Want to build lean muscle and torch fat? Looking for the best ways to improve your performance in the gym?
If so, tweak your diet and eating habits! Simple changes, such as eating more protein and cutting back on sugar, can make all the difference.
A high-protein diet can boost your metabolism and increase satiety. It also promotes muscle growth and recovery.
According to researchers, increasing protein to 25 percent of the daily calorie intake can reduce cravings by 60 percent. The desire for late-night snacking drops by half. This means you’ll feel less hungry and experience fewer cravings.
Dieters and athletes worldwide load up on protein to build muscle or lose fat. Some do it in order to recover faster from training. This nutrient helps them get leaner and stronger in a shorter time.
The easiest way to boost your protein intake is to eat more meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. Plant-based foods, such as soybeans and quinoa, are rich in this nutrient too.
But which one is best? Does plant protein provide the same health benefits as meat? Let’s find out!
The Role of Protein in Muscle Growth
Protein powders and high-protein foods are a favorite choice for athletes. This nutrient has been shown to improve physical performance and overall strength.
In the long run, it may lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. If you eat protein to build muscle, your health will improve too.
However, athletes are not the only ones who can benefit from a high-protein diet. Whether you’re an aspiring bodybuilder, a weekend warrior, or a dieter, protein can bring you closer to your fitness goals.
This nutrient fuels your muscles into growth and speeds up recovery from training. It also improves body composition aka muscle-to-fat ratio. When combined with regular exercise, it helps increase muscle size and strength.
Protein consists of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle. A high-protein intake can help you get bigger and stronger in less time. Additionally, it makes it easier to preserve lean mass while on a diet.
Strength training actually damages muscle fibers. Your muscles grow and recover after, not during, training. For this reason, your post-workout meal should be rich in protein and complex carbs.
Protein helps your body heal itself and repair damaged tissues. Complex carbs provide energy and replenish your glycogen stores.
A diet that’s low in protein will lead to muscle loss and fragile bones. It can also slow down recovery from exercise and increase injury risk.
As you would expect, not all protein sources are created equal.
Animal products, such as meat and eggs, are complete sources of protein. This means they provide all nine essential amino acids required for muscle growth.
With a few exceptions, most plant-based foods are incomplete proteins. In general, they lack one or more essential amino acids.
Both animal and plant-based proteins have unique benefits. But which one is better for your health?
Can You Build Muscle on a Plant-Based Diet?
The animal vs. vegetable protein debate has been around for years. It’s not uncommon to see bodybuilders eating pounds of meat each day to build muscle. After all, turkey, chicken, tuna, and eggs are some of the best protein sources.
Plant-based diets, on the other hand, may prevent over 60 percent of all deaths from chronic illnesses. Unlike meat, vegetable foods are lower in saturated fat and have no cholesterol. They also contain none of the hormones and antibiotics found in meat.
Vegans and vegetarians eat nuts, seeds, and leafy greens to meet their daily protein requirements. Elite athletes, such as boxer Cam F. Awesome and strongman Patrik Baboumian have embraced veganism years ago. NFL defensive lineman David Carter claims that it’s no need to take a life to pack on muscle.
Venus and Serena Williams went vegan about six years ago. They not only look fabulous but also have successful careers. Nick and Nate Diaz, the UFC fighter brothers, eat a mostly plant-based diet too.
These athletes are living proof that eating vegetable protein to build muscle is realistic.
Opinions are divided in the medical community. Most experts agree that both vegetable and animal proteins support optimal health.
Even though most vegetable foods are incomplete protein sources, you can combine them to obtain complete protein. This can be done by eating legumes and grains at the same meal. For instance, a whole wheat sandwich with peanut butter contains all nine essential amino acids.
According to science, plant-based diets provide all amino acids needed for muscle building, such as:
These compounds nourish your muscles and help them grow. They’re also a key component of your cells and tissues.
While it’s easier to get them from meat and dairy, plant-based foods are just as good as animal products. Some grains and vegetables actually contain all nine essential amino acids. Thus, they’re considered complete protein sources.
These include quinoa, amaranth, soy buckwheat, seitan, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. You can also eat hummus and pita, or rice and beans to get complete proteins in your diet.
How Good Is Animal Protein, Really?
Now that you know how healthy plant-based diets are, you may wonder whether it’s necessary to eat animal protein to build muscle.
It all comes down to your preferences and lifestyle habits.
Meat, fish, dairy, and eggs are rich in protein. Unfortunately, they may also contain growth hormones and antibiotics that affect overall health.
The good news is that you can always opt for grass-fed meat and pastured eggs. If you love fish, opt for wild-caught salmon and tuna. This will reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals.
Compared to plant proteins, animal foods are higher in sulphur-containing amino acids.
These compounds may lower your body’s pH levels and create acidity. However, you can restore your pH balance by eating alkaline-forming foods.
Some great choices are leafy greens, kale, spinach, cucumbers, mushrooms, and garlic. These foods alkalize your body and improve immune function. They may also lower your risk of cancer and boost vitamin absorption.
From a nutritional point of view, animal foods deliver more protein. For instance, one serving of grass-fed beef boasts about 22 grams of protein per serving. The same amount of chicken provides 21 grams of protein.
Wild fish, such as salmon, contains about 18 grams of protein per serving. One large egg has seven grams of protein.
However, there are plenty of vegetable foods with a high protein content. Black beans deliver over 15 grams of this nutrient per cup. Lentils have 18 grams of protein per serving.
The same goes for plant-based protein.
For instance, soy protein isolate has a higher bioavailability than soy concentrate. The problem is that most soy crops contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms), which may cause adverse reactions in the body
Eating animal protein to build muscle has its risks too. Some cuts of meat are high in fat and cholesterol. This may increase the risk of heart disease and hypercholesterolemia.
However, you can always choose the leanest cuts of meat and trim excess fat. Certain cooking methods, such as grilling and steaming, help reduce the fat content.
Additionally, evidence shows that dietary cholesterol has little impact on blood cholesterol levels. Unless you’re prone to hypercholesterolemia, you can safely eat eggs, meat, and other animal sources of protein to build muscle.
As you see, it’s no need to choose between animal and plant-based protein. Both have their benefits and support your health. The key is to use them as part of a balanced diet and make smart food choices each day.
What Foods Are Highest in Protein?
High-protein foods can be costly. Most athletes spend a fortune on meat, eggs, and vegetables. For them, clean eating is a priority.
Make sure you get the most nutritional bang for your buck. Choose foods that provide quality protein and heart-healthy fats.
For example, processed meats are rich in protein but also contain trans fats, additives, and artificial flavors. Grass-fed meat is free of chemicals.
Depending on your preferences, you can opt for high-protein animal foods:
- Steak – 23 grams of protein per serving
- Chicken breast – 24 grams of protein per serving
- Turkey breast – 24 grams of protein per serving
- Tuna – 25 grams of protein per serving
- Sockeye salmon – 23 grams of protein per serving
- Sardines – 21 grams of protein per serving
- Ground beef – 18 grams of protein per serving
- Corned beef – 24 grams of protein per serving
- Eggs – 7 grams of protein per one large egg
- Cottage cheese – 14 grams of protein per serving
- Greek yogurt – 23 grams of protein per serving
Some of the best high-protein vegetable foods include:
- Navy beans – 20 grams of protein per serving
- Lentils – 13 grams per 1/4 cup
- Wheatgrass powder – 2 grams of protein per 1.25 tablespoon
- Mushrooms – 4 grams of protein per serving
- Kamut – 10 grams of protein per cup
- Oatmeal – 6 grams of protein per cup
- Hummus – 12 grams of protein per cup
- Pistachios – 13 grams of protein per 1/2 cup
- Spirulina – 8 grams of protein per tablespoon
- Beans – 10 grams of protein per 3/4 cup
- Black rice – 20 grams of protein per 1/2 cup
- Tempeh – 16 grams of protein per 1/2 cup
- Tofu – 12 grams of protein per serving
Your daily meals can also include wheat germs, quinoa, green peas, mixed nuts, or almond butter. These foods are chock-full of nutrients that promote muscle growth.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Active individuals and bodybuilders eat large amounts of protein to build muscle. Some consume 200 to 300 grams per day.
Surprisingly, the daily recommended intake is just 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. That’s about 56 grams of protein for a 154-pound person.
However, this recommendation applies to sedentary individuals. Those with an active lifestyle should double that amount. Most athletes consume about three grams of protein per pound of body weight.
According to Nancy Rodriguez, Ph.D., regular gym goers need more protein. People who exercise for at least 35 minutes a day four or five times a week should consume up to two grams per kilogram of body weight.
When you’re on a diet, it’s even more important to boost your protein intake. This nutrient prevents muscle loss and raises your metabolism.
It also promotes fullness, so you’ll end up eating less. Your metabolic rate will go up too!
Beware that eating more protein than you need isn’t necessarily better. The excess will be excreted in your urine. Additionally, the extra calories may lead to weight gain.
Consider your weight and fitness level when calculating your daily protein intake. The more active you are, the more protein you need.
This nutrient should account for at least 35 percent of your daily calories. If you’re on a low-carb diet, load up on protein to build muscle and reduce catabolism.
To lose weight, combine high-protein foods with leafy greens. The fiber in veggies will fill you up and add volume to your meals.
Harness the Power of Protein
Eating protein to build muscle comes with a host of benefits. You’ll not only get leaner but also have stronger bones and joints.
This nutrient increases your energy expenditure and accelerates fat burning. In a clinical trial, subjects on a high-protein diet burned 260 more calories per day compared to those eating less protein.
Researchers claim that a high-protein intake may lower blood pressure by about 1.76 mmHg. When consumed as part of a healthy diet, this nutrient can reduce triglycerides and bad cholesterol levels. Its benefits are even greater for those who exercise.
If you eat protein to build muscle, choose whole, natural foods. Steer clear of deli meats, ready-made meals, and frozen dinners. These products are loaded with chemicals that affect your metabolism and hormone levels.
Consider using protein powder to boost your gains. Sip on protein shakes before and after exercise to fully reap the benefits. Drink casein at bedtime to maintain your hard-earned muscle and speed up recovery.
What are your favorite sources of protein to build muscle? Do you have any high-protein recipes? Share them below!