Protein, protein, protein. Sometimes I feel like my entire life revolves around trying to get enough protein rich foods into my diet to support my work out goals.
However, I have just one tiny problem — I don’t really like meat that much. There’s just only so much chicken one girl can take before she starts clucking and shedding feathers. I like meat enough to incorporate into each meal, but not enough to hit my macro goals for how many grams of protein I should be consuming a day. Whereas all my Paleo friends are chowing down on chicken breasts and sweet potatoes for every meal, I could never eat another piece of chicken again and not be all that sad about it.
So what’s a girl to do? Luckily for all us non-meat lovers out there, there are plenty of protein rich options that don’t involve meat. How you choose to incorporate them into your diet depends on how your training and the eating patterns you try to follow.
Strict Whole 30/Clean Eating/Paleo-type Diet
A great protein rich source that I use every day is eggs. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, or grabbing a boiled egg on the way out the door to the gym, eggs make for a great form of portable protein no matter how they’re cooked. They reheat easily and are arguably one of the most versatile foods on the planet. On average, one boiled egg has approximately six grams of protein, so it doesn’t necessarily pack the same punch as a chicken breast or turkey cutlet, but it can get the job done when you are feeling peckish.
Another protein rich food that you may be overlooking is nuts. Although the amount of protein differs from nut to nut — one cup of almonds can contain up to twenty grams of protein whereas a cup of macadamia nuts only contains about 9 grams — all are generally good sources. However, if you’re careful about your macros or worried about your fat intake, take it easy on the nuts. They are a wonderful source of protein but often have high fat contents, making them ideal for those who are bulking.
In the same category as nuts, seeds can also be a valuable source of protein. Although the exact content depends on the seed in question, just to give you an idea, one cup of pumpkin seeds contain almost 40 grams of protein. With that being said, eating an entire cup of seeds is probably not a good idea unless you are just really into that sort of things or possibly have a beak and feathers.
Flexible Clean Eating/Paleo-type Diet
One of my main sources of protein is the protein shake that I drink after my work out each day. Before the sweat angels have dried up, I’m digging around in the gym bag for my shaker bottle. Some people are opposed to protein shakes because of the extensive unpronounceable ingredient list, but if that doesn’t pose a problem for you, you can get upwards of 20 grams of protein from a single shake. I will also substitute protein shakes on nights when I don’t feel like cooking a full meal or when I don’t have a great appetite.
Depending on the type of diet you’re trying to achieve, beans and lentils might also be an option to incorporate more protein into your diet. The verdict is out on whether or not these are bad for you — it really just depends on which dietician/author/nutritionist you ask. Beans can have up to eight grams of protein per cup and can be cooked as their own dish or incorporated into a vast variety of other foods like salads, soups and more. Lentils, which are similar to beans in their shape and texture, also make a good protein substitute, with upwards of nine grams of protein in a single cup. Lentils are also quicker to prepare as they generally do not have to be soaked beforehand as dried beans do.
Another easy option is quinoa, a psuedo-grain that is considered Paleo-friendly. Quinoa is a great substitute for rice or cous cous and can be prepared by itself, as a salad, or in any recipe that calls for rice. Be careful — like rice, it more than triples in size when cooked in boiling water. A cup of cooked quinoa can yield up to eight grams of protein.
Vegetarian or Vegan Diet
For our vegetarian and vegan friends attempting to score some gains, fear not! Not only are many of the options listed above vegetarian and vegan friendly, but tofu and tempeh are also to your rescue!
Tempeh is comprised of fermented soybeans and has a chewy and crunchy texture. It can be bought frozen and pre-cooked and eaten or prepared with a variety of other dishes. It tends to soak up the flavoring of the food it is being prepared with, so it’s a great addition to stir fry, soup or even kabobs. Tempeh is very versatile and can be found in most supermarkets. You might think it sounds a little crazy, but just one cup of cooked tempeh has over 20 grams of protein in it, meaning that this plant-based protein contains amounts that are comparable to chicken and turkey.
Tofu is the familiar white gelatin-like substance sold as a meat substitute. It’s popular in Asian cultures and like tempeh, pairs well with many things, mainly because it’s pretty bland on its own and requires strong flavor assistance from other foods while being cooked. It is also a plant-based protein and is made from soybean curds. It can be prepared seven ways till Sunday or even eaten raw and is sold pretty much everywhere. Tofu is also packing an impressive punch when it comes to protein content, with almost fifteen grams per cup.
I Don’t Follow an Eating Plan. I Accidentally Landed on a Fitness Site.
For the sake of argument and to be inclusive, certain types of dairy — milk, cheese, yogurt — and certain types of whole grains can have pretty impressive protein content. I would argue that there are much healthier ways (albeit less tasty) to get protein into your diet, but to each his own.
All in all, meat is and probably always be the easiest protein rich source. But for the days when you just can’t take anymore, just know that you have options.