Along with fats and carbohydrates, protein is one of three macronutrients. We’ve probably all heard, at some point, about the benefits of protein. It’s essential for our bodies and is absolutely indispensable for muscle repair and growth.
From chicken and eggs to almonds and avocados, there are thankfully many incredible, delicious, protein-packed foods that we can incorporate into our diets to bolster our muscle toning and growth regimen.
Why is a high protein diet important when toning your body and building muscle?
Proteins are the building blocks for our body tissue. When you exercise, small muscle fibres tear ever so slightly — protein contains amino acids that maintain our muscle tissue. As such, foods that have a high protein content are optimal for muscle growth.
A protein-rich diet isn’t something just for bodybuilders. Our bodies need the essential and non-essential amino acids from protein in order to repair muscle, so if you’re interested in muscle growth, it’s crucial.
Studies and research are unequivocal: increasing your dietary protein intake has favourable impacts on muscle toning, growth and strength, particularly when combined with consistent resistance training.
By the same token, a protein-deficient diet can lead to decreased lean mass or muscle atrophy. A protein-poor diet is also associated with numerous other health problems, including increased adiposity (fat levels) and higher body weight — protein-rich foods help us to feel full for longer and control our appetite.
An everyday diet lacking in protein has even been proven to have a divergent effect on our energy balance — all bad news for our muscle toning and growth plans.
Interestingly, not all proteins are necessarily created equal.
A ‘complete’ protein is one that contains all of the non-essential and essential amino acids we need (essential meaning those that our body can’t make itself). Many of these come from animal-based foods like meat, eggs, fish and poultry.
Other foods contain protein, too, like brown rice — but these types of protein might not contain all of the essential amino acids our bodies require. However, when incorporated together, you’ll have a nutritionally balanced, protein-packed diet — essential for our muscles.
So, now we’ve established the importance of a high-protein diet for those interested in health and wellbeing, you might quite rightly ask: how much protein do I need?
How much protein do I need per day for muscle toning and growth?
A daily intake within the ballpark of 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of your bodyweight will ensure you have a protein-rich diet that supplies your muscles with all the sustenance they need to repair, maintain and grow.
The average woman in the UK weighs 70.2 kilograms. To get 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight, she would need a daily protein intake of 112 grams. Ensuring this level of daily protein in your diet doesn’t need to be difficult at all.
There are many types of protein food sources, including:
- Poultry and game: chicken, turkey, duck, goose, grouse, partridge, pheasant, quail, rabbit
- Lean meats: beef, pork, veal, venison, lamb
- Fish and seafood: cod, halibut, salmon, prawns, mussels, oysters, clams, lobster
- Diary products: eggs, Greek yoghurt, milk, cottage cheese
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
- Legumes and beans: lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, kidney beans, tofu
- Vegetables: broccoli, green peas, brussel sprouts.
Below, we’ve listed our top 10 healthy, lean and protein-packed foods — ideal for hitting your protein macronutrient goals and ensuring you’re getting the most ‘complete’ protein possible.
So, if you’re looking to super-charge your journey towards that beach-ready body, here are some of the best high protein foods to eat to tone up your body and build muscle.
Most of us will probably be aware of the protein punch that chicken packs. It’s one of the leanest, most protein-rich meat sources there are. A 100g serving of chicken breast contains a whopping 31g of protein with only around 165 calories.
As well as being low in sodium, it provides a generous helping of phosphorus and vitamin B6, which helps the body to store and use energy.
What’s more, chicken is an incredibly versatile meat that can be cooked and prepared for an endless list of tasty dishes.
A chicken jambalaya will help you pack in the protein and carbs; if you’re after some protein-rich comfort food, a chicken supreme always goes down well.
Marinated, oven baked chicken breasts can be chopped up for a week’s worth of lunchtime wraps, too.
Chicken should be a crucial component of a protein-rich diet for muscle building and repair.
An average-sized egg contains 7 grams of protein, making them a great way to start your day with a muscle-boosting kick.
It’s not just the volume of protein which makes eggs such a great source, though — it’s the quality. Egg protein boasts an excellent profile of essential amino acids that our muscles require for repair and growth.
That’s not to mention the other good stuff that lies within the shell — loads of vitamin A, B vitamins, ‘good’ cholesterol, iron and other minerals, as well as a number of crucial nutrients which can help with fighting heart disease.
As with chicken, there are many ways to have your eggs — the most popular, of course, being hard and soft boiled, scrambled, poached, fried or in an omelette.
Almonds are one of many protein-rich foods that vegans can enjoy.
A 50g portion of almonds boasts 11g of protein, along with a hearty dose of vitamin E (great for skin and eyes), manganese (excellent for bone health and as an antioxidant) and magnesium, which is proven to help blood pressure.
What’s more, they’re a really convenient and irresistibly sweet-tasting snack — just grab a handful or bring a packet with you when you’re out and about. Almonds are often even considered to be a superfood thanks to their high-quality nutritional profile that ticks off all of the macronutrient groups — fats, carbs and protein.
Meat and dairy products aren’t for everyone. Almonds are a superbly simple way to bolster your dietary protein intake and can replace less-healthy, sugary snacks to keep you full for longer, all whilst giving your muscle building and repair a helping hand.
4. Greek yoghurt
A 100g serving of Greek yoghurt will provide you with 6g of high-quality protein, 10g of valuable fats and only 133 calories. There are some Greek yoghurts on the market that have even higher amounts of protein.
Greek yoghurt is made using strained cow’s milk, giving it a thick consistency. As well as fantastic when spooned onto a healthy breakfast cereal of your choice, it can also represent a protein-filled alternative to mayonnaise, soured cream and crème fraîche.
A plain Greek yoghurt provides a simple, tasty, protein-rich way to bolster your dietary intake without any unnecessary added sugars. They also contain a lot of bone-boosting calcium and probiotics, which aid our gut’s bacterial balance and give your immune system a helping hand.
Healthy grains are a vegan-friendly food source that provide your body with innumerable health benefits, not least a decent volume of protein. You’ll find 16g of protein in every 100g of oats, as well as plenty of complex carbohydrates — a fantastic way to fuel your body.
You can add in a dollop of greek yoghurt and you’ve got yourself a protein-packed start to the day that also contains lots of fibre, manganese, vitamin B1 and other useful antioxidants.
6. Protein powders & supplements
Most people who enjoy health and fitness will be familiar with protein powders, which can be quickly mixed up with water or milk to create convenient, tasty protein-packed shakes.
They are essentially powdered forms of protein — as the name rather succinctly suggests — and there are a number of different types.
The majority of common protein powders derive from milk sources (whey and casein protein), but some are protein that comes from plants, like peas, hemps or soybeans — these can be more suitable for those who are vegan or might have dairy intolerances.
They come in an incredibly wide range of flavours, from plain and unflavoured to some that are rather more niche and obscure, like rocky road or caramel. Beware, however — some flavours can contain added sugars, thickeners and flavourings.
Protein powders are quite a convenient and dynamic ingredient — they can be quickly made up with water, or improved upon by being blended up with some milk, peanut butter or fruit to make a smoothie, for example.
Although it’s always best to get your dietary protein from whole food rather than liquid sources, protein shakes and powders can be helpful to have in the cupboard in order to make sure you’re never in danger of failing to hit your daily protein goal!
Within 100g of broccoli, you’ll find a mere 40 calories but a decent 4.3g of protein. In addition to being a little bit of an unsung protein hero, broccoli is packed with iron, potassium, magnesium, vitamins A, C and E as well as an array of B vitamins. The potent antioxidant profile within broccoli provides us with innumerable other health benefits.
Surprisingly to many, those tree-like, edible green vegetables provide a very respectable dose of protein, so can be incorporated as a healthy, muscle-friendly side to any meal. If you’re interested in some other protein-rich vegetables for muscle growth, take a look at sweet corn, mushrooms, lima beans and spinach.
Salmon is naturally low in calories, saturated fat and, importantly, a great source of high-quality protein — as are all types of fish, in fact. 100g of cooked salmon boasts an almighty 26g of protein with only 170 calories.
What wins salmon many accolades in the eyes of nutritionists is its standout omega-3 fatty acid content. These fatty acids — especially EPA and DHA — provide incredible anti-inflammatory benefits (including decreased heart disease risk) as well as great support of muscle recovery.
Salmon can be cooked by being pan-fried, grilled, baked or roasted and can be the focal point of so many tasty, protein-rich, muscle-friendly recipes — salmon risotto, a simple salad or something slightly fancier, like teriyaki salmon parcels.
We could go on for a long time about the health benefits of milk, but to cut to the chase, it provides a very strong protein content.
A 300ml serving of full-fat milk will provide you with a very useful 10g, in addition to B vitamins, calcium, potassium and even vitamin D.
Milk’s uses are many and varied, but if you feel like you could benefit from a dairy-based protein boost for your muscle toning and building, a small glass every day will work wonders.
Don’t underestimate the power of a chilled glass of milk.
10. Lean beef
Meat provides our bodies with a range of crucial amino acids for muscle building and growth. However, along with chicken, lean beef (trimmed of visible fat) is a meat that packs a standout protein punch.
A 100g serving of lean roast reef is not only utterly delicious, but benefits your body to the tune of 33g of protein. You’ll cover off many of your body’s other needs, too — zinc, iron, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids are all abundant.
Inspired Health — your place for health and wellness advice & brands
At Inspired Health, we’re the official UK home for a number of popular brands who supply products that help us to live our healthiest, happiest lives.
These cover women’s health, men’s health, immunity, microbiotics, energy and much more — just the ticket for those of us who are on a fitness journey and want to achieve optimal health, whatever stage of life we’re at.
Our wellness blog is a leading hub for expert fitness and wellbeing advice; your place for all the health-related inspiration you’ll need to take your workout regime to the next level.