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What are the Best Sources of Protein for a Healthy Lifestyle?

By: Stuart Carter, Dip. PT, Precision Nutrition 1,

C.O.O., The Fit Father Project

best sources of protein
There are many different sources of protein, but they're not all equal when it comes to health. The best sources of protein are foods that have protein with the highest biological value.

A high biological value means that more protein will be absorbed through digestion, instead of being excreted as waste.

steak best sources of proteinAdditionally, a higher biological value indicates that there are more amino acids in the protein.

Consuming protein sources with a high biological value is better than consuming protein sources with a low biological value.

As with other macronutrients, the complexity of the structure plays a major role in the density of the nutrients and the overall health benefits.

Some people may consider the best sources of protein as foods with the lowest calorie content and the highest amounts of protein.

large brown eggs with rich orange yolks best sources of proteinThis suggestion is ideal for weight loss, which is our specialty here at the Fit Father Project.

The best sources of protein is a fairly subjective topic, depending on your personal goals and preferences. With that said, there are several healthy choices and rules of thumb that everyone can easily follow.

On page two, we list nearly 1000 different protein sources by their calorie content, so you can easily visualize the best sources of protein.

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The Importance of a Balanced Protein Diet

Protein is an essential component of a healthy diet and serves many important functions in the body.

Protein ensures that oxygen and blood cells circulate freely, makes up a large portion of the body's muscle mass, and is used to create essential enzymes.

best sources of proteinThe protein found in foods such as eggs, fish, meat, beans, seeds, and nuts, is typically considered as high-quality protein.

Between 0.8g and 1g of protein per 1kg of bodyweight is adequate for a typical adult.

However, if you're more active than the typical adult, it is important to consume more protein.

What Are Proteins?

Proteins are long and complex strings of amino acids found in the fluids and body parts of plants and animals.
protein molecule best sources of protein
There are 20 different types of amino acids. These combine in different ways to create thousands of different protein strands that the body relies on to operate.

Antibodies, enzymes, and messenger proteins are just some of the forms of protein that the body needs.

These substances act to protect the body from foreign particles, carry out vital chemical reactions, and transmit important signals between different parts of the body, respectively.

Muscles, bones, organs, leaves, roots, bark, fruit, seeds, and almost all bodily fluids contain at least some form of protein.

Recommended Daily Protein Levels

The amount of protein that a person should eat is debated, but it is generally accepted that a healthy man should consume at a minimum of 0.8 g and 1 g of protein for every 1 kg of body weight.

This works out to be the equivalent of about 1 rib-eye steak per day for a 185 lb person.

The IOM recommends that you get 10 to 35 percent of your total calories from protein. These figures are recommended regardless of age or gender, so a 19-year-old woman should aim for the same amount of protein as a 70-year-old man of the same weight.

myoglobin proteinThe scientific consensus agrees there are exceptions for athletes, manual laborers, pregnant women, and people that routinely undertake rigorous exercise or activities.

These people should not only consume more calories, but more of their calories should come from protein.

Rigorous exercise can deplete your protein reserves, so it's important to have protein readily available to repair the damage.

Weightlifters often claim they need two or three times the recommended daily levels, but physicians and healthcare professionals often advise an extra 20%.

One thing is certain, protein consumption is a hotly debated topic, but the ranges are really not that dramatic.

Intense physical activity requires a lot more calories. Those calories have to come from somewhere, and carbohydrates and fats are probably not the best choices for the average person. Those sources of energy are much better suited for endurance and cardio-related activities.

Most men would rather build muscle and lose fat. So a higher protein, lower-calorie diet is the best choice.

plate with eggs spinach and salmon what are the sources of proteinWe recommend 30-35% of your caloric intake to come from protein.

But even this is just a ballpark figure.

If you have started exercising frequently, whether it is to lose weight or gain muscle, 30-35% will be an adequate amount of protein for creating a sustainable diet.

This works out to be around 1.5 g to  2 g protein for every 1 kg of weight (≈1 g to 2 g of protein for every 3-5 lbs of body weight.)

Protein consumption is a very personal subject. You are the only person who knows how much physical exertion you're doing each day and how much damage you're doing to your body. You have to judge it for yourself.

In other words, if you're working your ass off, you should definitely eat more protein. If you lay on the couch all day, just eat more vegetables

Too Much of a Good Thing?

There is no recommended upper limit for dietary protein intake, but there is research suggesting a very high protein diet has benefits and consequences.

best sources of protein chicken red meat nuts milk eggsOne of the greatest concerns of having too much protein in your diet is that there are approximately 4 calories in every 1 g of protein. If you consume 70 g of protein for breakfast, you're already consuming at least 280 calories.

If you consider that most Americans consume twice the daily recommended level of protein, this means that they could be consuming 1,000 or more calories just from protein.

If you're flipping tractor tires and running hills with weighted vests, then this may be an acceptable level. But let's not kid ourselves, most Americans sit for 40 + hours/week.

green peas most nutritious vegetables best sources of proteinFor those people, it would be much more advisable to get a lot of calories from nutrient-dense vegetables like green peas, broccoli, and spinach.

With that said, a short-term period of a very high protein diet, for example, the first week of an intense training period, could have benefits that outweigh the risks.

By all means, eat a bunch of protein, but at least do something to earn it.

Earn the meat!

What are the Best Sources of Protein?

Rather than aiming to eat as much protein as possible, you should aim to eat an appropriate variety from the best sources of protein. This means eating proteins that contain as many of the 20 amino acids as possible.

meat best sources of proteinThere are nine amino acids that the body cannot create itself, and it is especially important that you include these in your dietary intake.

Animal foods – Virtually all forms of animal food are sources of complete protein.

Chicken breast, tuna, and shrimp are among the foods that contain the highest levels of protein for their calorie content.

Almost all meat is considered the best source of protein with the highest quality of protein.
large egg best source of proteinDairy products – Cheese, milk, and yogurt are considered high in complete protein.

Eggs are almost as high in protein as chicken breast, especially egg whites.

Among foods, eggs are probably the best source of protein available.

Vegan foods – It is possible to ensure a good level of complete protein in your diet, even if you are a practicing vegan.

quinoaQuinoa is an extremely healthy food, so much so that NASA hopes that it will one day be grown on space stations because of the dietary benefits that it offers.

Beans, legumes, seeds, nuts, and oats are all high in protein and excellent choices for non-meat protein.

soy beans best sources of proteinSoybean and whole grain products are also considered high in complete protein but could have both negative and beneficial effects, but the science is somewhat conflicting for both. Moderation is the key here.

There are also many vegetables like green peas and spinach that have sufficient amounts of high-quality protein.

Vegan sources of protein may not be the best tasting sources of protein, but they are definitely among the best sources of protein. The ethics, high nutrient density, and low amount of calories are impossible to ignore. It's obviously a mixed bag and highly subjective.

swiss chard most nutritious vegetables best sources of proteinThe best sources of protein are all meat products, but there are still many great vegans and vegetarian sources of protein.

It is highly beneficial to consume lots of vegetables to get the appropriate mix of vitamins and micronutrients.

Choosing vegetables that are high in protein will also ensure your body gets a good mix of amino acids.

Balancing Your Protein Intake

Although it is questionable whether too much protein will cause any serious damage, it is best not to overdo it. At the very least because of protein's high calorific value. In addition to high calories, there may be adverse health effects to overconsuming protein.

Consuming more protein also means more animals must be slaughtered.

Personally, I recommend everyone stay away from factory-farmed meat on ethical grounds alone, but there are also negative consequences to factory-farmed sources.

person creating a protein journal best sources of proteinWhen you're starting a new regiment, keep a food journal for a few days to measure and record the protein you are currently consuming, and then adjust your daily intake accordingly.

Create a plan and a list of foods you will eat by their protein content. Weight loss is much easier if you develop a plan and set goals.

You can wing it after you have developed good habits and know what works for you.

Ensure that you eat complete proteins or use a combination of incomplete proteins in order to provide your body with the full range of essential amino acids.

Eating a variety of the best sources of protein is the best way to ensure optimum success.

Understanding How the Body Absorbs Protein

Proteins are life's building blocks, the body requires this nutrient to maintain and repair itself.

Protein is found in every cell throughout the human body, every organ, and every bodily fluid, except urine and bile. Amino acids make up proteins, and when you eat protein and the body breaks it down.

You're left with the individual amino acids, which can be used to build a variety of body components in addition to the muscle fiber, such as hormones, enzymes, and immune factors.

Benefits of Getting an Adequate amount of  Protein

Protein can be used as an energy source as long as you are also keeping your caloric intake in check. However, you don't want to consume more calories than you burn simply to increase your protein intake.

man flexing benefits of eating the best source of proteinUsing protein as a source of energy does have benefits when compared to other energy sources, such as carbohydrates. Examples include:

  • When it comes to proteins and carbohydrates, your body will take much longer to digest protein so you will be fuller longer, leading to a lesser chance of overeating and excessive calories turning to fat. This is a good way to maintain a healthy weight or work toward shedding some extra pounds.
  • Your risk of diabetes is lower because protein will not spike blood sugar like carbohydrates and sugar do.
  • Your metabolism can speed up a bit after eating a meal with protein.

Getting Enough Protein

The general recommendations are not always applicable and are actually quite broad.  The amount of protein you should consume depends on your individual health requirements.

muscle man with protein powder best protein sourcesFor example, if you have certain kidney problems, you may need to consume less protein than what is considered normal. If you are an athlete in tip-top shape, you may need a lot more than what is considered normal.

Consulting a physician and nutritionist is a good idea because they can help to assess your lifestyle and health and recommend the proper intake of nutrients you should be striving for.

The body does not store protein, so this nutrient is one you need to consume each day.

Because the body does not store this nutrient and only uses what it needs at that particular time, any excess is eliminated.

Because of this, you only need to consume so much protein at any given time. There is no cut and dry number for how much is absorbed by the body.

A study was conducted at the University of Texas Medical Branch and Galveston in 2009, and this study concluded that eating 90 grams of protein is no more beneficial than eating 30 grams.

various nuts best sources of proteinIt appears that eating some protein with each meal, and getting some small snacks with protein throughout the day is the best strategy to ensure that the body is well-fueled.

Consuming dozens of grams in a sitting seems to be counterproductive because the body will only use what it needs, and the rest is not utilized for performance.

With that said, it is important to adjust your protein intake with your level of physical activity and muscle building goals, but the adjustment is not as dramatic as most people might think.

The best solution is to stick to a balanced diet with a variety of protein sources and vegetables. Toss in a whey protein shake and a few extra eggs if you're starting a muscle routine. It's as simple as that.

Best Sources of Protein with a High Biological Value

Whole Eggs 

nutritional value of egg protein in yolk vs white best sources of proteinEggs are an excellent protein source to eat.
The biological value of a whole egg is very high.
There are approximately 6 grams of protein in an egg weighing 50 grams. Roughly 2.5 g is in the yolk and 3.5 g in the white.

The egg yolk contains a high amount of saturated fat.

Bad science has given saturated fat a bad reputation.

The reality is that cholesterol and saturated fat are not the cause of plaque buildup. A sedentary lifestyle, sugar, overcooked food, and poor health choices are primary contributors to heart disease.
Saturated fat is good for you, believe it or not. So long as you don't smoke, stay away from unhealthy oils, limit your sugar, and remain active, saturated fat is an amazingly beneficial substance.

Some people choose to only eat egg whites, but this is not always ideal because at least 20% of your total calories should come from fat on a daily basis.



Another protein source that has a relatively high biological value is steak.

grilled steak best sources of proteinSteak, like eggs, is also high in saturated fat but contains no carbohydrates.

There are roughly 25 grams of protein in a 5-ounce steak.

Unfortunately, steak is usually expensive, whereas eggs are fairly cheap to purchase. Choose steaks from grass-fed cows or wild game for an even better source of protein.


beans and legumes are a great source of proteinChickpeas, lentils, peas, kidney beans, black beans, soybeans, pinto beans, navy beans, and virtually all other beans and legumes are incredible sources of protein even though they're plant-based.

Considering the additional nutrients, added fiber, low fat, low calorie, and complex amino acid profile, beans are very comparable to meat sources.


Whey protein is considered by many to be of the highest biological value. Most whey protein comes from cow or goat cheese.

Whey is a great addition for anyone exerting themselves on a daily basis.

protein powder best sources of proteinWhey contains all of the essential amino acids for muscle building.

Whey is considered as one of the best sources of protein because it has more branched-chain amino acids than any other protein source.

People with lactose intolerance may not be able to consume whey protein without difficulties. However, some whey protein products do not contain lactose.

Many brands of whey protein powders have high amounts of added sugar, so it's not always the best source of protein.

Eggs are a good alternative to whey for people who are lactose intolerant. There are even egg-based protein powders available.


Not only is fish high in protein, but it is also a quality protein with a fairly high biological value, although not as high as whole eggs or whey.

fish and seafood are some of the best sources of proteinBut unlike whole eggs, fish is typically low in fat, and it also has high-quality fats, so it may be a better option for some people. Sardines, salmon, trout, tuna, and virtually any fish that's not battered and deep-fried are very good sources of healthy protein and high-quality fats.

Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent heart disease by lowering triglycerides.

All seafood is generally considered some of the best sources of protein. Be sure to cook meats at low temperatures to receive the most optimum amount of nutrients. 


coconut milk best protein sourcesThe biological value of milk is high, but not quite as high as whole eggs.

One 8 oz glass of milk contains about 8 grams of protein. Milk is an excellent protein source, particularly because it is easy to consume.

For those who do not want the high-fat content that is in whole milk, 1%, a type of skimmed milk, may be a better choice because it still has the same amount of protein.

Still, many people consider the modern dairy industry to be unethical or impure.

And to their credit, there are many benefits of raw milk, but the risks of pathogens outweigh these benefits, especially when considering how little heating changes the nutritional value of the milk.

But that still doesn't address the ethics of factory farming.

Fortunately, the availability of nut milk has recently exploded into the market.

Almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk, cashew milk (which is absolutely delicious), rice milk, hazelnut milk, oat milk, and hemp milk are all readily available in the local grocer.

Just make sure to read the labels. Many of these milk products are marketed as healthy but contain a ton of added sugar. It's also a good idea to check the calorie content as nut milk tends to be calorie-dense.

best sources of protein how to make almond milk

Narrowing It Down to the Absolute Best Sources of Protein

Remarkably, the best sources of protein for ethical considerations are the same foods as the best sources of protein for health considerations.

hen and rooster eggs are the best source of proteinWhether it be protein-dense vegetables, wild game you harvest yourself, wild-caught fish from a local fishery or home raised, free-range eggs from your neighbor, the foods with the best ratio of macronutrients are almost always animals living freely.

Wild game, freshly caught fish, and free-range animals not only live more comfortable lives but are more nutrient-dense than factory-farmed meats.

They also typically have a lower amount of fat, fewer calories, and no added hormones or antibiotics.

When contemplating the ethics behind obtaining meat, the best sources of protein takes on a whole new meaning. When you consider the nutrient profile of eggs, no-kill, plentiful, and year-round harvest, it is easy to claim that eggs are the number one best source of protein. Just be sure to cook your eggs at very low temperatures as a pan-fried crispy egg contains much less protein.

Everyone has a different recommendation for how to cook an egg, but I prefer hard-boiled. I fill a saucepan with water and place it on a burner set to high. When it begins to boil, I place the eggs in the water and turn the burner off. I then wait at least 5 minutes, or until I am able to take them out by hand. They're perfect 100% of the time. Easy peel, soft but jelly. Sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, maybe a dash of cayenne or chili powder.

There's really a ton of great vegetable sources of protein too. Seafood, wild-caught fight, and healthy/ethically obtained meats are all ideal sources of protein. It's also a good idea to eat a wide variety of foods for multiple reasons, so it's not really beneficial to narrow the best source of protein to one single food.

Go to the next page to see a list of foods sorted by their protein content so you can decide the best sources of protein.


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