Adequate protein is an important part of reaching your health/fitness goals and feeling your best! Focusing on high-quality protein sources is an equally, if not more important factor to consider when adding protein into your diet. If you think “more protein,” means more bacon, burgers, and chicken fingers…hate to break it to you, but that’s a hard “no.” While you can get protein from many different types of foods you eat, different protein sources come with different benefits – so it’s important that you mix them up and include several in your regular eating routine. Protein is also great for keeping yourself full, so after a day of heavy lifting or cardio – it’s imperative to supplement your body with protein (whatever sources you prefer!)
To get the most out of what you eat daily, be sure to focus on minimally processed, whole foods for the bulk of your diet. When it comes to protein sources, you’ll want to focus on clean, herb-seasoned meat without a bunch of stuff added to it, like salt, preservatives, and breading. While it’s totally fine to add a little dash of salt into your meat if you’re cooking at home, you’ll want to avoid pre-packaged meats, like deli meat, chicken fingers, bacon, and sausage. It’s absolutely OK if you want to treat yourself here and there with any of the above, but be sure to keep it to a minimum. Swap these options out for leaner, fresh or frozen protein sources like beef, chicken, eggs, and salmon.
When you can, go with pasture-raised chicken and eggs, grass-fed beef and bison, and wild salmon. Animals get benefits from being raised in their natural environments with natural food sources, and in turn, pass those benefits onto you. So it’s super important to check the labels or ask your local butcher for recommendations!
Here are some other benefits of each type of protein:
- Pasture-raised chicken: High protein source, lean, a good source of vitamin B6 and niacin
- Pasture-raised eggs: High in choline and omega-3 fatty acids, contain carotenoids ( important for eye health), higher vitamin and mineral content
- Wild-caught salmon – high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, selenium, potassium, and vitamins B3, B6, B5
- Grass-fed beef: High in conjugated linoleic acid which has been shown in studies to lower cancer risk & packed with omega-3 fatty acids & antioxidant vitamins
- Grass-fed bison: Lean source of protein, high in zinc, selenium, niacin, iron, and vitamin B12
If you’re not a meat eater, or prefer to keep your intake of animal products to a minimum (vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, etc), you can still get enough protein from plant sources. Plant-based protein sources are also typically lower in cholesterol than animal sources, and can contribute to your total fiber intake for the day, helping you stay full for longer, and keep you regular – always important. Plant-based protein supplements are also easy to find. I like to use these for snack shakes (as opposed to post-workout) because the protein is digested more slowly than whey.
Some great plant-based protein sources include:
- Black beans
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Whether you’re a fitness junkie or just looking to make some healthier choices, the protein sources you include in your diet will make a big impact on your health. Make sure you’re picking high quality, minimally processed proteins whenever possible. Burgers, bacon and chicken fingers make for great treats, but you’ll feel your best if most of your meals focus on leaner, more natural protein sources, as well as whole fruits and veggies.
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