Best Protein Sources to Building Muscle and Strength

Best Protein Sources to Building Muscle and Strength

Protein is an essential macronutrient that plays a crucial role in nearly all bodily functions. It is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle, bone, skin, hair, and nearly every other part of the body. 

Getting adequate protein in your diet is important for growth, development, and maintenance of healthy tissue. It helps build and repair muscles, organs, and skin cells. Protein is also needed to make hormones, enzymes, and many other molecules that serve specific functions. 

Some key benefits of protein include:

- Building and maintaining muscle mass

- Supporting bone health

- Regulating metabolism and appetite

- Transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout the body

The recommended daily intake (RDI) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, or about 56 grams per day for the average sedentary adult. However, studies show that consuming more protein, in the range of 1.2-2.0 grams per kg of body weight, can provide additional health benefits like increased satiety, weight management, and optimizing body composition.

This article will provide an overview of the top sources of high-quality protein to help you meet your daily needs. It will cover different food groups and popular protein options within each category.


Meat is one of the most common sources of protein. Meats like beef, pork, lamb, and poultry contain all 9 essential amino acids, making them complete proteins. 

Beef is an excellent source of protein, providing around 25 grams per 3 ounce serving. Beef is rich in iron, zinc, selenium, phosphorus, and B vitamins. The main drawback of beef is that it tends to be higher in saturated fat compared to other protein options.

Pork is another high quality protein, with 24 grams per 3 ounce serving. In addition to protein, pork contains lots of B vitamins like niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. The fat content of pork depends on the cut, with leaner options like pork tenderloin being lower in fat.

Poultry like chicken and turkey offer lean protein options. A 3 ounce serving of chicken breast contains about 25 grams of protein and only 1 gram of fat. Poultry is a source of selenium and phosphorus. The main advantage of poultry is that it can be lower in fat and calories compared to red meat.

In general, meat is one of the best sources of protein due to its high bioavailability and muscle building amino acid content. Lean cuts of meat can be included as part of a healthy diet. However, too much red meat has been linked to increased risk for chronic diseases, so moderation is key.

Fish and Seafood

Fish and shellfish are excellent sources of high-quality protein. Many types of fish contain 20-25 grams of protein per 3.5 ounce cooked serving.

Fish such as salmon, cod, tuna, pollock, and catfish tend to be especially high in protein. Shellfish including shrimp, lobster, clams, oysters, crab and scallops also provide 15-30 grams of protein per serving. 

The protein in seafood contains all the essential amino acids needed in the human diet. Fish and shellfish protein is easily digested and absorbed by the body. It helps build muscle, repair tissues, and produce important enzymes and hormones.

Fish protein provides additional health benefits including omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to reduced inflammation and heart health. Shellfish contain beneficial minerals like iodine, selenium, zinc, and iron.

The drawbacks of seafood protein sources include potential contaminants like mercury, which builds up in some fish. Overfishing of certain seafood species can also be environmentally problematic.

Overall, fish and shellfish are nutritious protein options to include in a balanced diet. Eating a variety of sustainable seafood 2-3 times per week provides excellent protein intake. Fish and shellfish can be a tasty way to meet daily protein needs.


Eggs are one of the most nutritious and protein-rich foods available. Here are some key facts about eggs:

- One large egg contains about 6 grams of high-quality protein. The protein in eggs contains all 9 essential amino acids that the human body needs. 

- Eggs are considered a complete protein source, meaning they provide adequate amounts of every essential amino acid. Very few foods meet this criteria.

- The protein in eggs is absorbed well by the body. Eggs have a protein digestibility score of 91%, which is higher than most other protein foods.

- Eggs promote muscle strength and mass. Consuming eggs, particularly after resistance training, can stimulate muscle tissue growth.

- Eggs may support weight loss. Eating eggs for breakfast can increase feelings of fullness and reduce calorie intake later in the day.

- Eggs contain antioxidant compounds like lutein and zeaxanthin that promote eye health and reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.

- Eggs do not appear to raise cholesterol levels in most people. Moderate egg intake may even improve the blood lipid profile by raising HDL (good) cholesterol.

So in summary, eggs provide high-quality protein and several vitamins and minerals. When consumed in moderation, they can be part of a healthy diet for most people.


Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese can be excellent sources of high-quality protein. Cow's milk contains around 8 grams of protein per cup, providing all 9 essential amino acids. It's also packed with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and other nutrients.  

Greek yogurt is especially protein-rich, with roughly 20 grams per 6-ounce serving. This thick, creamy yogurt makes a satisfying high-protein snack or light meal. Try pairing it with fresh fruit and nuts.

Most cheeses are also high in protein. For example, 1 ounce of cheddar cheese provides around 7 grams. Cheese is a tasty source of protein that can add flavor and nutrients to sandwiches, salads, omelets, and more. 

When choosing dairy products, go for low-fat or nonfat versions to limit saturated fat intake. Fat-free milk and low-fat yogurt and cheese still provide plenty of high-quality protein. So dairy can be a nutritious way to meet your daily protein needs.

Beans and Legumes 

Beans and lentils are excellent sources of plant-based protein. Kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, and lentils all provide substantial amounts of protein per serving. For example, 1 cup of cooked lentils contains about 18 grams of protein.

Some other beans and legumes that are high in protein:

- Black beans (15g protein per cup)

- Pinto beans (15g protein per cup) 

- Navy beans (15g protein per cup)

- Split peas (16g protein per cup)

- Baked beans (13g protein per cup)

- Soybeans (28g protein per cup)

- Mung beans (14g protein per cup)

The fiber in beans and legumes also helps slow digestion, meaning their proteins are absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream compared to animal proteins. This makes beans an excellent source of plant-based protein for sustained energy.

Beans and lentils can be prepared in many ways - soups, stews, salads, dips, etc. Canned varieties are quick and convenient if you don't have time to cook dried beans from scratch. Rinsing canned beans can help reduce sodium content.

Overall, beans and legumes are nutritious, versatile, and economical sources of high-quality plant protein. Adding more beans to your diet can be an easy way to boost daily protein intake.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of plant-based protein. Some of the nuts and seeds highest in protein include:

- Almonds - 6g protein per 1 oz serving

- Cashews - 5g protein per 1 oz serving  

- Pistachios - 6g protein per 1 oz serving

- Pumpkin seeds - 9g protein per 1 oz serving

- Flaxseeds - 5g protein per 1 oz serving

- Hemp seeds - 10g protein per 1 oz serving

Nuts and seeds provide high-quality protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids. Even though the protein content per serving is lower compared to animal sources, the protein is efficiently utilized by the body.

There are several benefits to obtaining more plant-based protein from nuts and seeds:

- They contain healthy fats like omega-3s that support heart health

- They are high in fiber which promotes digestive health  

- They are nutrient-dense, providing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants 

- They may help reduce inflammation

- They have been linked to lower risks of chronic diseases

- They are more environmentally sustainable protein sources compared to meat

Aim to incorporate a serving of nuts or seeds into your diet each day to increase plant-based protein intake. Sprinkle nuts and seeds on salads, in yogurt, blend into smoothies, or enjoy as a snack. With so many options like almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and more, it's easy to get quality protein from nuts and seeds.

Soy Products  

Soy products like tofu, tempeh, and edamame can be excellent sources of protein. Tofu is made from soy milk that's been curdled and pressed into solid white blocks. It has a mild flavor that makes it versatile for many recipes. Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans that are pressed into a cake-like form. It has an earthy, nutty flavor and meaty texture. Edamame are whole soybean pods, often boiled or steamed and served as an appetizer or snack. 

For those who follow plant-based diets or have certain dietary restrictions, soy is a complete protein containing all 9 essential amino acids. It has the benefit of being low in saturated fat and containing fiber, vitamins, and minerals like calcium, iron, and magnesium. Soy is one of the few plant proteins considered a complete protein, giving it high nutritional value. 

When choosing soy products, opt for minimally processed forms like tofu, tempeh, and edamame over heavily processed versions like soy protein isolate. Try incorporating soy into stir-fries, salads, chili, and more as a plant-based protein source. Soy can be a healthy and environmentally friendly protein option for many people.

Protein Powders

Protein powders are supplements that come in powdered form and provide concentrated sources of protein. The two main types of protein powders are whey and plant-based. 

Whey protein comes from milk and is quickly absorbed by the body. It contains all of the essential amino acids needed to support muscle growth and recovery after exercise. Whey is one of the most popular types of protein powder due to its high quality protein, digestibility, and versatility. It comes in three main forms - whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, and whey protein hydrolysate. Whey protein isolate has the highest percentage of protein per serving, while whey protein concentrate is more affordable.

Plant-based protein powders are made from plant sources like peas, rice, hemp, or soy. They are a suitable option for vegetarians, vegans, and those with lactose intolerance. Plant proteins are not complete proteins, so combining different sources like rice and pea can provide a complete amino acid profile that is comparable to whey protein. However, plant proteins are not digested as rapidly as whey. Common types of plant-based protein powders include pea, rice, hemp, and soy. 

Both whey and plant protein powders are easy to mix into shakes, smoothies, oatmeal, or baking recipes. They provide approx 20-30 grams of protein per serving. When choosing a protein powder, consider the source, quality, digestibility, and taste. Always follow the recommended serving size and balance powder intake with whole food sources of protein.


Eating enough protein is crucial for health, muscle growth and maintenance, appetite regulation, weight management, and more. The best protein sources provide all 9 essential amino acids, are high in quality, and support overall wellbeing. 

As discussed, the top protein sources include:

- Meat, especially lean cuts of beef, pork, chicken, and turkey

- Fish and seafood like salmon, tuna, shrimp, and cod  

- Eggs, particularly the whites

- Dairy products such as milk, Greek yogurt, and cheese

- Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes

- Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, hemp seeds, and chia seeds  

- Soy foods including tofu, edamame, and tempeh

- Whey, casein, egg, and plant-based protein powders

Focus on incorporating a variety of these high-quality protein sources into your diet each day. Aim for 0.8-1g of protein per kilogram of body weight, or higher if you are very active. Getting enough protein ensures you maintain muscle mass, avoid deficiencies, and optimize health.