If you've done any reading on the subject of healthy eating, you know how important eating foods high in protein content can be. Meat, fish, cheese, beans, tofu, yogurt and nuts are all high-protein foods. Just blindly eating foods high in protein isn't always the best strategy, however. It's important to know why protein is vital, as well as which high protein foods are best for your bodybuilding meal plan.
Study after study has shown that a diet comprised of a high level of protein-rich food is beneficial to those trying to lose weight or build lean muscle mass, and not just in the short term. Continued intake of the right proteins can help keep the weight off for good.
So what differentiates a "good" protein from a "bad" protein? To answer that, it's important to know what a protein is. Protein is composed of a chain of amino acids. These chains perform a number of different functions for the human body as enzymes, antibodies, chemical process coordinators, and providers of structure and support.
Different proteins contain different amino acids, but the best contain nine essential amino acids. Of the 20 amino acids that a body needs, these are labeled "essential" because the human body cannot produce them. They need to be supplied by the food that we eat.
Foods that contain all nine of the essential amino acids are referred to as "complete." These foods include meat, fish, chicken, dairy and eggs. There are a lot of supplements out there that can give you the protein you need as well, but real food sources are always going to trump any supplement.
PICKING THE RIGHT PROTEINS
When putting together your bodybuilding meal plan, it would seem to be as easy as loading up on the complete proteins, right? Wrong. Even though meat and dairy may both be listed as a complete protein food, common sense would tell you that eating a cheeseburger for every meal isn't the best idea. It's not important just to find protein-rich food, but also food that is low in fat and calories.
The key is also to find new ways to prepare the protein. While a plain baked chicken breast may represent the purest way to get the protein you need without the fat, how long do you think you would last on a diet of just that? Mixing it up and innovative meal planning is key to success.
BEST PROTEINS FOR A LEAN BODY
At the top of almost every chart of the best proteins are eggs. They represent an almost perfect protein, with 6.3 grams of protein per large egg. They also contain many other nutrients that are beneficial to the body in many ways. Studies have also shown that two eggs for breakfast make it easier to curb cravings the rest of the day.
Of course, fish will make any list of the best proteins to include in your bodybuilding meal plan. It's outstanding not just for its high protein-to-calorie ratio (1 gram per 4.5 calories), but it also includes beneficial fatty acids. While fish may be a bit high in fat content, it's generally unsaturated fat. Whether it's salmon, cod, mahi-mahi or tilapia, fish also provides you with a number of different choices that can be prepared many different ways.
Try using a grill pan during your meal prep to shake up your favorite fish recipe. It transitions smoothly from the stove-top to the oven, resulting in moist, flaky fish with delicious sear marks!
No list of beneficial protein foods to include in your bodybuilding meal plan would be complete without chicken breast. Lean chicken comes in just below fish, at 1 gram of protein per 4.6 calories. Boneless, skinless chicken breast has been a bodybuilding staple for a long time, and thanks to the complex array of amino acids it contains, it remains.
There's nothing worse than dry, bland chicken. To guarantee moist, juicy chicken without the fear of food poisoning, use a meat thermometer to ensure your chicken hits 165 degrees Fahrenheit without overcooking it!
Though beef may get demonized, there's nothing like it when it comes to protein content, especially as part of a bodybuilding meal plan. When it's grass-fed, beef comes to your dinner table packed with essential amino acids such as isoleucine, leucine, and valine, and is high in Omega-3 acids that are also found in fish. It also helps build muscle and helps you feel less hungry later in the day.
Some leaner cuts of beef may be a little bit tough if prepared incorrectly, but a slow cooker can tenderize them to perfection while you're at away at work. There's nothing quite like coming home to the delicious smell of dinner waiting for you!
Cottage cheese and other low-fat cheeses comprise perhaps one of the most powerful protein-rich foods: the whey protein group. You've probably seen whey protein referenced on jugs of muscle-building powders, and with good reason. Not only is it a complete protein food, but whey proteins also help fend off heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Cheese, while delicious and nutritious, can be high in calories. Use a kitchen food scale for accuracy when measuring out portions of this tasty protein source!
Of course the real challenge isn't just finding the right proteins, but finding time to prepare them as well. With MealPlanMagic, we put all the tools in your hands, from isolating nutrition goals, creating custom meal plans and putting together shopping lists.
Looking for some delicious, high protein meal inspiration to support your fitness goals? Check these out!
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- 10 Mason Jar Friendly Make-Ahead Meals
- Breakfast Options That Taste Great