Protein builds your body. It creates muscle. It controls hunger. It's a win-win! Whether your goal is weight loss or muscle building, eating enough protein is key, but so is variety, since each kind has its own amino acid profile. Go beyond chicken and protein powder with these great high-protein foods.

To learn exactly how much protein you should aim for, plug your stats into the protein calculator. Then, choose foods from this list that add up to give you the grams you need to hit your weight loss or muscle growth goals.

1. Eggs

Protein in an egg:6 g per 1 large egg

These white orbs are one of the most perfect high-protein foods at the supermarket: cheap, versatile, low-carb, and packed with branched-chain amino acids. Look for eggs fortified with extra omega-3 fatty acids to give your breakfast scramble an extra nutrient boost.

Eggs

Hard-boiled eggs are one of the most portable protein foods. You can also make a shake with dried egg protein powder.

High Protein Dairy

2. Greek Yogurt

Protein in Greek yogurt: 23 g per 8-oz. serving

Greek yogurt has become such a popular choice because it has twice as much protein as other types of yogurt. It's also rich in bone-building calcium and probiotic bacteria, which is great for gut health. Look for plain varieties to keep calories—and your weight—in check.

3. Cottage Cheese

Protein in cottage cheese: 14 g per 1/2-cup serving

Make cottage cheese your go-to food for a healthy late-night snack. It's high in casein, a slow-digesting dairy protein. Slow-digesting protein feeds your muscles all night so they don't catabolize, and it keeps you from waking up starving at 3 a.m.

4. Swiss Cheese

Protein in Swiss cheese: 8 g per 1-oz. serving

Gram for gram, Swiss cheese provides more protein than other varieties commonly available in the supermarket, making it a muscle-friendly option for your sandwiches and burgers. And, like yogurt, it's also high in calcium. If you're concerned about the calorie density of full-fat Swiss, low-fat versions have a protein-to-fat ratio of around 8-to-1, while still providing good flavor.

5. 2-Percent Milk

Protein in 2-percent milk: 8 g per 1-cup serving

You could chug watery, flavorless skim milk, or you could enjoy the richer taste of 2 percent while getting a little extra fat to help you absorb the milk's vitamin D and get you closer to your macro targets.

cottage cheese

Organic milk has the highest nutrient content, including protein and omega-3s.[1] Use it in place of water for a revved-up protein shake.

6. Whey or Casein Protein Powder

Protein in whey or casein powder: 24 g per scoop, on average

Whey protein powder is clean, fast-digesting, and most of its calories come from protein. It's also convenient—just mix it with water in a shaker bottle. Use it whenever you need quick, no-prep protein, like after a workout, for an on-the-go breakfast, or alongside a low-protein meal.

If you need something that'll help you hide from hunger a little longer, go for slow-digesting casein powder. It won't hit your muscles as fast, but it can keep you full for hours and can help you lose fat without losing muscle mass.

You can also use either type of powder to make high-protein pancakes. They make a great pre-workout or post-workout snack if you need a break from shakes. If you're sensitive to artificial sweeteners, look for an unsweetened powder or one sweetened with stevia

7. Smoothies

Protein in smoothies: 16 g per 1-cup serving, on average

Up your protein-shake game by blending protein powder into a smoothie with fruit for its vitamin content. You can also buy premade smoothie drinks, but make sure they have a substantial dose of protein (at least 20 grams for a 2-cup bottle) and not just fruit, which can send you into sugar overload. To make a plant-based smoothie, substitute a blend of rice protein and pea protein

8. Frozen Greek Yogurt

Protein in frozen Greek yogurt: 6 g per 1/2-cup serving

This sweet treat is frosty and creamy like ice cream, but contains about twice as much protein. Compare brands and look for those with the lowest sugar levels (or make it yourself). Some brands actually list fruit before sugar in the ingredient list, which is a plus.

High Protein Seafood

9. Yellowfin Tuna

Protein in yellowfin tuna: 25 g per 3-oz. serving

Yellowfin Tuna

This meaty swimmer delivers a boatload of easily digested, high-quality protein. You'll also benefit from the healthy amount of vitamin B and the potent antioxidant selenium, making it a great nutrition choice. When possible, look for troll- or pole-caught tuna, which are considered the most sustainable options.

10. Halibut

Protein in halibut: 23 g per 3-oz. serving

Among white fish species, halibut reigns supreme when it comes to the protein you need to build muscle like a champ. Each 3-ounce serving also has a mere 2 grams of fat, making halibut an even better catch of the day. Pacific halibut is generally considered a more sustainable choice than Atlantic.

11. Octopus

Protein in octopus: 25 g per 3-oz. serving

An increasing number of fishmongers are now offering up this seafood choice. So if your goal is to pack on granite-dense muscle, you'd be a sucker not to reel it in for its protein windfall. Frozen octopus actually has an advantage over fresh because the freezing process helps tenderize the meat.

12. Sockeye Salmon

Protein in sockeye salmon: 23 g per 3-oz. serving

Sockeye Salmon

Not only does wild salmon like sockeye taste better than its farmed cousin, it also supplies more protein. In addition, you'll reap the benefits of its plethora of fat-fighting long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Look for salmon with the skin still intact, as it provides added flavor during cooking.

13. Tilapia

Protein in tilapia: 21 g per 3-oz. serving

Commonly available at most fish markets, protein-packed tilapia is a mild-tasting fish that will keep your muscles well fed. Look for American-farmed tilapia, which is a safer fish choice than tilapia imported from Asia.

14. Anchovies

Protein in anchovies: 24 g per 3-oz. serving

Ounce for ounce, anchovies are the surprising winners when it comes to canned protein. Because of their size, they also don't accumulate toxins the same way that bigger species do. To reduce their saltiness, soak anchovies in water for 30 minutes, then drain and pat dry.

15. Light Tuna

Protein in light tuna: 22 g per 3-oz. serving

Frugal shoppers, rejoice! Less-pricey canned light tuna actually provides a little more protein than more expensive canned white tuna. To save yourself some calories sourced from lackluster vegetable oils, opt for water-packed tuna.

Canned tuna is a very low-calorie food. Combine it with something fatty, such as olives, to stay full longer.

16. Sardines

Protein in sardines: 21 g per 3-oz. serving

Anchovies

Humble canned sardines are making a comeback! This high-protein fish is full of omega-3 fats and vitamin D, and is relatively low in mercury since it's small and low on the food chain. Try stirring them into mashed potatoes or cauliflower to cut their strong taste.

High Protein Meats

17. Steak (Top or Bottom Round)

Protein in steak: 23 g per 3-oz. serving

These leaner cuts of steak provide a fantastic 1 gram of protein for every 7 calories; rib eye, on the other hand, delivers roughly 1 gram of protein for every 11 calories. Plus, round steak is considered one of the more economical cuts. Leaner cuts of steak like round and loin will become drier than the Sahara with overcooking, so prepare them quickly over high heat to medium-rare.

18. Ground Beef (90% Lean)

Protein in ground beef: 18 g per 3-oz. serving

Using 90 percent ground beef provides just the right amount of fat so your burgers and meatloaf won't taste like cardboard. Beyond raising your protein intake, this red meat is also a good source of the almighty creatine. If you have some extra cash, opt for grass-fed beef, which is more nutrient-dense than its factory-farm counterparts.[2]

19. Pork Chops (Boneless)

Protein in pork chops: 26 g per 3-oz. serving

Pork Chops

The bounty of amino acids in easy-to-prepare pork chops gives you more than enough of an excuse to pig out on them. Pro tip: Soaking your chops in brine can yield more tender meat. Submerge the meat in a brine made with a 1/4 cup of salt for every 4 cups of water, and chill for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

20. Chicken Breast (Boneless and Skinless)

Protein in chicken breast: 24 g per 3-oz. serving

This bodybuilding and weight-loss staple is a better protein source than other poultry cuts, which is why it should remain a constant presence in your shopping cart. To save money, stock up on this staple when it's marked down for quick sale.

21. Turkey Breast

Protein in turkey breast: 24 g per 3-oz. serving

Turkey Breast

As with chicken, this big bird can flood your muscles with protein while keeping the calorie count low. Like pork chops and chicken breast, turkey breast can benefit from a pre-cook brining. If you're concerned about antibiotic use in large-scale poultry farming, you can look for turkey breast labelled "antibiotic-free."

22. Corned Beef

Protein in corned beef: 24 g per 3-oz. serving

The protein in corned beef is high-quality and tastes awesome. Try sautéing corned beef with chopped vegetables and serve it over rice, or pile it on rye with plenty of mustard.

23. Canned Chicken

Protein in canned chicken: 21 g per 3-oz. serving

Pop the lid on ground white chicken meat to instantly add a shot of high-quality protein to your sandwiches and salads. Treat it the same way you would canned tuna. Compare brands, looking for those that deliver lower amounts of sodium so you don't pack on water weight.

24. Roast Beef

Protein in roast beef: 18 g per 3-oz. serving

Roast beef is leaner than you'd think, and higher in amino acids than other deli-counter picks. As with steak, pasture-raised roast beef is more nutritious. Make a roast beef sandwich with spinach and red onions, or just snack on it as-is.

25. Canadian Bacon

Protein in Canadian bacon: 15 g per 3-oz. serving

Canadian-style bacon is a better high-protein food than regular bacon since it has about six times less fat. And yes, we just gave you permission to eat bacon.

26. Chorizo

Protein in chorizo: 21 g per 3-oz. serving

Looking for good high-protein foods for breakfast? This seasoned pork sausage can turn scrambled eggs into a flavor-packed meal. It's also great for lunch or dinner in pasta dishes, soups, and salads. Spanish chorizo is cured, so it doesn't need to be cooked before eating, but Mexican chorizo does.

27. Pepperoni

Protein in pepperoni: 18 g per 3-oz. serving

The stellar amount of protein in pepperoni makes it a surprisingly healthy topping for pizza or salad. Sodium levels can vary widely, so compare brands and look for options with the lowest amount.

28. Roasted Turkey Breast

Protein in roasted turkey breast: 18 g per 3-oz. serving

Sliced turkey is an easy way to get a lot of nearly fat-free protein, so pile it high. Steer clear of flavored turkey and other deli meats to avoid bringing home stuff you don't need, like salt, sugar, and lab-made flavorings.

29. Beef Jerky

Protein in beef jerky: 13 g per 1-oz. serving

Beef Jerky

Cleaning up your diet might mean saying goodbye to potato chips and microwave popcorn, but you can still enjoy jerky for a salty treat that doesn't derail your goals. Keep some in your desk at work for an afternoon snack. Look for healthier brands that are free of MSG and nitrites.

High Protein Plant-Based Foods

30. Navy Beans

Protein in navy beans: 20 g per 1-cup serving

Heart-healthy beans are a fantastically cheap vegetarian protein source, and of the most commonly available canned legumes, navy beans lead the way. They're also rich in fiber, which is important for healthy eating.

Mash navy beans with garlic and lemon as a hummus alternative.

31. Dried Lentils

Protein in lentils: 13 g per 1/4-cup serving

Dried Lentils

Inexpensive dry lentils are a sure-fire way to ramp up your intake of protein, fiber, and a range of vital minerals. Unlike other dried beans, lentils don't require an annoying presoak. Simply simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. For a nutritious lunch, toss cooked lentils with chopped chicken breast, diced vegetables, and a lemon vinaigrette.

32. Peanut Butter

Protein in peanut butter: 8 g per 2-tbsp serving

Though not as trendy as other nut butters like almond, peanut butter still leads the way in the protein department. Make sure to watch labels for sugar, though. Natural versions made from just peanuts are best—some stores even let you grind your own.

If you're working to get your weight in check, look for peanut butter powder, which has less fat but the same protein content. You can even use the powder for baking. Fun fact: Peanuts are technically a legume, not a nut.

33. Mixed Nuts

Protein in mixed nuts: 6 g per 2-oz. serving

Nuts (and honorary nuts) like peanuts, cashews, and almonds make for a crunchy way to add more protein and healthy unsaturated fats to your diet. Keep a can in your glove compartment for hunger emergencies. If you're watching your sodium intake, look for packages labelled "unsalted".

34. Bean Chips

Protein in bean chips: 4 g per 1-oz. serving

If you're craving crunchy chips, you'll be hard pressed to find a better option than the ones made with protein-rich black beans. For a few extra grams of protein, use them as a delivery vessel for a homemade yogurt dip.

35. Tofu

Protein in tofu: 12 g per 3-oz. serving

If you're looking to go meat-free, slabs of tofu can fill you up with soy protein. Slices of firm tofu work well in stir-fry, or slap them on the grill to infuse them with some smoky flavor. A good marinade goes a long way. You can even blend plain, uncooked tofu into a smoothie.

36. Edamame

Protein in edamame: 8 g per 1/2-cup serving

Edamame

Another great vegetarian option, these nutrient-packed green soybeans will give your diet a boost of plant protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. To avoid snack boredom, prepare shelled, frozen edamame according to package directions, then season with fresh lemon juice, smoked paprika, and a pinch of salt.

37. Green Peas

Protein in green peas: 7 g per 1-cup serving

While protein is not abundant in most vegetables, green peas contain enough that you'll want to keep a bag stashed in your freezer at all times. They're also high in fiber, so they help manage your weight and cravings.

Wheat Germ

Protein in wheat germ: 6 g per 1-oz. serving

The wheat grain is made up of three components—endosperm, bran, and germ. The germ is the most nutrient-dense part and includes notable amounts of plant-based protein. You can use it to add a protein boost to your oatmeal, pancakes, and even shakes.

Soba Noodles

Protein in soba noodles: 12 g per 3-oz. serving

Consider using these buckwheat Japanese-style noodles for your pasta nights since they are a better protein source than most wheat-based noodles. Even better, they cook in about half the time as whole-wheat pasta. To remove the excess starch that can make the noodles gummy, rinse cooked soba after draining.

Quinoa

Protein in quinoa: 8 g per 1-cup serving

Quinoa

Among whole grains, South American quinoa (technically a seed) is a rarity in that it contains a full arsenal of essential amino acids, meaning that it's a complete protein with muscle-building potential. Toasting quinoa in a dry skillet or saucepan before simmering it in water can enhance its natural nutty flavor.

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References
  1. Palupi, E., Jayanegara, A., Ploeger, A., & Kahl, J. (2012). Comparison of nutritional quality between conventional and organic dairy products: a meta‐analysis. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 92(14), 2774-2781.
  2. Daley, C. A., Abbott, A., Doyle, P. S., Nader, G. A., & Larson, S. (2010). A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutrition Journal, 9(1), 10.

About the Author

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MSc., is a registered dietitian based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. He works full-time as a freelance nutrition writer...

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Diet