Best sources of protein

How much protein should you eat and which foods really pack a punch? Find out how to get all the protein you need and when to up your intake...

Best sources of protein

Why do we need protein?

Protein is an essential nutrient, responsible for multiple functions in your body, including building tissue, cells and muscle, as well as making hormones and anti-bodies. Everyone needs protein in their diet, but if you do endurance sports or weight training you may benefits from increase your protein intake, as well as factoring it into your training routine at specific times to reap its muscle-building benefits.

Studies also suggest that as we get older we may benefit from eating more protein because it helps minimise the muscle loss associated with aging. 

How much protein should I eat?

For most people a daily dose of around 0.8-1g of protein per 1kg of body weight is recommended. For weightlifters and strength athletes 1.4 – 2g of protein per kg of body weight is recommended per day, with a recommendation of 1.2-1.6g of protein per kg of body weight per day for endurance athletes. After exercise, protein is particularly important since muscles need it to recover and grow. A portion of protein (15-25g) is recommended within 30 minutes of exercise, when your muscles are particularly receptive to protein synthesis.

Can you eat too much protein?

For most of us, our daily protein requirements are easily achieved by a healthy, balanced diet. The Department of Health advises adults to avoid consuming more than twice the recommended daily intake of protein (55g for the average man and 50g for the average woman). This is because, in the long term, consuming too much protein might lead to health issues such as an increased risk of osteoporosis and a worsening of an existing kidney problem. However, research in this area is mixed and it is likely that other factors may influence outcome, such as whether the protein is of animal or vegetable origin and how balanced the diet is in terms of vitamins and minerals. 

One of the main issues with our Western diet is that often, our breakfasts and lunches are low in protein but high in carbohydrates, with a protein-packed evening meal. It is better to aim to spread your protein intake out throughout the day. Try our suggestions for high protein breakfasts, high protein lunches and high protein dinners.

High protein foods

You can get protein from both plant and animal sources - here are some of the best food sources of protein.

Eggs

We love to cook with them, but how much protein is in an egg? One medium egg has around 6g of protein in an easily digestible form. A healthy omelette is a good way to start the day and is a good recovery snack too.

Try our healthy egg recipes and read about the health benefits of eggs.

Milk

Dairy foods are packed with protein and contain bone-building calcium, too. Chocolate milk is the age-old recovery food after exercise, since it contains energy-replenishing carbohydrates and a blend of both slow and fast release whey and casein proteins. You can get the same recovery-boosting effects from a milk-based fruit smoothie - such as this cranberry & raspberry smoothie recipe.

Read more about the best calcium-rich foods.

Yogurt

A combination of casein and whey protein, yogurt is a great protein-rich food. Since most of the lactose is removed, it can work for most people who are lactose intolerant.

Try making your own healthy bio yogurt.

Fish and seafood

Fish and seafood are good sources of protein and are typically low in fat. While slightly higher in fat than other varieties, salmon packs in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids which can reduce joint stiffness and inflammation.

Try our favourite healthy fish recipes and read more about the health benefits of salmon.

Chicken and turkey

Opt for lean protein from white meat poultry such as chicken and turkey.

Try our healthy chicken recipes and healthy chicken breast recipes.

Soya

If you’re dairy intolerant, eating soya protein foods such as tofu and soya-based drinks will help post-recovery, plus they can help to lower cholesterol and may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Read more about the health benefits of tofu and the health benefits of soya.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are a practical protein choice if you’re on the move. Around 50 pistachio nuts provides 6g of protein, plus sodium and potassium, the electrolytes lost in sweat during exercise. This clementine & honey couscous recipe with pistachios makes for a great breakfast or speedy snack.

Read more about the health benefits of nuts.

Pork

Pork contains branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are key in supporting muscle recovery. Leucine, in particular, makes up one third of muscle protein and helps to stimulate repair after exercise. Pork is one of the richest sources of leucine and therefore a great addition to a post-exercise meal or snack. Eggs, chicken and lean beef also provide good amounts of leucine.

Try our healthy pork recipes.

Beans and pulses

Beans and pulses are great, cheap protein sources. They are also a good source of iron and fibre.

Try our favourite lentil and chickpea recipes.

Enjoyed this? Now try...

What to eat for a workout
The best muscle-building breakfasts
The best sources of protein for vegetarians
What is a high protein diet?
Nutrition for runners
Protein pancake recipe
Spinach protein pancakes


This article was last reviewed on 21 July 2017 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.

A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

What are your favourite sources of protein post-workout? Are you still unsure whether you're getting enough? Post your questions and comments below...

 

Comments, questions and tips

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je032735
8th Nov, 2016
As chefmears stated in a July 6th comment below, too much animal protein, just as too much of anything is usually not good, so moderation is key. As someone who is not over weight and is athletic, I came to this page looking for a diverse mix of different sources of good protein. I'm planning of completing my first marathon in the next 6-12 months. Though I've been running for years, this particular task will require adhering to a more strict meal and overall diet plan over a fairly long time (for me a minimum of 6 mos. of carefully planning every meal and snack is a daunting task). Mostly because I prefer a diverse menu of foods that I actually enjoy eating over a bunch of stuff that may provide the necessary nutrition but I have to choke it down or try to just get through consuming it rather than enjoying it. Without a doubt, most dietary needs can be met by a diet composed of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, etc. However, there is no way I see a diet from only those sources without any animal based protein or animal based products at all being remotely satisfying in any way other than filling the hole and providing nutrients. While I certainly intend on cutting down the total amount of meat I consume, and replacing much of the beef and pork I consume with more fish, such as salmon and increasing the amount of protein I consume from things like nuts, beans and legumes, things like white meat chicken, turkey, yogurt, milk and other dairy based products will continue to be a significant part of my diet. As several earlier posts are pushing for, the idea that a majority of people will ever be willing to move towards predominantly or completely vegan diets is shortsighted. Mostly because food is not simply a means to acquire the basic nutrition needed but much much more. That being said about those complaining or suggesting some great food conspiracy, I appreciate the information on this page and will certainly utilize it as a resource for preparing a meal/nutrition plan to prepare myself for what I hope will be a successful marathon run.
chefmears
6th Jul, 2016
As a renal patient who is 4.5mths post op after receiving a kidney transplant I'm in a pretty good position to comment on animal protein and kidney problems. Although too much animal protein is not great for anyone I have been advise by TWO renal dietician that in actual fact animal protein is a good source to keep the new kidney healthy. All protein as with everything else in the food chain in moderation is fine!
Samnorthernlights
2nd Jun, 2016
I totally agree with the last comment. Meat and eggs offer "high quality proteins" Really!! I was amazed to read the BBC repeating this myth. Science has moved on. In fact it moved on in 1981 but it seems no-one bothers to look at the evidence any more. All veg and fruit contain complete proteins, just as easily absorbed as animal protein, and in more than enough quantity ( meat gives you too much and this has been linked by the World Health Organisation to conditions such as osteoporosis and kidney problems among other things). All you need to do to get enough protein is eat good whole food and the healthiest choice is fruit, veg, soya, nuts and seeds, etc. In case you're in any doubt see this well referenced article on the subject: http://michaelbluejay.com/veg/protein.html Who are the nutritionists advising the BBC? Good grief!!
Ruby1
9th May, 2016
This article makes me want to cry - this is terrifying that this is on the BBC. Anyone who thinks any of this is true needs their head examining. It is so irresponsible to keep pedaling these lies. I can't believe how uninformed the person who put this together is. Dr Colin Campbell proved some time ago that excess protein consumption causes cancer. If you don't believe me he touches on some of it in the film Forks Over Knives - if you want to know the truth please watch that instead. We need no more than 9 percent protein in our diet which you can get from fruits and vegetables. Which is what the human body is designed to eat. Rice, potatoes , veggies.. etc.. WHOLE FOOD. Just for starters: Milk is BABY COW growth hormone. It is designed to turn a calf into a 400lb beast. We don't need it, and its been connected with all sorted of maladies. Milk protein is terrible for the human body. You can get just as much if not more calcium from green leafy vegetables. You can't digest it, most of it is full of pus - it causes all sorts of hormone problems - And has now been linked to type 1 diabetes in children. The rates of diabetes, type 1 and 2 are soaring, as are cancers and autoimmune diseases. I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes far too young and slim... it was caused by our heavy meat and dairy laden diets. I was never over weight. I reversed it through eating a plant based whole grain diet with no added oils. If you don't think that disease has to do with the food we are putting into our bodies then you are bonkers. And the rest - protein from meat is healthy ? Who is paying for this advert.. wow... just do your homework. If you want to live longer and avoid sickness ... stick to vegetables and starches with no processed oils - including olive oil.
lisel
9th May, 2016
The best sources protein is not meat, eggs and dairy. Animal protein is linked to so many health issues. Cancer, obesity, heart disease and diabetes... We need to eat less animal protein and more plant protein.
hugieboogie1
8th May, 2016
This article only gives the recommended daily amount of protein (1g per 1 kg of body weight) for 'sporty people', what about the rest of us?
Katy Connelly
3rd Aug, 2015
Brilliant and informative. I like to work out on a regular basis and always need good sources of protein. I always have yoghurt in the morning with Protein World's whey protein concentrate. I then have eggs, salmon and salad for lunch and a healthy veg and protein meal in the evening. Before the gym i always have Protein Worlds protein shake before and after. It is GMO free and their protein is grass fed and tastes yummy! I am glad i am on the right tracks. Thank you BBC Foods!
bausia
5th May, 2016
In regards to the first question, I definitely look and feel better, and maintain a healthy weight easily, by direction first on nourishing dense food for thought*. I was vegetarian for a lot of years, and vegan for some of that. Equally an generally raw vegan, my stomach was always full but I didn’t feeling gratified. At present I am gratified and satiated. I weigh a few more pounds but my abdomen is always flat and my skin and haircloth are much healthier. I’ve done it both ways…nourishing density is the direction to go!Read more: http://www.marksdailyapple.com
cookhighprotein
6th Jul, 2017
This blog has a list for high protein foods and snacks and has nothing under 25 grams of protein on the list https://foodsforbodybuilding.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/top-10-high-protein-foods-and-snacks.html