If you’ve ever looked up information on muscle growth, fat loss, and general fitness, then you’ve probably heard about protein and how essential the nutrient is to building muscle. Lean muscle protein is the cornerstone of building a lean, muscular body that is healthy and fit.
But what is protein, and why do we need it so much? More importantly, how can we get more lean muscle protein in our diets without becoming food-obsessed?
Why Lean Muscle Protein Is Vital for Building Muscle
When consumed and broken down, protein provides us with amino acids – the building blocks of life. As a whole, there are twenty amino acids, nine of which are essential (meaning, we need to get them through food, as the body can’t make them itself).
Once these amino acids enter the bloodstream, they contribute to the plasma amino acid pool. This ‘storage’ travels through the body and provides building blocks where needed. In the context of fitness, these amino acids contribute to the growth and recovery of our muscles. They kickstart muscle protein synthesis, and this is what allows our muscles to become larger over time. (1)
Even if we consume enough calories, we wouldn’t be able to build muscle optimally without an adequate supply of amino acids.
Lean Muscle Protein Foods for Your Grocery List
- Chicken Breast (grilled or baked)
- Fish (grilled, fatty fish are the best, like Salmon)
- Turkey Breast
- Lean Ground Beef (90%+ Lean)
- Sirloin Steak (leanest cuts of steak are anything with “loin” or “round”)
- Eggs (for every 10 eggs, 8 egg whites only and 2 complete eggs)
- Protein Powder (like Muscletech Phase 8 – mix with Skim Milk)
- Protein Drinks like Muscle Milk
- Almonds (buy regular, not salted and not smoked)
- Walnuts (buy halves – easier for a ziploc snack bag)
- Black Beans
- Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) – Terrific whole grain
- Low-fat Cottage Cheese
- Protein Bars (great protein snack)
- Skim Milk
Easy Ways to Add More Lean Muscle Protein to Your Diet
Consuming enough protein can be challenging. Plus, most protein-rich foods are relatively expensive. (2)
But, you can go with the following lean muscle protein ideas:
1. Get yourself a protein powder – whey and casein both work great. Sure, you have to spend a bit more money upfront, but they offer some of the cheapest protein per serving.
2. Lean meats and poultry are a fantastic source of high-quality protein. They are great for lunch and dinner, and you can have them in many ways.
Some good examples include skinless white meat chicken (breast), salmon, turkey, sirloin steak (or similar lean cuts – think loin and round in the name), grilled chicken caesar (no croutons), white fish (cod, flounder, tilapia), and such.
3. Add some protein into your daily snacks. Examples include protein bars, eggs (or egg whites if you have fewer calories to work with), turkey roll-ups, jerky, almonds, celery with peanut butter, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and similar.
4. Go for some of the overlooked lean muscle protein sources: beans/lentils, quinoa, chickpeas, tofu, milk, brown rice, broccoli, and such.
Do Protein Timing and Distribution Matter?
One of the most common protein-related questions people have is this:
“Should I worry about timing my protein and distributing it throughout the day?”
And the answer is yes… kind of. Of course, you should never get to the point of obsession. But, paying some attention to both distribution and timing is beneficial.
For the timing, you should aim to have protein in the hours leading up to a workout, and then have something like a protein shake afterward. This will help supply you with enough amino acids to prevent excessive muscle protein breakdown and kickstart the recovery process quicker.
Some Simple Rules to Guide Your Protein Intake
- Always talk with your physician first about anything related to diet, as everyone is different and has different body needs and concerns.
- Consume protein daily as part of a balanced diet.
- Aim to have at least 15 to 20 grams of protein with each meal.
- A good rule of thumb is 1/2 gram of protein for every pound of body weight. So if you weight 180 pounds, aim for 90 grams of protein daily.
- Distribute your protein as evenly as possible (e.g., avoid going too long with a protein feeding).
According to Brad Schoenfeld and Alan Aragon (two renowned experts in the field of muscle growth), we should split our daily protein into four to six even doses for the best effect. For example, if you need about 160 grams of protein per day, then you should have up to six feedings of about 25 to 40 grams of protein.
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- Amino Acid Blood Level. Amino Acid Blood Level – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/amino-acid-blood-level.
- Aragon, A., & Schoenfeld, B. (n.d.). How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29497353/.