A workout warrior looking to build muscle should keep these top protein sources stocked.
Brittany Smith and Mike Roussell, PhD 1 / 21
Chicken breasts are the classic lean muscle-building protein. Don’t get stuck in the monotony of eating them bland and baked day in and day out, though. You can shred cooked chicken breast with two forks and toss it in a vinegar-based/East Carolina style BBQ sauce for a brand new flavor without a ton of extra calories. Another option is tossing a couple chicken breasts in a Ziploc bag with balsamic vinegar and fresh rosemary the night before you are going to cook it for an easy and essentially calorie free marinade.
A workout warrior looking to build muscle should keep these top protein sources stocked, or at least on rotation throughout the year. Meat from fish, chicken, beef, and wild game offers its own specific array of vitamins, nutrients, and protein profile. To ward off nutrient deficiencies, maintain high energy, and keep your overall health optimal, do yourself a favor: Eat meat.
Mahi-Mahi is the steak of fish. It has great texture, taste, and grills very well. A 3.5-oz serving of Mahi-Mahi barely contains half a gram of fat but brings with it 18 grams of complete protein. Marinate your Mahi-Mahi with cilantro, salt, pepper, cumin, and lime juice before grilling.
Despite heavy marketing claiming that it is the “other white meat” pork is actually red meat. But don’t let the often overstated associations between red meat and mortality scare you off; pork tenderloin is a great lean protein source. Oftentimes you can find pork tenderloins pre-marinated in the meat case at the supermarket making them ready to just pop in the oven or on the grill.
When buying ground turkey ensure that the percent leanness is specified as lower quality ground turkey products omit this information when they mix in turkey parts other than the breasts. The uber leanness of 99% lean ground turkey can make it very dry when cooked as meatballs or burgers. To combat this problem, add finely diced red peppers and onions for more flavor and moister meat.
With just 0.9 grams of fat more per 3.5-oz serving compared to a skinless chicken breast, eye round steaks are the leanest cut of beef you can get. Finding the grass fed version of this cut will make it even leaner. When selecting beef, choose Choice or Select grade cuts as they will be leaner than similar cuts graded Prime.
Usually not on most muscle building protein lists, scallops are a great lean protein choice. One 3.5-oz serving contains only 0.5 grams of fat. Scallops are easy to cook as they can just be seasoned with salt, pepper, a little peanut oil (which has a neutral taste and high smoke point), and placed on a very hot pan. Sear each side for 60-90 seconds (depending on the size of the scallops) and you’re ready to eat.
The variety of ways that you can purchase and eat shrimp make them a versatile and convenient choice. They can be purchased shelled and cooked so you just need to add them to a robust salad or eat them cold dipped in cocktail sauce. You can buy them raw and cook them as part of your favorite vegetable stir-fry or grilled on skewers.
A 3.5oz serving of tilapia only contains 2 grams of fat. Tilapia is often served frozen and pre-portioned making it very user-friendly when looking to control portions. A great way to prepare tilapia is to coat it in blackened seasoning and roast it in the oven.
Maybe the leanest protein around, turkey breast consumption is usually unfairly confined to Thanksgiving and deli meats. Roasted turkey breasts are often readily available in supermarkets alongside rotisserie chickens making them a simple and fast source of high quality lean protein.
Tuna rivals chicken for the hallmark bodybuilding protein source but make sure not to overdo your tuna intake. If you find yourself reaching for more than one can of chunk lite tuna per day, you’re at risk for consuming too much mercury and you should pick something else on this list.
A 3 oz. serving of 95% lean ground beef comes in at just 164 calories and 4.5 grams of fat, and boasts muscle-building creatine and iron, which helps keep your energy high and muscles working properly. You want at least 90% lean beef because it’s lower in calories and fat, and if you really want optimal quality, go for grass-fed beef; it’s more nutrient-dense.
Part of the flatfish family (flounder and sole), halibut is one of the largest saltwater fish, which are loaded with protein, selenium, Bvitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. You want younger, smaller fish (though some can scale as much as 600 pounds); their flesh is meaty, firm, and a bit sweet. Remove the skin before or after you roast it or poach it in olive oil.
Yellowfin tuna is low on calories (93 per 3oz), low on fat (.42g), and high in minerals like antioxidant-rich selenium, potassium, and niacian—the B-vitamin that helps your body create energy from all the fat, carbs, and proteins you eat, and promote good blood circulation and proper nerve function. These meaty swimmers have a ton of high-quality protein, and can be enjoyed raw (it’s popular in sushi; though if you don’t know what you’re doing, maybe leave it to the pros), or pan-seared with salt, pepper, and spices such as chili powder, garlic powder, and coriander.
When it comes to canned protein, these little guys pack a punch in the form of essential fatty acids, protein, and nutrients that promote strong bones, a healthy heart and blood vessels. They’re also incredibly potent in flavor. To make them more palatable, soak them in water for half an hour, drain, and pat dry. When cooked, anchovies dissolve so eat them straight from the can, combine them with kalamata olives, capers, and olive oil to create an olive tapenade, use them in dressings, or atop other foods for a meaty, salty bite.
Believe it or not, roast beef is a pretty lean beef-based cold cut. It has all nine of the essential amino acids your body can’t produce, and gives you a healthy dose of iron. And it’s not only reserved to sandwiches, of course, you can roast it in the oven (hence the name).
Canadian bacon and ham are similar in taste and texture, but if given the option, go for Canadian bacon. It’s cut from the loin that runs along the back of the pig (whereas ham is a cut that includes the leg, butt, and shank), so Canadian bacon has fewer calories, carbs, and cholesterol. Pan-fry the slices over medium heat until golden brown for a protein-boost during breakfast (or any other meal for that matter).
If you’ve never had bison, it’s time you take the plunge. It’s lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol than chicken and fish, and higher in protein than beef. It’s incredibly lean and nutrient-dense, boasting high amounts of antioxidants, Omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin E. Season bison steaks with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and cook in a hot pan.
Buffalo may also be a foreign taste, but it’s an incredible meat protein. It’s lower in calories, fat, and cholesterol than chicken or fish, and higher in protein than beef (similar to bison). You get rich flavor and a healthy dose of nutrients like beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, and it doesn’t shrink when it cooks, so you really get our money’s worth.
Here's another game meat you should sub in for beef every now and again. Venison contains about one sixth the amount of saturated fat that beef does, it has more protein, vitamins and minerals per serving like iron, vitamin B6, niacin, and riboflavin, too. If you don't love the gaminess of venison, use a citrus-based marinade to help tone down the flavor. Use tenderloin or backstraps for steaks, stews and stir-frys; lower hams for roasts are best, just make sure to cook long and slow so it gets tender; the tops of the hams are best for steaks; and the lower ribs, belly, and neck are best for stew meat and sausage.