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22 Different Sources of Lean Protein to Maintain Muscle and Lose Fat

Along with carbohydrate and fat, protein is an integral diet component. In addition to animal products, protein can be found in plant-based sources, an alternative for individuals following a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Open up your protein horizons and take a bite out of these 22 different sources!


If wondering how to gain muscle and lose fat, protein is key with the complement of resistant training. But what are good sources of protein? Here are 22 of them!

22 Lean Protein Sources

1. Chicken

17 grams per 3 ounces

When thinking of lean protein foods, chicken is likely to come to mind and for very good reason. But eating chicken should be much more than a pairing to rice and broccoli and it can be prepared and enjoyed in numerous ways, including roasted, glazed, marinated, stuffed, and thrown into salads, soups, and stews.

While white is a more superior lean protein source, as dark meats contain more fat and cholesterol, each supply rich nutrients such as folate, iron, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, phosphorus, selenium, zinc, and vitamins A, K, B6 and B12.

Ultimately, control calorie and fat content by ditching the oils and fryer, as well as peeling off the skin.

2. Grassfed Beef

17 grams per 3 ounces

Red meat often gets a bad reputation based on growing research regarding cancer risk, though there are numerous benefits of eating red meat, including the provision of protein and iron.

More specific to grassfed beef, it is leaner and lower in fat and calories compared to grainfed beef. Additionally, grassfed beef is richer in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of "good" fat considered to be heart-friendly and essential for brain function.

But when choosing any sort of beef, opt for "lean," "extra lean," and any sort of "loin" such as tenderloin and sirloin to keep the fat content minimized. Further recommendations suggest to limit red meat to two servings per week to reduce the worry of cancer.

3. Ground Turkey

18 grams per 3 ounces

Ground turkey is a common lean protein meat alternative to ground beef. It can be used in various preparation methods, including added to chilis, soups, and tacos.

But really, all turkey is considered lean and nutritious, though be cautious of packaged lunchmeats often loaded with sodium and other undesirable preservatives.

4. Pork Tenderloin

26 grams per 3-ounces

While pork was previously discouraged and may not be as lean as other meat types, the National Pork Board claims, "Today's pork has 16 percent less fat and 27 percent less saturated fat as compared to 1991."

Beyond its protein content, "the other white meat" is also nutrient-dense with thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, zinc, and potassium.

However, it is important to beware and moderate the intake of cured variations of pork, including bacon and ham, as they contain nitrate and nitrite preservatives that have been linked to cancer.

5. Bison

21 grams per 3 ounces

Also recognized as buffalo meat, bison is measured as an exceptionally lean protein meat – so lean that it cooks quickly and becomes tough if cooked too long or at too high of a temperature! Buffalo is also traditionally raised on ranches and farms, making it a respected grassfed meat.

6. Venison

19 grams per 3 ounces

Often coming from deer, venison is also a lean meat to explore and add to the repertoire. Venison may even have more vitamins and minerals than beef supplies, including iron, vitamin B6, niacin, and riboflavin.

7. Jerky

13 grams per 1-ounce beef jerky

Filled with protein, iron and zinc, beef jerky is a power-packed snack to keep on hand. Though the protein content is variable, plant-based jerkies are also increasing in popularity for those limiting animal meats or following a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

8. Eggs

6 grams per 1 medium egg

Cholesterol and yolks previously had a "bad egg" reputation but new research shines light on balancing them in a healthy diet. In fact, eggs are suggested to contain the highest quality of protein you can buy, while the yolks are one of the very few food sources naturally supplying vitamin D.

They are also a valuable source of choline, the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, selenium, phosphorus, and some B vitamins.

But if worried about cholesterol, leave the yolk out and resort to the cholesterol-less egg white.

9. Canned Tuna

20 grams per 3 ounces

Canned tuna is a budget-friendly protein source, along with being naturally rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

When selecting tuna, select a product soaking in water rather than oil and salt and eat straight from the can, in a salad, or paired with veggies or whole grain crackers.

10. Salmon

19 grams per 3 ounces

Like tuna, salmon is also a rich provider protein and of omega-3 fatty acids and provides generous doses of potassium, selenium, and vitamin B12.

11. Shrimp

19 grams per 3 ounces

Indulging on shrimp can keep the body full without packing on calories, as they about a dozen of the crustaceans equates to approximately 85 calories.

Throw shrimp in salad, pair with sautéed veggies, or enjoy simply on their own for a protein-rich snack.

12. Black Beans

19 grams per ½ cup

Beans are not only rich in protein, but pack a ton of fiber, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus.

Beans are conveniently cheap and extremely versatile, including being thrown into salads, casseroles, chilis, and dips.

13. Chickpeas

20 grams per ½ cup

Chickpeas are a plant-based, lean protein and fiber source much like beans.

Add chickpeas to your salads, mix into a hummus, or roast them up for a crunchy snack.

14. Lentils

9 grams per ½ cup boiled

Lentils are a plant-based protein bursting with other nutrients, including fiber, potassium, folate, iron, phosphorus, manganese, thiamin, and vitamin B6.

15. Quinoa

8 grams per 1 cup cooked

Quinoa is a popular swap for rice and bares a little more than that traditional white grain, as it is one of the few plant-based foods that is considered a complete protein. The "superfood" is also packed with fiber, magnesium, iron, and B vitamins.

The seed can stand on its own, act as a substitute for rice, or bulk up salads, soups, and other dishes.

16. Milk

8 grams per 8-ounce cup

Milk is naturally-rich in two types of protein, particularly casein and whey. Casein comprises 80 percent of milk products and is considered to be slow-acting, keeping amino acid content stabilized and maintained hours after intake.

Whey, on the other hand, fills up the remaining 20 percent of milk and considered to be "fast-acting," shown to foster protein synthesis within an hour of intake and commonly consumed by athletes for this very reason.

17. Cottage Cheese

13 grams per ½ cup

Being a dairy product, cottage cheese supplies both casein and whey and is likewise rich in calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin B12.

Cottage cheese can be enjoyed on its own or paired with fresh fruit, such as pineapple and peach slices, for a protein-packed, fiber-rich breakfast or snack option.

18. Greek Yogurt

20 grams per 1 cup

Going Greek with yogurt offers protein traditional yogurts tend to lack, along with gut-supporting probiotics and bone-strengthening calcium.

Opt for plain Greek yogurt to reduce the risk of added sugars and gift natural sweetness and fiber with favorite fruits, including berries packed with antioxidants.

19. Edamame

22 grams per 1 cup boiled

Edamame is a young soybean harvested before it has matured and considered a complete protein, meaning it provides all essential amino acids essential for muscle growth.

Edamame is also rich in fiber, healthy fats, vitamin K, iron, manganese, copper, and phosphorus.

Steam edamame and appreciate as a quick snack or throw into salads or casseroles.

20. Tofu

20 grams per 1 cup

Tofu is essentially produced using the process of soy milk – soaked soybeans, blended in water, and finally strained. The milk is then heated, coagulated, and formed into a block, which produces tofu.

Tofu can be used as a meatless substitute in stir fry recipes, soups, salads, casseroles, smoothies, and sauces.

21. Tempeh

31 grams per 1 cup

Like tofu, tempeh is also a product of soybeans. But unlike tofu, the entire soybeans are often mixed with other grains, fermented with a type of fungus and vinegar, and formed into a blocked, final product.

The production process helps preserve protein content, as tempeh has approximately 10 grams more than tofu.

22. Whey Protein

26 grams per 1, 35-gram scoop

Though nutrition experts encourage whole foods over protein powders, they do have their time and place as a convenient lean protein source.

Whey protein can also be added to smoothies, pancakes, and even cookies!

Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on August 25, 2016. Updated on April 25, 2019.


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