Protein is an essential part of your diet at all times, but when you’re looking to build muscle it becomes even more crucial. While physical activity is what will prompt your new gains, muscles are really built in the kitchen. Without the right nourishment, your progress will stall.
Once you’ve ascertained how much protein you should be eating every day to increase your muscle mass, it’s time to start planning your meals - because no-one wants to eat nothing but grilled chicken breasts morning, noon and night.
We’ve assembled the most protein-rich foods around to help you work out what you’re going to eat to help you pack on muscle.
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There’s a reason why all your gym buddies have fridges packed full of chicken breasts - they’re one of the best sources of high-quality protein around, they’re widely available and they’re quick and tasty to prepare. Each chicken breast contains around 26g of protein, as well as having the B vitamins B6 and niacin, both of which help your body function well during exercise.
Dairy is an excellent source of protein thanks to it containing a mixture of slow-digesting casein protein and fast-digesting whey protein. Foods containing a mixture of fast and slow-digesting proteins can lead to an increase in lean mass, and Greek yogurt is one of the best sources out there as it has approximately double the protein of regular yogurt. Time to grab a spoon.
There’s something so satisfying about knowing something as self-contained as an egg has so many essential nutrients. Each egg has around 13g of protein, as well as a dose of healthy fats and plenty of important nutrients such as B vitamins and choline. Additionally, eggs have large amounts of leucine, an amino acid, which is important for gaining muscle.
This popular fish has an exceptionally high 20g of protein per 85g serving, and a large amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain function and muscle health. It also contains A and B vitamins, including niacin, B6 and B12.
These delicious little protein bombs contain almost nothing but protein, so are an ideal food to eat if you’re looking to gain muscle. Each 85g serving of shrimp has approximately 18g of protein, 1g of fat and zero carbs. They also contain high levels of the amino acid leucine, which is important for muscle growth.
This fatty fish is an excellent choice of food for optimal overall health, as well as for gaining muscle. For every 85g serving of salmon, you’re getting 17g of protein, 2g of omega-3 fatty acids and a dose of important B vitamins.
A great vegan protein choice, there are almost too many varieties of bean to count. From black beans to pinto beans, kidney beans to butter beans, there’s a kind for every taste and type of cuisine. On average, a 170g serving of cooked beans contain 15g of protein, as well as being good sources of fibre, B vitamins, iron, magnesium and phosphorus.
The red meat beef is a strong choice for protein, with each 85g serving containing 21g of protein, as well as creatine and many types of mineral. Consuming lean red meat has been shown to increase the amount of lean muscle gained when weight training. However, beef contains a high number of calories and also has large amounts of saturated fat, which is worth bearing in mind when planning your diet.
This might not be the sexiest foodstuff, but it packs a serious protein punch with 225g of cottage cheese containing 28g of protein and a high level of the amino acid leucine. It comes in a variety of fat contents, so you can choose the best one for you depending on what you want to achieve with your diet.
Let’s settle the pronunciation of quinoa once and for all, in case there’s any confusion - it’s keen-wa, not qui-noa. Quinoa contains around 8g of protein, 40g of carbs, 5g of fibre and healthy amounts of magnesium and phosphorus per 185g. It’s a great combination of complex carbs and protein, and magnesium plays an important role in ensuring your nerves and muscles function well, so it’s worth giving quinoa a place in your diet.
This is one of the best sources of lean protein around, with an 85g serving containing 25g of protein and negligible amounts of carbs or fat. It’s also an important source of niacin, a B vitamin, which helps to process the carbs and fat you ingest. Over time, having good levels of B vitamins could help you to increase your muscle mass because it supports your body’s ability to exercise.
Another great combined source of carbs and protein, each 240g serving of cooked chickpeas contain 12g of protein, 50g of carbs and 10g of fibre. While chickpeas may not have as much protein as that sourced from animals, they’re a vegan, sustainable way to up your intake.
This tasty white fish is versatile and easy to cook, but even better, it has 21g of protein per 85g serving. It also has high levels of B12, which is important to maintain the health of your nerves and blood cells, and selenium, which supports the immune system, fertility and cognitive function.
Who doesn’t love a handful of peanuts as a snack? Or a spoonful of peanut butter added to a smoothie, for that matter. Peanuts contain a healthy mix of protein, carbs and fat, with a 75g serving packing in 17g of protein, 16g of carbs and a large helping of unsaturated fat. They’re also calorie-dense, so could be a great choice for you if you’re looking to add calories to your diet.
Edamame beans are immature soybeans, but they’re not sleeping when they come to protein. 155g of fresh or frozen edamame contains 17g of protein, 8g of fibre and high levels of vitamin K, folate and manganese. Folate helps your body to process amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein and thus crucial for when you’re trying to bulk up.
Milk is so ubiquitous, you might have forgotten that it’s an excellent source of protein, carbs and fats. With around 8g of protein per 250ml, it contains both fast and slow-digesting proteins so is a great post-workout option. Studies have shown that people increase their muscle mass when they consume milk in combination with weight training.
Tasty and versatile, tofu is made from soy milk. Each 124g serving of tofu contains 10g of protein, 6g of fat and 2g of carbs, and it’s also a good source of calcium, which is crucial for bone health and muscle function. Soy protein, found in tofu, is considered one of the highest quality plant proteins out there.
Nuts in general are packed with protein and almonds are no exception. A 170g serving of almonds contains 16g of protein and high levels of vitamin E, phosphorus and magnesium. Phosphorus is important to consider when you’re working out as it helps your body to process carbs and fat during both exercise and rest. However, almonds have a high calorie content, which you should be aware of while consuming them.
A powerhouse of protein and carbs, brown rice is an ideal pre-workout snack thanks to the fact that consuming carbs before exercise may help you to work out harder, thus providing a stimulus for your muscles to grow. Studies have shown that rice protein supplements can protein just as much muscle gain as whey protein, so get on board with brown rice.