There’s no denying it. Whether or not you’re crushing it at the gym, protein is a valuable component of a healthy diet. Of course, since lifting weights breaks down muscle fibers, protein plays a major role in building and repairing that muscle.
This comprehensive list of foods is a good starting point for selecting the right protein sources for you.
Beans are considered one of the cheapest sources of protein around. As evidenced by their deep hue, black beans are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants. If you don’t have time to cook your own, opt for the low-sodium canned variety (choose brands without BPA in the lining).
Lentils are another one of the least expensive legumes, and they offer one of the highest levels of protein. The best part is that they cook much faster than dried beans and don’t require soaking. Combine cooked lentils with diced cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, parsley, oregano, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil for a quick Greek salad.
Packed with B vitamins, folate and fiber, pinto beans make a stellar addition to your diet. Like other beans, they’re fat-free. They also may help to reduce cholesterol and lower heart attack risk. Eat them in salads, tacos and wraps.
Chicken remains the poster child for simple, approachable, low-fat protein. For a quick post-workout meal, top a baked (or microwaved) sweet potato with rotisserie chicken, cubed avocado and salsa.
Say hello to some seriously top-notch (and cheap) protein. Eggs have a high biological value (the proportion of protein from food that gets absorbed into the proteins of the body), making them excellent muscle builders. The bright yellow yolk also boasts the antioxidants lutein and and zeaxanthin, which contribute to eye health.
In addition to being high in protein, salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which help combat inflammation and lower heart disease risk. Opt for wild salmon (frozen is fine) whenever possible to avoid contaminants.
A turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread with a smear of hummus or avocado makes for a tasty post-workout meal in minutes. If you’re choosing deli meat, check the label and steer clear of nitrates (and watch for questionable ingredients).
Peanuts are the highest protein nut. Skip the reduced fat spreads, which swap out natural fat for added sugar. Whip up a post-workout peanut butter power smoothie with 1 large frozen banana, 1 cup of almond milk, 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder and a handful of spinach for extra green power.
Boasting twice the protein of regular yogurt, this tangy strained variety is packed with gut-friendly bacteria and bone-building calcium. For an easy post-workout snack, stir together 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, a drizzle of honey and a pinch of cinnamon. Pair this simple nutty fruit dip with sliced apples or bananas.
Quinoa is one of those rare plant-based proteins that is complete, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids for optimal muscle building. As an added bonus, quinoa cooks up in 15 minutes. Try cooking it with vegetable stock for added flavor.