Whether you spend a lot of time in the gym working out, are trying to build muscle, or are trying to modify your diet to support weight loss, eating high protein foods can provide the muscle-reparative and satiety benefits you’re looking for.
But, what foods are high in protein?
The first high protein foods that most people think of are animal proteins like chicken or turkey, or perhaps even steak, but there are plenty of high protein foods that are plant-based as well as other animal-derived foods high in protein.
This article will discuss the benefits of high protein foods and look at the foods that are highest in protein.
We will cover:
- How Much Protein Do You Need?
- What Foods Are High In Protein?
- 14 High Protein Foods
Let’s get started!
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Protein provides 4 kcal of energy per gram and helps rebuild and repair cells and tissues.
In addition to supporting muscle repair and growth, protein has been found to increase satiety, helping you feel fuller.
This is thought to be because protein seems to increase the secretion of hunger-satiety hormones, such as leptin.
Your protein requirements depend on your body size, activity levels, and body composition goals.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that for general health, the average adult should strive for a daily protein intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram or 0.35 grams per pound of body weight.
The protein requirements for athletes are much higher because protein helps rebuild and repair muscle, along with other cells and tissues, and is used to synthesize new muscle tissue.
Protein is also vital for recovery after workouts.
For example, a review of 11 studies investigating the recovery benefits of ingesting protein along with carbohydrates after a bout of cycling versus ingesting carbohydrates alone found that adding protein to the post-exercise recovery fuel increased performance (defined as both time to exhaustion and time trial performance) in the subsequent endurance ride by an average of 9% over consuming just carbohydrate alone.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes consume at least 1.2–2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
For example, athletes weighing 154 pounds (70 kg) should consume at least 84-140 grams of protein daily to meet their physiological needs.
Since there are four calories per gram of protein, this range equates to 336-560 calories.
Keep in mind that your protein needs may be higher depending on your exercise routine, but most sports dietitians recommend a protein intake of 20-35% of your daily caloric intake.
Even though people tend to think you need a huge amount of their protein right after your workout and less the rest of the day, studies have demonstrated that protein is absorbed and used most effectively when it’s spaced out throughout the day every three hours in 20g doses rather than less frequently in 40g doses.
What Foods Are High In Protein?
Lots of foods contain at least traces of protein, but the foods highest in protein include poultry like chicken and turkey, beef, lamb, bison, pork, veal, venison, and other animal proteins, eggs, low-fat dairy products, legumes like soy and beans, certain nuts and seeds, and some vegetables.
Animal proteins tend to be some of the foods highest in protein because muscle is composed of protein, so when you eat animal flesh, you’re eating a lot of muscle tissue.
This is especially true when you’re eating lean meat, as this means that there is limited fat marbling in the meat (intramuscular fat), and the fat surrounding the muscles has been cut back.
14 Foods Highest In Protein
#1: Chicken Breast
Lean chicken breast is one of the most concentrated sources of protein.
A six-ounce serving of chicken breast provides a whopping 54.5 grams of protein.
Another way to compare different high protein foods is to compare the protein content per 100 grams of the food or per 200-calorie portion of the food.
Either one of these options makes it possible to make “apples-to-apples” (or protein-to-protein!) comparisons because different types of high protein foods have very different serving sizes and caloric densities.
Foods with the most grams of protein per 100 grams have the highest overall protein density, whereas foods with the highest protein per 200 calories of the food are the leanest sources of protein, meaning they contain the most protein per calorie.
With chicken breast, a 100-gram serving provides an impressive 32.1 grams of protein, while a 200-calorie serving has nearly 41 grams of protein:
Chicken thighs are also high in protein, though the concentration is slightly lower.
An average-sized chicken thigh provides about 32 grams of protein, while the whole leg has a whopping 62 grams. A chicken drumstick contains about 24 grams of protein.
Turkey is also a good source of protein.
#2: Lean Pork Chops
Pork chops with the fat cap completely removed are an excellent source of lean protein.
A six-ounce lean pork chop provides nearly 53 grams of protein.
Because a 100-gram portion is actually just about 200 calories, either of these portion sizes provides about 31 grams of protein.
Although lean pork chops are the best source of protein when it comes to pork cuts and products, other cuts of pork can also be considered high protein foods.
For example, a six-ounce serving of broiled pork tenderloin provides about 51 grams of protein, six ounces of ground pork has nearly 44 grams of protein, and a six-ounce serving of pork ribs contains about 30 grams of protein.
Almost everyone would probably list canned tuna as one of the best sources of lean protein, and it is.
Tuna packed in water has about 22 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving.
Fresh tuna is also one of the highest protein foods.
A six-ounce filet of tuna has 50.8 grams of protein, and there are 30 grams of protein in a 100-gram serving and 32.5 grams in a 200-calorie portion.
Other foods high in protein in the fish department include salmon, tilapia, and cod, which each weigh in at roughly 44 grams of protein per 6-ounce filet.
#4: Firm Tofu
The protein content in tofu varies significantly based on the density of the tofu and the specific manufacturer.
Extra firm tofu contains more protein per cup than soft tofu.
The average amount of protein per cup of firm tofu is 43 grams.
When you look at the protein density of tofu, a protein 100-gram serving has about 17 grams of protein, and a 200-calorie serving provides roughly 24 grams of protein.
Other soy-based foods are also rich sources of protein.
For example, tempeh, which is fermented tofu, has about 34 grams of protein per cup.
Cooked soybeans have approximately 31 grams of protein per cup, and an 8-ounce glass of soy milk has 7 grams of protein.
Lamb provides approximately 25 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving. It’s also high in vitamin B12, iron, and zinc.
#6: Grass-Fed Beef
Grass-fed lean beef has about 22 grams of protein in a 3-ounce serving. It’s also rich in iron and B vitamins.
Sardines aren’t a crowd favorite in the way that salmon is, but many people love these nutrient-packed, tiny fish.
They are also sustainable and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, phosphorus, selenium, and vitamins D and B.
Regarding protein, there are 22 grams in four ounces of sardines.
Lentils are one of the best vegan protein sources, with 18 grams of protein per cup of cooked lentils, 9 grams of protein per 100 grams of cooked lentils, and 16 grams in 200 calories of lentils.
White beans, split peas, cranberry beans, pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans are also plant-based high protein foods.
These legumes all have about 15-17 grams of protein per cup of cooked beans.
#9: Low-Fat Yogurt
Low-fat Greek yogurt is strained so that it contains a higher protein content.
There are about 14 grams of protein per cup of low-fat Greek yogurt.
Because yogurt is so dense from its liquid content, there are only about 6 grams of protein per 100 grams, but there are about 21 grams of protein in a serving of 200 calories.
If you prefer milk, there are 8 grams of protein in skim and low-fat milk.
#10: Parmesan Cheese
Cheese isn’t typically thought of as one of the highest protein foods because it has a fair amount of fat per ounce as well, but certain cheeses are actually pretty protein-packed.
Just one ounce of grated Parmesan cheese has 11 grams of protein, while 100 grams of Parmesan has 36 grams and 200 calories provide about 18.5 grams of protein.
This makes Parmesan cheese one of the foods highest in protein per unit weight, even higher than any animal protein.
Ricotta is also a high-protein cheese. There are over 14 grams of protein per half-cup serving.
Cottage cheese has about 13 grams of protein per cup, and it’s particularly rich in casein, a type of protein said to increase satiety and promote muscle repair and recovery after exercise, especially overnight.
Cheeses like cheddar and Swiss have about 8-9 grams of protein per ounce.
#11: Squash and Pumpkin Seeds
Certain types of seeds are decent sources of protein, along with healthy fats, minerals, and fiber.
Squash and pumpkin seeds have about 9 grams of protein per ounce (30 grams of protein per 100 grams).
Eggs are a source of complete protein, which means that they contain all nine essential amino acids.
One large egg has a little more than 6 grams of protein. If you have 100 grams of eggs, you’ll get about 13 grams of protein, while 200 calories of eggs contain 16 grams of protein.
If you like scrambled eggs, you’ll get 22 grams per cup, while one cup of chopped hard-boiled eggs has 17 grams.
Interestingly, although most people think that the egg white is where all the protein is, there’s actually protein in the yolk as well.
A whole egg contains 6.2 grams of protein, but the egg white only contains 3.6 grams.
With that said, egg whites are a very lean source of protein because they don’t contain any fat.
Spirulina contains more protein per ounce (or unit weight) than any food on the planet.
In one tablespoon, which has a weight of just 7 grams, there are 4 grams of protein.
This means that 57% of the gross weight is protein. If you were to eat 100 grams of spirulina (that’s a lot!), you’d get 57 grams of protein.
Spirulina is an algae that provides all nine essential acids, so it’s a fantastic vegan protein source.
#14: Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast, which is a fortified nutritional product used in many vegan kinds of cheese and non-dairy substitutes, provides many vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids.
There are about 8 grams of protein in 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast.
If you’re unsure how to use it, think of it as a Parmesan cheese substitute. Sprinkle it on salads, pasta dishes, soups, or even popcorn.
As with all nutrients, do your best to eat a wide variety of high protein foods rather than relying exclusively on just a couple of sources.
Each food contains a different swath of amino acids and other nutrients, so a variety of foods will give you a more balanced diet devoid of deficiencies.
Looking for some protein-packed breakfasts? Check out some of our best ideas here.