Protein has become so synonymous with health and fitness that marketers have found it to be an essential selling tool on food packaging. You’ll see the word “high protein” trumpeted everywhere, not just on protein bars and whey protein powders in the health food section of grocery stores. Now you can buy protein cookies (which taste like cardboard), high-protein pasta, breads, bagels and cereals, protein coffee and water, and more. Even foods that are naturally high in protein like yogurt, cheese, fish, and meat are often (redundantly) touted as “high in protein.”
The problem with protein mania is that too many people think that eating a food labeled as “high protein” is all you have to do to lose weight and get in shape. It doesn’t work that way. If you want muscle and strength, a fitter, healthier body, ignore the hype and get the facts on the best proteins to eat for stronger muscles.
“When it comes to increasing muscle strength and building muscle, you need three main things: eat enough calories (a calorie surplus if you’re looking to gain muscle/weight), eat the right type and the right amount of protein and strength training.” says our medical expert council member Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSDspecialist in sports dietetics and author of The Sports Nutrition Handbook. “Together, these three components can help make you stronger.”
For best results, Goodson recommends focusing on complete proteins, favoring animal proteins, for stronger muscles. Keep reading to find out what the benefits of eating these specific types of protein are, and for more, be sure to check out The Best Eating Habits for Stronger Muscles, Says the Registered Dietitian.
For stronger muscles, you need to eat a high quality protein, known as “complete protein”, containing all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot make on its own. “These nine essential amino acids are needed to build and repair lean muscle mass,” Goodson explains.
When it comes to specifics, you’re safe with all animal sources of protein. “All foods of animal origin like beef, pork, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs are considered complete proteins,” Goodson says.
As for vegetable proteins, you have to be more selective. “A few plant proteins like soy foods, quinoa, hemp seeds, and pistachios are considered complete plant proteins,” she says. Other plant proteins like beans, legumes, lentils, other nuts and seeds, nuts, and nut butters are considered “incomplete proteins,” meaning they don’t contain all nine acids. essential amines.
“If you want to build muscle and recover quickly from hard weight training, you need animal protein,” says Elliot Torsney, RDNregistered dietitian nutritionist and personal trainer at fitness den.
Animal protein tends to be more bioavailable to the body because plant foods also contain fiber and other compounds that compete with protein for absorption during digestion. (But that fiber also makes plant-based protein foods fantastic protein sources for overall health.)
“Does that mean you can’t gain muscle on a plant-based diet? No, but it does mean you need to be strategic with your protein intake and eat a variety of plant-based proteins to make sure you’re getting all of the essential amino acids that your body can’t produce,” Goodson says. “Someone eating 100% plant-based may just need a little more protein to make sure that it meets his needs.”
The long-standing general guideline is 0.8 grams of protein for approximately every pound of body weightbut it’s best to be a little more specific, because “protein needs depend on a person’s size and the type of physical activity they do,” Goodson says.
For example, those who are moderately active and exercise a few days a week need 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, those looking to lose weight during exercise should aim for 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram, and strength athletes need 1.6-1.7. grams per kilogram.
A simpler approach may be to aim for a certain number of grams of protein per meal and snack.
Research suggests that about 30 grams of protein per meal and snack provides the body with what it needs in addition to helping promote satiety and feelings of fullness, Goodson says.
“The important thing to remember is that excess protein doesn’t mean more muscle mass,” Goodson says. “Eating the amount of protein you need and spreading it out throughout the day is key, but balance that with high-quality carbs and healthy fats.”
In other words, eat protein with each meal, about 30 grams.
And don’t forget to consume 15-25 grams of high-quality protein within 45 minutes of finishing a workout. “For larger athletes, you can go as high as 40 grams of protein,” Goodson says, “but research suggests that beyond 40 grams of protein the body no longer uses it for muscle synthesis. and simply converts them into energy.”
Strength training breaks down muscles. Protein repairs muscles, makes them grow and strengthen. “The ‘light switch’ for muscle resynthesis is an essential amino acid called leucine, which is found in all animal foods and a variety of plant foods,” says Goodson. Whey protein (in the form of shakes, bars and milk) is ideal for post-workout muscle resynthesis. It is naturally rich in leucine and digests quickly, accelerating the penetration of proteins into the muscles.
Goodson recommends pairing about 20 grams of whey protein with fast-digesting carbs for recovery. “Good examples include a whey, milk, and fruit protein shake, a ready-to-drink shake, low-fat chocolate milk, or a protein bar with 15 to 25 grams of protein,” she says.
Looking for a quality whey protein powder? Check out the 9 best whey protein powders, according to dietitians.