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Jack Up Your Protein Intake — Here’s The Big List Of Top Protein Sources, Including The Best Options For Vegetarians

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For anyone tirelessly in pursuit of a legendarily lean physique, an ample dose of HQ protein is your #1 nutritional secret weapon. Nix that — it’s not even a weapon, it’s a mandatory requirement.

If you’re one of the 37394621923 billion people who’s ever questioned: “how can I build muscle AND lose body fat simultaneously,” ingesting enough protein is the closest thing you’ll get to an honest answer. Once inside, protein works relentlessly for your body two-fold:

1. Muscle Mass — a steady stream of protein is required for fresh lean muscle growth, recovery, and to prevent the breakdown of existing muscle tissue from exercise, long-term dieting, and poor nutrition. A consistent lack of protein WILL cause your muscles to deflate over time (aka catabolism).

2. Weight & Fat Loss — if protein’s propensity to provoke muscle gain wasn’t impressive enough, it’s also a potent mechanism to accelerate weight and fat loss.

Protein quenches hunger and controls appetite, which prevents YOU from smashing a pint of Ben & Jerry’s 30 minutes after a meal; keeps blood sugar and insulin in check and reduces the impact of carbs (especially sugar) on fat storage; AND burns major calories — no effort required — thermogenically (the calories burned during chewing, digestion, absorption, metabolism, etc.).

From a pure net calories PoV, protein torches an estimated 20-35% of calories from food, whereas carbs & fat lie in the paltry 5-15% range. Translated, a 100 calorie meal from protein would burn up to 35 calories, GRATIS; that same meal from carbs or fat would only knock off 5-15.123456

You do the math.


 

The Big List Of Top Protein Sources (Incl. The Best Vegetarian Options)


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Because protein is such a powerful transformation agent, it’s critical to get enough of it on a consistent basis. Shoot for .75 – 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. If you weigh 150 lbs, that’s number should fall in the 115 – 150g range.
Print The Big List Of Top Protein Sources (Incl. The Best Vegetarian Options)
Here’s your full, go-to compendium of the top protein sources — based on grams of protein per 100 calories — including the best plant-based protein options for vegetarians, vegans, or anyone who’s animal-product-free.7

One note — veggies like watercress, broccoli raab, spinach, and mushrooms shoot up the list because they have a high protein-per-calorie ratio. When you extrapolate out to 100 calories their protein content spikes, but given how LOW in calories they are, they’re not practical as a primary protein source. You’d literally need to eat 25 cups of watercress to get 20g of protein (4 cals/.8g protein per cup).

About that.

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References, Notes, Links

  1. Halton T. The Effects of High Protein Diets on Thermogenesis, Satiety and Weight Loss: A Critical Review. J Am Coll Nutr October 2004 vol. 23 no. 5 373-385 []
  2. Skov AR, Toubro S, Rønn B, Holm L, Astrup A. Randomized trial on protein vs carbohydrate in ad libitum fat reduced diet for the treatment of obesity. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders : Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity [1999, 23(5):528-536. []
  3. Layman D, Boileau R. A Reduced Ratio of Dietary Carbohydrate to Protein Improves Body Composition and Blood Lipid Profiles during Weight Loss in Adult Women. J. Nutr. February 1, 2003vol. 133 no. 2 411-417 []
  4. Belko A, Barbieri T. Effect of energy and protein intake and exercise intensity on the thermic effect of food. Am J Clin Nutr June 1986vol. 43 no. 6 863-869 []
  5. Martens E, Lemmens S. Protein leverage affects energy intake of high-protein diets in humans. Am J Clin Nutr January 2013 vol. 97 no. 1 86-93 []
  6. Welle S, Lilavivit U. Thermic effect of feeding in man: Increased plasma norepinephrine levels following glucose but not protein or fat consumption. Metabolism. 1981 Oct;30(10):953-8. []
  7. NutritionData – Protein []

 

Bryan DiSanto

Bryan DiSanto

Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
ELLO ELLO I'm Bryan DiSanto. I'm the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, a CPT/CSN/Fitness Coach, Chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness junkie.

I also contribute to Men's Health Magazine.

When I'm not working on my abs (or somebody else’s), whipping up avocado roses and avocado toast, or running a Tough Mudder, I'm probably yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.

Come be friends with me on Snapchat (BRYDISANTO).
Bryan DiSanto
  • Scully

    I don’t think *anything* will keep me from smashing a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. 🙂
    Thank you for the vegetarian column! It’s difficult for us vegetarians to find variety when consuming a high protein diet. This is a big help.

    • I KNOW! And that was honestly the inspiration behind the list — SO many people have trouble figuring out veg-friendly protein sources, for good reason.

      *Try* your best not to. Be strong!!!

      • Scully

        Have you ever tried their Half Baked flavor? Vanilla AND Chocolate AND brownies AND cookie dough?! It’s like they Inception-ed my brain. BRAHHHHMMMMMM.
        Ahem. Let me get back to these celery sticks.

        • I think my body would explode if I had B&J’s — NO WAY! That does sound really good though…but RESIST THE URGE!

  • Matt

    what a great post! very informative! problem is that i don’t have a clue about the amount i take in on a daily basis already. but i got myself a big tub of whey isolate, and plan to change my diet somewhat. time to get healthy again!

    • Thanks Matt! Track it and count up for a few days — you’ll easily come up with a protein number.

  • Kelcey Z

    Awesome information here Bryan. Definitely printing this out. I was confused at first and was like WTF where is the chicken breast? I think so many of us automatically assume that plain chicken breast is the best source of protein. I think I am most definitely going to start expanding my options with Turkey breast (and crab — If i can afford it! 🙂 ) for th future. Again – thanks! Thinking about sharing on my IG page as well.

    • Totally. There are so many ridiculously rich sources, most people just automatically default to chicken and/or protein powder. Granted they’re both uber-lean and economical, but hell, a little variety never hurt.

      Please do! (and tag me @BryDisanto)

  • Savannah

    Hi Bryan, I really enjoy the advice you give on your blog. I was wondering what your opinion is on someone like me whose stomach is destroyed by protein shakes – I had been trying plain whey, ones with too many fillers, and then promasil. However I just cant take them because they make me sick (even with water, drinking it very slowly) no clue what it is, because Im not like this with dairy or any other food! Its probably the most frustrating thing about my diet that I cant take protein shakes, and frankly its hard to get enough from just whole foods. I know this is whats really holding me back when it comes to seeing results in the gym. Any advice? Thanks!

    • Mick

      I’ve had stomach problems for years and once I seen a specialist who is a gastronoligist professor and he told me to stay away from protein shakes because they “Rot your guts” so just stick to natuarl protein in foods is my opinion

      • I have a really sensitive stomach too and I’ve noticed the same thing — I also just got back from 9 months in Paris without any protein powder and the difference was HUGE (the food is just all-around so much better there, but still).

        The problem is most powders are stuffed with fillers, sweeteners, and LQ ingredients, all of which can cause stomach damage; on top of what dairy/whey already does. If you’ve noticed issues, I’d try to get off whey and go with a plant-based protein powder — they’re more expensive, but much more pure and the protein base tends not to cause stomach issues.

        Give this a read for my personal favs: http://www.leanitup.com/review-protein-powder-buyers-guide-150-popular-protein-powders-shaken-graded/4/

        But your best bet is always to eat whole, real food when practical.