source of protein for our vegetarian and plant-based friends, but lite tofu is lower in fat and calories. A 4-ounce serving of lite tofu offers just over 7 grams of protein but only contains 1 gram of fat. 

Pumpkin Seeds

If you're craving something savory and a bit spicy, try these chili ime pumpkin seeds!

Pumpkin seeds are another great source of plant-based protein, most of which is found in the white shell. A single ounce (about a handful) of pumpkin seeds contains about 150 calories and  offers around 9 grams of protein.

Try snacking on these yummy Chili Lime Pumpkin Seeds!

Almonds

Not only does this nut provide more fiber than any other tree nut but it also contains the most protein, at 6 grams per ounce. Almonds are a great snack or salad topper!

Beans and Legumes

Our Plant-Based Ramen with Edamame makes an awesome lunch or dinner!

This category includes many options, but some of the most popular are black beans, soybeans (edamame), lentils, chickpeas, pinto beans, kidney beans, and split peas. Each of these range in the amount of protein they offer, from as little as 8 grams to as much as 24 grams per half cup serving. The lowest in protein is black beans while split peas offer the most!

Quinoa

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If you’re looking for another excellent source of plant-based protein, quinoa is a great choice. Like eggs, quinoa is a compete protein, meaning it offers all 9 essential amino acids that your body must acquire through diet alone. One cup of this fiber-rich option offers 8 grams of protein.

Whey Protein Powder

There are a lot of different protein powders out there, but whey protein is one of the best choices. This milk-based is a fantastic way to get a quick and hefty dose of protein. On average, one scoop of whey protein offers 25 grams and is great mixed with water, milk, into a shake or smoothie, or added to your oatmeal or smoothie bowl. 

We hope that our list of the best protein sources for a lean body has inspired you to add more protein into your diet! Did your favorite source of protein make it onto our list? If not, what is it? We want to know!

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Erin Miller

Erin is an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist. She is also a Performance Nutrition Coach, certified through the Clean Health Fitness Institute. Some of Erin’s favorite hobbies include hiking, kayaking, and hanging out at the beach, although weight lifting is her greatest passion. She says, “Weight training is one of the most empowering things a person can do. Not just seeing, but feeling yourself transform… There’s just nothing else like it.”

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