When trying to build lean muscle, many people focus all of their efforts on their workout. Though fitness will of course play into the ability to add lean muscle to the body, diet plays equally as important of a role. To get the lean muscle that you want, you need to eat a lot of protein—but not all protein is created equally!
The 36 foods represented on this list are the very best options. They are low in carbs and high in protein, which makes them some of the best out there. Some you may already be eating and others are worth trying out for a tasty new addition to your eating regimen. Rather than eating the same tired protein every day, try to enjoy what you eat by mixing it up with these foods.
Chicken breast is an excellent choice as it’s not only high in protein, but it’s low in fat and calories. It’s lean because it’s white meat, and therefore a good choice. A typical serving size to aim for is a 3 ounce chicken breast, or about the size of your fist. Try grilling or broiling chicken and using herbs and seasoning to add flavor, and then add to salad, soup, or feature as the main entrée. Excellent for building lean muscle, and a tasty main staple to your diet!
Serving size 3 oz, 30 grams of protein, 110 calories.
Ground turkey is such a versatile and healthy way to enjoy protein. It’s high in protein, low in calories, and can be cooked up and used in just about anything. A typical serving is 3 ounces cooked and you can learn to easily substitute it for ground beef. Add some herbs and you can use it in spaghetti sauce, chili, or make into meatballs or burgers. You will love the flavor and versatility and the fact that it makes for a much leaner protein source than higher calorie alternatives out there.
Serving size 3 oz, 21 grams of protein, 195 calories.
Many don’t consider how tasty and protein packed pork can be in the quest to build lean muscle. One of the best types to select is pork tenderloin, and a typical serving size is a 4 ounce piece. It can be easily grilled or broiled for a quick, easy, and healthy cooking method. You can add simple marinades or seasoning to bring out the flavor. It’s leaner than you think and packed with protein, it may become a fixture in your eating regimen.
Serving size 4oz, 23 grams of protein, 154 calories.
Lean Ground Beef
Yes you can and should enjoy ground beef, but just be sure that you opt for lean cuts. A 90/10 mix incorporates enough fat to give it flavor without the unhealthy calories that you don’t need. Typically you want to aim for a 3 ounce portion which you can enjoy in a variety of different forms. Though you want to be sure not to add too much filler that can contribute to fat and calories, this is a great protein source to turn to once or twice a week.
Serving size 3oz, 16 grams of protein, 148 calories.
Steak (Lean Cut)
You can enjoy steak, but you want to be sure to go for a lean cut to begin with. Trim away all visible fat to ensure that you are getting something truly good for your eating regimen. Believe it or not you can enjoy a T-bone steak but limit to a 5 ounce serving and keep it as lean as possible, also removing the bone. This is not a protein to enjoy daily, but it’s a good one to rotate and enjoy in your diet as it’s packed with protein.
Serving size 5oz, 29 grams of protein, 206 calories.
Most people don’t tend to think of lamb in terms of a good protein source, but it really is. Obviously you want to go for leaner cuts and that means boneless in this instance. Trimming away all visible fat always helps, and then you can enjoy a very significant protein source. Though it does contain a bit more calories, you can mix it with healthy fillers like root vegetables and sauces made from scratch to ensure it’s a good solid choice. Don’t make this your primary protein source, but do enjoy it within your eating plan for some enjoyment.
Serving size 3oz, 20 grams of protein, 248 calories.
It may be an acquired taste, but veal can prove to be an excellent protein source. You want to opt for the leaner cuts and in this case that is veal shank, loin, or even chop. The typical serving size for a veal shank is 3 ounces and do keep in mind that the bone is a consideration as well. You get a lower calorie but protein sound option that you can include in your rotation. Even if you have never been a big fan of veal in the past, it’s well worth trying if your focus is on building lean muscle through effective protein blending.
Serving size 3oz, 16 grams of protein, 96 calories.
Ham can be a good protein source, but you do need to be mindful of serving size. If you are diligent about the slice size then you can enjoy a significant protein allotment without a lot of calories. The thing to keep in mind with ham is that the sodium can be high and so whenever possible, try to get a lower sodium type. Chopped up and tossed with vegetables, this can be a satisfying protein and a nice change of pace from the usual sources you consume. Try ham once in awhile and just keep an eye on your portion size for best results.
Serving size 1 medium slice, 11 grams of protein, 114 calories.
Though this hasn’t been a recognizable or mainstream source of protein, it has recently been getting a lot of attention. You can enjoy some significant protein with this cut of meat while keeping the calories very low. You will find bison featured on many forward thinking restaurant menus with good reason. If you prepare in a healthy way such as ground with vegetables or even a lean cut, then you can really enjoy your protein in a whole new way. You can expect this to replace fattier alternatives as it becomes such a recognized form of protein.
Serving size 3oz, 18 grams of protein, 93 calories.
Salmon is considered one of the super foods and that has much to do with its good fat concentration or Omega-3 fatty acids. You get a lot of nutrients from this particular fish and it is also packed with protein. Lower in calories, this is a great choice and should be a regular fixture on your eating plan. You can broil this or even grill it quite simply and with just lemon and dill you have a tasty, healthy, and protein filled meal that is substantial and sure to become a recurring menu item for you.
Serving size 4oz, 24 grams of protein, 166 calories.
Tuna is something that you probably grew up with, but out of a can. While there’s nothing wrong with that form of tuna, fresh tuna either broiled or baked is a nice fresh alternative. It’s packed with protein and also has a healthy dose of Omega-3 fatty acids which means good fat as well. So though you can opt for canned tuna on the run, fresh tuna is a tasty and healthy option to feature in your eating plan. You will love the taste and just how good it is for you.
Serving size 3oz, 18 grams of protein, 105 calories.
This is one of the mildest fish and therefore a great introductory one if you are testing this form of protein. Tilapia is a flaky fish that is mild and takes on the taste of whatever you cook it with. You will enjoy it broiled, grilled, or baked, and it’s an excellent protein source. This is one of the lowest calorie fish or protein options out there and so it tends to be a favored choice on many healthy eating plans. Experiment with a variety of vegetables and all you need is a touch of lemon juice and some herbs for a great meal.
Serving size 3oz, 16 grams of protein, 81 calories
Cod is not only a nice mild fish but it also happens to be an excellent protein source as well. You will find that you can enjoy a typical 4 ounce serving as part of your regular eating plan. It’s best either broiled or baked with a touch of lemon juice for a nice twist. Be careful when ordering it out that it doesn’t come breaded or fried as you defeat the point of healthy eating. Cod makes an excellent addition to your seafood menu with a nice protein concentration.
Serving size 4oz, 24 grams of protein, 138 calories.
Crab is a nice protein option but you do have to be careful of a couple of things. First and foremost always go for the real thing and not imitation when adding to a protein filled menu. Secondly the measurements here are for baked, broiled, or boiled crab legs which are the healthiest and preferred cooking methods. Be cautious when ordering out not to get it fried or coated in butter as so many enjoy. If you want a healthy protein option then follow these guidelines and enjoy this once in awhile.
Serving size 1 cup, flaked, 22 grams of protein, 160 calories.
Shrimp can be part of your healthy eating regimen if you are diligent about the way that you enjoy it. These measurements are for 3 ounces of cooked shrimp, either boiled, broiled, or steamed. Be careful of the size of the shrimp as larger varieties mean more calories. Be careful when ordering out that it’s not fried, coated in butter or even fried. Also be cautious not to dip into sauces that can tack on the calories as well. If you eat shrimp in a natural form like this, you will get all of the good stuff and leave out the calories that you don’t need.
Serving size 3oz, 20 grams of protein, 129 calories.
Hard Boiled Egg
It may seem like a less significant source of protein when compared, but hard boiled eggs are a great addition to the menu. They are easy to prepare and convenient to grab on the go. Hard boiled is a great way to go as you don’t add anything and increase the calories, but you can also try poached or soft boiled if you prefer. Eggs are an excellent high protein food that really helps you to build lean muscle with fewer calories and fat than other options. A great way to start the day!Serving size 1 egg, 6 grams of protein, 80 calories.
There’s a reason that almonds make just about every healthy food list. Not only are they packed with protein, but they are loaded with good fats which we know as Omega-3 fatty acids. They are satisfying with a good fiber content and make for an excellent snack. The one thing to keep in mind with almonds and all nuts is serving size. This is based on 1 ounce and you need to be sure to monitor and not eat these mindlessly for best benefits.
Serving size 1oz, 6 grams of protein, 164 calories.
Though nuts tend to be a great protein snack, some are better than others. Walnuts also make top of the list for the same reason, mainly the concentration of good fat. You may find that these are slightly higher in calories but they introduce a good protein source. You may wish to add them to a meal or top a salad to get the crunch and the nutrients that walnuts contain. All the while you are adding an excellent protein source to your diet.
Serving size 1oz, 4 grams of protein, 185 calories.
There’s a reason that you need to be diligent about your portion size when it comes to nuts. Though pistachios make a great protein choice, they are like the other nuts a bit higher in calories. Do be diligent about the serving size, but don’t hold back from enjoying them. They are satisfying with the delicious taste, high fiber, and good protein concentration and therefore make a good sound choice.
Serving size 1oz, 6 grams of protein, 158 calories.
In a day when peanut allergies are forcing us to find good alternatives, cashew butter is top of the list. You can opt for an ounce of cashews or enjoy the delicious peanut butter substitute of cashew butter. Here you see that just a little cashew butter goes a long way and really makes a nice addition to a meal. Spread on whole grain bread or enjoy with an apple for a great protein source that tastes delicious as well.Serving size 1 Tablespoon, 3 grams of protein, 94 calories.
Though these were once a seasonal treat, they have become part of the mainstream based on their health benefits. Pumpkin seeds are now found featured at health food stores and boast a great healthy makeup. Though they are a bit higher in fat, the key is to focus on portion to get the most out of them. You will enjoy the crunch and all the while consume a high protein snack that really adds great value.
Serving size 1oz, 7 grams of protein, 153 calories.
Sunflower seeds make a great topping or addition to a meal. You can top a salad with them or feature them in a bowl of oatmeal. You can add them to a trail mix or simply grab a handful on the go. As with many nuts and seeds the serving size is important. If you are focused on that then you can enjoy a great source of protein.
Serving size 1oz, 6 grams of protein, 165 calories.
It tastes so good that it’s hard to contain yourself from not overeating it, but you need to keep it within reason. You may find slight variance amongst the types such as crunchy or creamy, and salted or unsalted, but above all this is a sound protein investment. You will learn to make this part of a healthy snack in the proper amount and truly enjoy peanut butter the way that it was intended to be consumed.
Serving size 1 Tablespoon, 4 grams of protein, 94 calories.
Alone it doesn’t look or taste like much, but when you add tofu to other foods it really soaks up the flavor. When you see that just 1 slice of firm tofu has this much protein and is this low in calories, it’s no wonder that more and more people are turning to it. This is great not only for vegetarians, but also for a simple non-meat addition to your healthy eating regimen. Once you learn how to cook with it you will love what tofu can do for you and find a place for it on your rotation.
Serving size 1 slice, 6 grams of protein, 52 calories.
We hear more and more about edamame, and there’s good reason for that. These cooked and mature soybeans are not only delicious when roasted with a little salt, but they are really good for you. They have become mainstream since they are low calorie and yet loaded with protein. Try them alone or as part of a stir fry or even salad. Though you may not have tried them yet, you will quickly learn to make these a main feature.
Serving size 1 cup, 8 grams of protein, 76 calories.
They are versatile and perhaps that’s what makes so many people love them. Chick peas or garbanzo beans don’t have a strong bean taste, but offer plenty of the same benefits. High in fiber, low in fat and calories, and yet loaded with protein, these make for a great addition to soup or even roasted on their own. You will love the taste and get hooked on them, finding new ways to utilize them all the time.
Serving size ½ Cup, 7 grams of protein, 110 calories.
You will be amazed at how satisfied you feel after eating a meal that uses black beans. Though they are slightly higher in calories, the protein and fiber component will help you to feel full long after the meal is through. They are a great protein source and so there are a growing number of recipes calling for these little gems. If you don’t want the calorie count then just lessen the serving size to a half cup instead.
Serving size 1 cup, 15 grams of protein, 218 calories.
Hummus makes a great spread or dip with whole grain crackers. It can easily be used as a healthier condiment on sandwiches or just to enjoy as a quick snack. It has a nice taste and therefore makes a great protein source. You want to be careful not to overindulge as the calories can add up, but you will find some great uses for this very popular dip in your eating plan.
Serving size 2 Tablespoons, 2 grams of protein, 60 calories.
You will obviously mix protein powder either with milk or into a drink or meal, but standing alone you see why this is a very popular addition. To boost the protein content of just about anything, protein powder is a no brainer. You can simply mix with ice and fruit for a great post workout meal or find other uses for it. Protein powder is a must if you are trying to build lean muscle and focusing on your diet in the process.
Serving size 1 scoop, 6 grams of protein, 107 calories.
Protein Fruit Smoothie
Smoothies are all the rage these days, but you do have to be careful about how they are prepared and what goes into them. If you use a good protein powder and fresh fruit then you get best results. Be careful when ordering out that no filler or high fat ingredients such as ice cream or whole milk are used. These can work as a nice meal replacement or pre or post workout snack. Sure to be a regular fixture in no time!
Serving size 8oz, 18 grams of protein, 220 calories.
This is not just a grain, but a true super food. You are hearing more about quinoa as a whole grain, high fiber, protein packed alternative to traditional potatoes or rice. It has a nice texture, mixes well with meals, and adds some significant protein per serving. Try experimenting it and you are sure to find some great ways to make it into your meal plan. Quinoa has quickly become the protein powerhouse that you are sure to enjoy.
Serving size 1 cup, 8 grams of protein, 229 calories.
Cottage cheese has long been known as a diet food, but it’s an excellent choice for building lean muscle. It’s low in calories but very high in protein per serving and so it should be a main focus in your eating plan. You can use it as a nice dip, enjoy it with fruit for breakfast, or make it a main part of any meal or snack. There are endless limits to how you can incorporate cottage cheese into your eating plan.
Serving size 4oz, 14 grams of protein, 116 calories.
This is no regular yogurt and due to the high protein concentration, this is becoming a main fixture on many eating plans. You may get slightly more calories with Greek yogurt than other types, but the protein concentration can’t be beat. This makes for an excellent snack or meal. Find a type that you like and then put it on rotation for an amazing addition.
Serving size 1 cup, 24 grams of protein, 140 calories.
Not all cheese is the same, and so the information here is for a slice of Swiss cheese. You do want to pay attention to the type of cheese you pick as well as strongly focus on the serving size. Sure cheese can be higher in fat and calories, but a little bit will do you good for protein consumption. Enjoy a slice of cheese here or there or add to a meal for a nice protein boost once in awhile.
Serving size 1 slice, 7 grams of protein, 106 calories.
Flax seeds are another entry that consistently make the best food lists. They are loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids which means they are a good fat. They also happen to be a good protein source and have a nice texture. You can add them to a soup or salad, or just blend them in with a smoothie. They taste good and give you some great protein in the process.
Serving size 2 Tablespoons, 3 grams of protein, 70 calories.
This is a soy food unlike any other. It is newer to certain parts of the world, but has been around for centuries in some cultures. This is made from fermented soybeans and formed into a patty. It has a taste all its own and therefore stands out from other soybean foods such as tofu. It is well worth a try for a non-meat but high protein option that you can enjoy as part of your eating plan.
Serving size 1oz, 5 grams of protein, 55 calories.
Building lean muscle comes through exercise and proper diet. Though you may not have realized that diet played such a key role in this, now you see what some of the best foods to eat are. Protein is a major element in building lean muscle tissue, and when combined with proper exercise, will really help you to get results.
Though you may have felt limited with your protein options before, you now see that there are more foods than you realized. These 36 foods represent the very best low carb protein sources and form a diverse and truly tasty eating ritual. Get creative, find new ways of implementing them, and enjoy the delicious taste that these healthy and protein packed foods can offer to your diet and your muscle building regimen.
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