There’s a reason you always hear about the benefits of drinking protein shakes after your workout. Protein repairs the tiny tears caused by strength training in your muscles, which helps them grow bigger, faster.
But if you really want to maximize your gains, you need to down protein all day long.
In a University of Texas study, researchers found that muscle protein synthesis—the driving force behind your muscle growth—was 25 percent greater when people ate meals with 30 grams of protein throughout the day, compared to those who ate a bulk of their protein at dinner and skimped during breakfast and lunch.
Unfortunately, most Americans don’t hit the mark.
We typically eat almost three times as much protein during dinner (38 grams) as we do during breakfast (13 grams), according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
But it’s not just about how much protein you’re eating, the kind of protein you consume is important, too.
“Protein quality is important, but it’s more about the variety you’re eating,” says nutrition advisor Mike Roussell, Ph.D. If you’re eating chicken only, you’re missing benefits from steak (iron), fish (omega-3s), and chickpeas (fiber).
So ask yourself not only “Did I eat enough protein today?” but also “Did I eat different proteins than yesterday?”
But be cautious. This doesn’t mean protein-enhanced animal crackers are exactly good for you, says Roussell.
Watch out for sugar- and calorie-loaded foods disguised as healthy due to their protein label—meaning that while a battalion of new products is clamoring for your stomach space, not all of those foods satisfy dietitians’ criteria.
Eat the good stuff, and you’ll flatten your gut. These 24 expert-approved high-protein foods are a smart place to start.
1. Perdue Harvestland Organic Chicken Breast
Protein per serving: 24g
2. Modern Table Three Cheese Mac & Cheese
Protein per prepped cup: 18g
3. Real Good Pizza Co. The Supreme
The crust is chicken breast! Need we say more?
Protein per pizza: 25g
4. Organic Valley Omega-3 Eggs, Extra Large
Protein per egg: 7g
Ah, nasty! Now, hold up: If you’ve had calamari, you’ve had squid. Buy some from the fish counter (it’s cheap) and try it in stir-fry.
Protein per 1/4 lb: 18g
6. Eden Organic Garbanzo Beans (a.k.a. chickpeas)
Think of them as extra protein for your soup, quinoa bowl, or egg salad. The cans are BPA-free.
Protein per 1/2 cup: 7g
7. Grass-Fed Ground Beef
Protein per 1/4 lb: 23g
8. Beyond Meat The Beyond Burger
Protein per 1/4 lb: 20g
9. P28 High Protein Bread
Protein per slice: 14g
10. Wild Planet Wild Sockeye Salmon (No Salt Added)
Protein per 4 oz 22g
11. Bob’s Red Mill Organic Whole Grain Quinoa
Protein per 1/4 cup 7g
12. Nasoya Organic Extra Firm Tofu
A little now and then won’t cause man boobs. Drain it. Blot it. Dice it. Throw it into Asian noodle dishes.
Protein per 3 oz: 9g
13. Good Culture Organic Cottage Cheese
Get the whole-milk version of this cottage cheese: creamy, rich, awesome. A half cup has 90 calories and only 3 grams of carbs.
Protein per container: 19g
14. Smari Organic Icelandic Yogurt, Pure Nonfat
Protein per container: 17g
15. Epic Chicken Sriracha Bar
It’s a meat-based snack bar. Your hesitation will vanish after the first slightly spicy bite. This one has just 100 calories per bar.
Protein per bar: 15g
16. Oberto All Natural Original Beef Jerky
Protein per oz 13g
17. Organic Valley Grassmilk Raw Cheddar Cheese
Protein per oz: 7g
18. Forte Gelato, Vanilla
Protein per 4 oz 15g
19. Santa Cruz Organic Creamy Light Roasted Peanut Butter
Protein per 2 tbsp: 8g
20. MuscleTech Protein Cookie, Chocolate Chip
Protein per cookie: 18g
21. Eggland’s Best Hard-Cooked Peeled Eggs
Protein per egg: 6g
22. Organic Prairie Organic Roast Turkey Breast Slice
In terms of taste, texture, and nutrition, there’s no better brand in the deli case. Roll ’em. Eat ’em.
Protein per 2 oz: 13g
Protein per cup (2 percent): 8g
24. Wild Planet Wild Sardines in Water, No Salt Added
Protein per 2 oz: 11g
25. Lamb Chops
Protein per serving: 23g per 4 oz serving
Protein per serving: 20g per 3 oz serving
Protein per serving: 18g per cup
28. Fishpeople Wild Alaskan Salmon Jerky Rainbow Peppercorn
It’s wild salmon, dehydrated, and set off with a peppery kick. You’ll dig it.
Protein per serving: 12g per 1 oz
29. Lump Crab Meat
Protein per serving: 26g per cup