Nutritionists all know that protein is an essential macronutrient – more so for those of us who are active and athletic. After all, it is the macronutrient building block that our bodies need to build muscles, among other things.
Plus, if you’re practising good nutrition principles to prevent weight gain (or lose weight!) then you know that protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer – goodbye, sudden cravings for junky snacks! And if you’re a bodybuilder, or your sport of choice is all about lifting heavy weight, then you need protein to help repair the inevitable muscle damage.
The only problem is that some of these macronutrients are high in saturated fats and bad cholesterol. So you have to make sure that your diet consists of a variety of different protein sources – and preferably, those that are good for you.
What you want to look out for are those with a high biological value: that is, their amino acid proportions match the needs of the human body. Proteins with a low biological value will have only a few of the amino acids our bodies need, or won’t have the right proportions of amino acids.
There are twenty amino acids. Eight of these are essential: you only get them from food. The other 12 are non-essential, meaning that your body can produce them as needed. So you want to look for proteins that offer as many of the essential amino acids as possible.
To make it easier for you, we’ve rounded up a list of the protein-rich foods – that are good for you nutrition-wise – you should be filling your shopping trolley with.
- Eggs: They have a high biological value.
- Milk: Contains the protein casein.
- Soya milk or tofu, if you’re lactose intolerant.
- Beef steak or mince: Opt for lean beef.
- Pork chops: Pork (like chicken, beef and eggs) contains leucine, an amino acid that’s been shown to grow and repair your muscles. It also helps them recover from the micro-tears that are the natural result of an intense workout.
- Chicken: The chicken breast is the leanest cut.
- Fish (Tuna).
- Beans, lentils, chickpeas: Versatile, as well as being high in fibre.
- Quinoa: This versatile seed contains all of the essential amino acids.
- Green peas: One cup of green peas yields about the same amount of protein as a cup of milk.
- Biltong: Eat it in moderation since it can be high in sodium.
- Chia seeds: This seed is naturally high in vegetarian proteins, and doesn’t digest fast. It’s also high in fibre and packed with omegas.
- Nuts: They contain healthy fats as well as protein. Make sure you eat them raw – you don’t need the extra calories and sodium that roasted/salted nuts give you.
- Peanut butter: Choose brands that are free of added sugar and salt.
- Whey protein: Whey protein has more protein in it (with a higher biological value) than eggs or beef. Plus, after consuming whey protein, your body will take longer to release Gherlin (the hormone responsible for making you feel hungry). This means you’re less likely to crave snacks or to eat junk.
- Cottage cheese: Opt for the plain, low-fat variety to avoid hidden sugars and extra calories.
- Yoghurt: Choose plain Greek yoghurt as this has the highest protein content (and fewer sugars than sweetened yoghurt).
If nutrition is your passion – and something you’d like to make a career out of – then take a look at Trifocus Fitness Academy’s Specialised Nutrition Certification.