Chicken is the cornerstone of many a nutritious meal plan, and there’s a good chance you’ve relied on it to fill your Tupperware boxes when you’re on-the-go. Throw in some brown rice and veg, and you’ve got a simple, nutritious combination that’ll serve you well.
Although it’s renowned for being a fantastic source of protein, there are many other foods that’ll also aid your muscle-building efforts. If you’re feeling a little tired of the chicken and rice routine, or you’re looking for something new, then never fear.
It’s time to shake up your food prep and get experimenting with these 13 alternative protein-rich foods.
1) Greek Yoghurt - tastes great with fruit
Greek yoghurt isn’t to be thrown in with the standard yoghurts you see in the supermarket – Greek yoghurt contains twice as much protein and is made by straining the liquid whey from regular yoghurt, leaving you a clean, tasty protein hit.
For every 6 oz. serving you’ll get 15 grams of protein – perfect to help you rebuild after the most gruelling of workouts.
The great thing about Greek Yoghurt is its versatility. You can have it with fruit, in a salad or even use it in a pasta dish for a great combination of carbs and protein.
One tip: look out for the sugar content and dodge the full-fat versions. Keeping an eye on nutritional content will be second nature before long, and making a habit out of it will benefit you in the long run.
2) Eat cottage cheese before bed
While it might not look the most mouth-watering protein source, cottage cheese has benefits that set it apart from the rest.
Low in sugar, carbs and fat, cottage cheese is an under-rated source of protein that really looks out for your muscle growth.
It’s particularly rich in casein, which gives you a steady supply of slow-digesting protein – this is why cottage cheese is such a brilliant bedtime snack. It ensures your muscles aren’t being used as an energy source while you sleep (so you know that a good night’s sleep really can equal massive gains).
3) Eggs – the protein powerhouse
People were aware of eggs well before Rocky Balboa cracked four of them into a pint glass– they’re a protein powerhouse that have stood the test of time. Inexpensive, easy to prepare (scrambled, poached or boiled?) and packed full of nutrients, you really can’t go wrong.
Studies by St. Louis University have shown that eggs can make you feel fuller for longer. One hard-boiled egg contains 6.29 grams of protein – it provides men with 11% of their daily protein intake, while women are supplied with 14%.
They drastically improve carotenoid absorption, according to research by Oregon State University. Carotenoids are the plant pigment responsible for those brightly coloured veggies on your plate (mostly reds, oranges and yellows). They also possess some excellent antioxidant properties.
Steak may well be the first chicken-alternative you jump to, and for good reason. Steak has remained a gym-goer’s staple for some time now, and this looks unlikely to change. While it is often thought of as a ‘treat meat’, this tasty protein source comes jam-packed with health benefits.
A 3 oz. serving of red meat provides you with around half the protein needed by the average adult, and contains an amino acid called beta-alanine, which boosts muscle function.
Crucial studies by the University of Cambridge have proven that protein (and not sugar, as previously thought!) activates the cells responsible for keeping us awake during the day, and burning calories.
Meanwhile, research from Texas A&M University states that beef brisket contains high levels of oleic acid (omega-9) which is a great essential fatty acid.
5) Load up on potassium with yellowfin tuna
Stock up on this high-protein, versatile meat because it contains endless health benefits. It’s chock-full of omega-3 fish oil, great for managing and preventing heart disease and lowering blood pressure. In terms of protein content, yellowfin tuna supplies a hearty dose with 32.3 grams in an average serving.
Yellowfin tuna is also high in potassium, with 448 milligrams per 3 oz. portion (your muscles are the biggest potassium sources in your body, so grab that yellowfin!)
According to an expert study conducted by the University of Michigan, yellowfin tuna provides 0.4 grams of your recommended daily amount of omega-3.
6) Anchovies aren’t just for pizza
With or without the pizza, anchovies are a great protein source – high in calcium and great for vision, their salty taste offers something a little sharper for your taste buds.
With a fish of average size, you’re likely to get around 9 grams of protein and only 55 calories, meaning that it provides a bumper dose of protein with a low fat content.
Just a 1 oz. serving of anchovies provides you with 12% of your recommended daily amount of iron, which helps fight fatigue (meaning you can improve your recovery and get back in the gym).
With minimal calorific content and 13 grams of protein for every 2 oz. can, this small silvery fish has proven a success not only for pizza-lovers but for fitness enthusiasts alike.
7) Sardines are a great source of selenium
Sardines offer a wide range of health benefits, but are mostly known for their massive Vitamin D content. Incorporating sardines into your diet will go a long way toward safeguarding you against disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer, according to research from the Worldwide Cancer Research organisation.
Hailing from the Italian island of Sardinia, this oily fish packs a competitive protein punch and also supplies you with a whole host of vitamins. Sardines also offer a very unique kind of protein that’s proven to reduce insulin resistance, according to the International Journal of Molecular Medicine.
Sardines also contain a whopping 87% of your daily recommended amount of selenium (per 3.oz) – the perfect mineral for enhanced cardiovascular health.
8) For amino acids, look no further than turkey breast
You’ll need little introduction to the taste sensation of turkey breast, and like chicken you can be as experimental as you like when preparing. Turkey breasts carry a great deal of protein (more than chicken, actually) with 26 grams of protein for every 3 oz. serving.
In terms of amino acid content, one serving of turkey breast provides an impressive 1.420mg of isoleucine, while for chicken you get around 1.230mg (isoleucine is the branched amino acid responsible for forming energy within the muscle tissue).
9) Dried lentils
Lentils have a huge fibre content, meaning that if you have a snacking habit that you’re looking to curb, then dried lentils may be your new best friend. They’ll help you feel full for longer, so you’re not surpassing your daily calorie allowance.
They also work as a great alternative to meat, offering 9 grams of protein for every 100 grams served. Without forgetting the low fat content, dried lentils are a protein force to be reckoned with.
Make them in a curry, throw them in a stew or freshen things up with a lentil salad – the options are endless with this versatile, affordable protein alternative.
10) Mixed nuts
Nuts are a ‘finger-food’ you can trust, and are no longer the sole preserve of the local pub – incorporating a small range of nuts into your diet will provide enough healthy fats and proteins to meet your fitness goals.
Nuts pack a hefty protein hit and can be used either pre or post-workout, depending on your particular goals.
The American Institute for Cancer Research has highlighted the wealth of benefits they offer, as they are vital for building a cancer-protective diet.
They are also rich in calories, with around 168 in a 1 oz. serving. Snacking on nuts throughout the day is actually a very effective way of meeting your calorie quota. You have a healthy snack that’s tasty, too.
It can be easy to overeat on nuts, however – so exercise moderation. This is the key to getting the best from these powerhouse snacks.
11) Pork – an unsung nutritional hero?
Pork is extremely rich in leucine, the amino acid responsible for supercharging your recovery after a workout. It’s versatile, tasty and, from a 3 oz. pork chop men get 43% of their recommended protein intake, while women receive 52%.
A study from 2014 confirmed that “diets high in pork protein … may have favourable effects on body composition”. With a powerful protein hit and plenty or recipes to choose from, pork looks to be the new unsung hero of protein alternatives.
12) Peanut butter – crunchy or smooth?
While you may associate peanut butter with P&J sandwiches, it does provide a healthy supply of protein that’s great for a pre-workout snack or something to keep you going before bedtime. Peanut butter is not a ‘naughty treat’, but a vital source of healthy fats.
It will also help keep you fuller for longer, according to the University of Houston – whether it’s crunchy or smooth, peanut butter can replace any ‘unhealthy’ snacks and still taste great.
When you’re shopping for peanut butter, keep your eye out for the naturally-sourced versions. Even the ‘low-fat’ styles have been known to ramp up sugar content, so be vigilant!
13) Quinoa – should we believe the hype?
Over time quinoa has gone from an understated superfood to a staple ingredient in many a kitchen – and deservedly so.
For a protein alternative, you’d be hard-pushed to find a more protein-rich food that isn’t a meat. The grain packs a nutritional punch, containing all the necessary amino acids, from lysine to isoleucine, to help you reach your goals in the gym.
Studies from Harvard Medical School actually show a correlation between higher grain consumption and lower mortality rates.
Remember to have fun when you’re trying out these foods – experimenting with new and exciting methods will ramp up your results both in the gym and in the kitchen.