Protein is not just an important topic for athletes. It also plays a crucial role in a balanced diet, for people who want to gain weight, muscle mass, or lose a few pounds. In this blog post, you’ll learn about the following topics:
What Is Protein and What Does It Do?
Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is one of the three macronutrients. A protein consists of amino acids linked together in chains. A total of 20 amino acids are found in the body. These are divided into essential, semi-essential, and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body itself. Therefore, they must be supplied through the diet.
Protein is essential for many processes in your body: It functions as a hormone, enzyme, and antibody. In general, protein can be found in muscles, bone, skin, hair, and many other body parts and tissues.
Protein’s Biological Value
When it comes to protein, you’ll most likely hear the term “biological value” (or BV) at some point. The biological value of a hen’s egg is fixed at 100. The higher the biological value of a certain food, the more similar the protein contained is to our own body’s protein, and the easier it can be transformed into endogenous protein. The BV of beef amounts to 92, that of rice is 81.
For an optimal protein intake, it’s best to combine the two. By combining animal and vegetable protein, you can increase their biological value.
A few examples for dishes with an ideal biological value:
- Casseroles with egg and potatoes
- Meat patties with mashed potatoes
- Chili con carne
- Chili sin carne
More Protein = More Muscles?
You wish! Working out is what counts when it comes to muscle gain. By taking in more protein than your body needs to build muscle, you don’t just magically bulk up.
Protein also contains calories. If your body gets too much energy (calories), it will build fat depots.
Natural and Healthy Sources of Protein: Top 8 High Protein Foods
To get a first overview, these eight natural foods are high in protein:
- Fish and seafood
- Milk and milk products
- Tofu and soy products
Good to know:
You can find alternatives to these protein sources – such as vegan protein options – further below.
When Should You Eat Protein?
Add a small portion of protein to all your meals to provide your body with sufficient protein throughout the day. Plus, what many people don’t know is that protein keeps you feeling full longer. Pay attention to the quality of protein you take in and opt for vegetable protein whenever possible, e.g. lentils or beans.
How Much Protein Does Your Body Need?
The human body is made up largely of protein, which in turn consists of individual amino acids. It is responsible for a number of tasks in the body, including muscle growth and recovery after intense workouts. To maintain a balance between the breakdown and build up of muscle, our body must get protein through the food we eat.
Usually, you can easily cover your protein needs with a balanced diet. This is generally preferable because it also contains natural vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc. You can eat a high protein diet by consuming low-fat sources of protein like lean meat, fish, eggs, cottage cheese, low-fat curd cheese (quark), and yogurt. Alternative vegetable sources include legumes, grains, and soy.
Protein Needs of Adults in G/KG Body Weight/Day Depending on Sports Level:
- Hobby sport: 0.8-1.0g protein per kg body weight per day
- Endurance sport: 1.2-1.6g protein per kg body weight per day
- Game sport (e.g. soccer): 1.4-1.7g protein per kg body weight per day
- Strength training, building: 1.5-1.7g protein per kg body weight per day
- Strength training, maintaining: 1-1.2g protein per kg body weight per day
Calculate your daily protein intake with this protein intake calculator:
What Happens If You Eat Too Much Protein?
If you consume more protein than your body actually needs, the following can happen: On the one hand, the excess protein will be stored in your body as fat and on the other, long-term overuse can lead to serious health problems. Too much protein can have adverse effects on your kidneys and bones and can negatively influence uric acid levels in your blood.
When Is Protein Powder a Good Idea?
A protein supplement is only a good idea when you cannot meet your needs through the food you eat because of intense training, you have no other option or there’s no other way with your busy schedule. It is often easier to prepare a protein shake after a workout than to cook a full meal. Many protein powders contain hardly any fat, which means that your body absorbs the protein faster.
Good to know:
Incidentally, one serving of protein shake should contain no more than 30 g of powder.
How Much Protein Powder Should You Consume When Working Out?
Studies show that protein, if consumed before and after working out, promotes muscle growth. However, it is vital to combine protein intake with carbohydrates after your workout.
In general, it’s best to cover your protein needs primarily with natural foods.
However, if you want to consume protein in the form of a powder, you need to know that there are numerous manufacturers, types, and compositions. Apart from the manufacturer’s brand name, the price also depends on other factors like quality, degree of processing, and composition of the protein powder. If a protein concentrate, for example, a whey protein concentrate, is broken down further into an isolate and finally a hydrolysate, the protein content – and the price – increases. Plus, it is nearly fat and carbohydrate-free. Whey can be absorbed by your body faster than other proteins. This makes it perfect for before and immediately after a workout because easily digestible protein during your workout is very important for optimal muscle building and recovery.
What to eat before your workout:
- Endurance training: mainly carbohydrates
- Strength training: carbohydrates + protein
Don’t work out on an empty stomach – make sure that the last meal before your workout contains plenty of carbohydrates and protein. This will provide you with sufficient energy.
What to eat after your workout:
- Endurance training: carbohydrates + protein
- Strength training: mainly protein (+ carbohydrates, if needed)
Protein for muscle gain: How much protein do you need?
How much protein does your body need after a workout to build muscle? Find the answers about muscle gain and protein in our blog post.
The amino acid leucine has a particularly positive effect on muscle protein synthesis before, during, and after your workout. Milk, curd cheese (quark), yogurt and yogurt-based homemade shakes, many types of fish, and whey protein powder contain high amounts of leucine. Another good time to consume fast-absorbing protein is after you wake up because your body should be supplied with nutrients as soon as possible in the morning.
It is also important to get plenty of high-quality protein in the evening to help aid muscle recovery during the night. Casein is particularly good for this. It is found in high quantities in low-fat cheeses and is absorbed slowly by the body. This way, your body is well provided for while you sleep.
Medium-digesting protein powders provide your body with extra protein in between meals.
Which Protein Powder?
It is the best-selling nutritional supplement in the fitness industry: protein powder. Before your workout, after your workout, in between meals, before going to bed – but which options can you buy?
Whey protein is the best-known of the protein powders. It is easy to digest, fast-absorbing, and full of leucine, which makes it perfect for muscle protein synthesis before and immediately after your workout. Generally, the protein content is at least 85% and higher, depending on the degree of processing. The good news for those who are lactose intolerant is that whey protein contains very little lactose.
Milk Protein (Casein)
Compared to whey protein, milk protein contains less protein and more lactose. It is absorbed more slowly by the body and provides your body with protein over several hours. It is thus useful as a “night protein” before going to bed. Good sources of casein are low-fat cheeses, especially cottage cheese.
Made from egg whites, it has a lower biological value than a whole egg. It is absorbed by the body at medium speed, is practically fat and carbohydrate-free like a whey protein hydrolysate, and is thus good for supplying your muscles during your workout. However, it has a much weaker effect on muscle protein synthesis because it is low in the important amino acid leucine.
A mixture of mostly three or four different types of protein (e.g. whey, casein, and soy) provides your body with medium-digesting protein, depending on the composition. The exact composition varies from product to product.
Beef protein is absorbed quickly by the body and has about as much protein content as whey. It has a lower leucine content, is lactose-free, and contains natural creatine. It is mainly used in weight training and short, intense workouts.
The most well-known alternative to animal proteins for vegetarians and vegans is soy. The biological value is somewhat lower than that of animal protein powders, and soy provides your body with energy at medium speed. Because the long-term effects of the phytoestrogens contained in soy protein on your thyroid hormone metabolism have not been fully established, this protein powder should only be consumed in moderation.
What Vegan Protein Sources Are There?
“Where do you get your protein?” It’s the first and most common question vegans are asked about their plant-based diet. This is an especially relevant topic for athletes who follow a vegan diet and have higher protein requirements. Vegan protein can be found in a wide variety of plant-based foods.
Top 10 Foods for a Plant-Based Diet
Which foods are highest in plant-based protein? We’ve put together a list of the top vegan protein sources for you:
Whether they are red, yellow, or brown, lentils are packed with protein and essential nutrients. They are high in fiber (100 g contain 8 g of fiber), which means they keep you full for hours and can help regulate body weight. (1) Lentils are also rich in plant-based iron. This is important for anyone suffering from an iron deficiency.
100 g of lentils (dried) contain 27 g of vegan protein.
Tofu is produced from fermented soybeans and can be used in a multitude of creative dishes in vegan cooking. This plant-based protein can be steamed, grilled, fried, or baked. You can eat it in chunks, crumble it (e.g. tofu scramble), and if you purée it, tofu is the perfect base for delicious creams, smoothies, and sauces.
100 g of tofu contain 15 g of vegan protein.
3. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are one of the best vegan protein sources out there. But keep in mind –– 100 g of pumpkin seeds have almost 500 calories, thanks to their high-fat content. They are not low-calorie snacks. Sprinkle some seeds in your breakfast granola or over your salad at lunch for a little extra crunch.
100 g of pumpkin seeds contain 37 g of vegan protein.
Oats are a breakfast favorite –– they’re a perfect base for granola, banana protein pancakes, or piping hot porridge. The high fiber content keeps you full for longer, and oats are packed with B vitamins.
Did you know that you can make non-dairy milk at home with oats and water? Mix finely ground oats with water, a date, and a pinch of salt. Then pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer.
100 g of oats contain 14 g of vegan protein.
Seitan – made from wheat gluten – is an especially valuable vegan protein source. The consistency is similar to meat and it can be used as a substitute in a lot of meat dishes. You can make seitan at home or just buy it in the supermarket (make sure it’s organic).
Important: If you eat a gluten-free diet, avoid this vegan food.
100 g of seitan contain 28 g of vegan protein.
White, black, kidney beans…there are many different kinds of pulses, and they’re a great high protein food. Try them in chili sin carne, burritos, salads, or super moist chocolate brownies – you can’t go wrong with beans. Make sure you’ve always got some stored in your pantry.
100 g of beans (dried) contain 22 g of vegan protein.
A handful of almonds with an apple is the perfect snack to stave off food cravings. Ever tried almond butter on a slice of whole-grain bread?
These nuts are loaded with unsaturated fats and vitamins – such as vitamin E and magnesium – and have been shown to have a positive effect on cardiovascular health.(2)
100 g of almonds contain 29 g of vegan protein.
Tempeh is produced from boiled, fermented soybeans, which are then shaped into solid, nutty-flavored blocks. This soy product is one of the best vegan protein sources available and is rich in minerals like magnesium, iron, potassium, and phosphorus. Like tofu, tempeh can be used in a wide variety of ways and is found in many vegan recipes.
100 g of tempeh contain 20 g of vegan protein.
Technically, quinoa is not a grain but a pseudo-cereal, and it’s a must-have in a plant-based diet. Not only is it high in vegan protein and complex carbohydrates, but it’s also high in micronutrients like magnesium, iron, potassium, and zinc. You can use quinoa as a side dish like rice, make a warm breakfast porridge out of it, or get creative with different types of salads.
100 g of quinoa contain 12 g of vegan protein.
If you eat a plant-based diet, then you probably can’t imagine a life without chickpeas. These pulses are known for their high protein and fiber content. Use them in curries, salads, or turn them into creamy hummus!
100 g of chickpeas contain 19 g of vegan protein.
Eating Insects As a Source of Protein
Did you know that insects can be an even more efficient source of protein than animals? Learn more about eating insects as environmentally friendly protein in our blog post!
Top 6 High Protein Meals
High protein breakfast ideas, an extra source of protein for lunch, or a healthy protein-rich dinner: We have the best six recipes for you.
High Protein Breakfast Ideas
Super Power Protein Smoothie
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day: It sets you up for the day’s endeavors, and it really makes a difference in your overall mental focus and energy level.
Good to know:
You don’t need any protein powder for this recipe as it contains Greek yogurt as your source of protein.
Ingredients (1 serving):
- 240 ml of unsweetened vanilla almond milk (you can also use low-fat or non-fat milk, coconut milk, or simply water)
- 200 g of non-fat Greek yogurt
- 125 g of frozen mixed berries
- 20 g of frozen spinach
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 banana
Mix all ingredients in a blender until all ingredients are combined to desired consistency.
1 serving has 22 g protein, 7 g fat, 55 g carbs, and 330 calories.
Spinach and Cheese Omelet
A spinach and cheese omelet is a tasty, high protein breakfast idea to kick-start your day and boost your energy. If you’re not really into spinach, you can replace it with another veggie of your choice.
Ingredients (1 serving):
- 2 large eggs
- ½ Tbsp butter
- 1 Tbsp tomato, finely chopped
- 10g baby spinach leaves, fresh
- 1 Tbsp low-fat cheddar cheese, grated
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Mix the eggs in a bowl with some salt and pepper. Heat the butter in a small, non-stick pan. Add spinach and tomatoes, then sauteé for about 1 minute. Save on a plate and put it aside.
- Heat the pan again, add the eggs and fry for about 20 seconds. Move the pan slightly to allow the more liquid parts of the egg to become solid, then add cheese and spinach. Reduce the heat slightly and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Fold the omelet in half and continue to cook for another 10 to 30 seconds.
- Serve immediately.
1 serving has 15g protein, 13g fat, 2g carbs, and 190 calories.
Rich in Protein Lunch Ideas
Sweet Potato and Chickpea Burger
The sweet potato and chickpea burger is meat-free, but still super savory and also rich in protein, potassium, vitamin A and C, and fiber.
Ingredients (6 servings):
- 1½ lbs sweet potatoes, cooked and diced
- ½ onion, diced
- 1 can chickpeas
- 1 tsp masala powder
- 150g peas, frozen
- 6 whole wheat burger buns
- 6 slices low-fat cheddar cheese
- Salt to taste
- Preheat your oven to 200°C / 390°F.
- Put the sweet potatoes, chickpeas, masala powder, onion, and salt in a food processor.
- Mix until everything has blended well together.
- Then, add the peas and form 6-8 patties.
- Fry the patties in a pan for 2 to 3 minutes, then put them into the oven.
- Bake the patties with the cheese slices on top for the last 2 minutes until melted.
- Serve the sweet potato and chickpea patties together with the buns.
- Optional: Serve the patties with fresh vegetables & a salad.
1 serving has 20g protein, 11g fat, 63g carbs, and 424 calories.
Tomato and Lentil Soup
This delicious tomato and lentil soup make for a great, light lunch. The lentils provide important proteins and will keep you full for a long time.
Prepare more soup at once and put a few servings in the freezer so that you’ll always have a healthy meal ready to go with minimal prep.
Ingredients (4 servings):
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp cilantro
- 150g lentils, red or yellow
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 700ml vegetable stock
- 450ml water
- 1 can of diced tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the olive oil in a pan and sauteé onions, garlic, celery, and carrots.
- Season with cumin and cilantro, then add lentils and tomato paste. Add vegetable stock, water, tomatoes, and the bay leaf, then season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let everything simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. Pureé the soup until it reaches a creamy consistency.
- Season with salt & pepper and serve immediately.
- Tip: Let cool before deep-freezing.
1 serving has 12g protein, 4g fat, 38g carbs, and 235 calories.
Healthy Protein Dinner Ideas
Rice Noodle Salad with Coconut Lime Dressing
A colorful rice noodle salad with a fruity and sweet coconut lime dressing enhanced with the flavor and bright colors of fresh mango and red bell peppers.
Ingredients (6 servings):
- 60g rice noodles
- 100g smoked tofu, cubed
- 2½ Tbsp coconut milk
- 2½ tsp lime juice, freshly squeezed
- 1 Tbsp thistle oil
- ½ mango, cubed
- ½ bell pepper, cut into strips
- ½ cucumber, cut into strips
- ½ avocado, cubed
- 2 Tbsp cilantro, freshly cut
- 1 Tbsp cashews, roasted
- Salt to taste
- Cook the noodles according to package directions and let drain.
- Mix coconut milk, lime juice, oil, and salt in a bowl.
- Mix noodles, tofu, mango, paprika, cucumber, and avocado cubes with the cashews, then top with cilantro and the dressing.
- Serve immediately.
1 serving has 14g protein, 22g fat, 45g carbs, and 410 calories.
High Protein Veggie Chili
Are you looking for a vegetarian protein bomb? Then try this delicious vegetarian chili made with black soybeans and textured soy. The mushrooms and tomatoes add a touch of freshness. You won’t miss the meat, promise!
Ingredients (8 servings):
- 100g shiitake mushrooms, dried
- 550ml hot water
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, cut into strips
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, chopped
- 600g black soybeans, cooked
- 400g pumpkin, diced
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 150g textured soy
- 2 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp salt, to taste
- Soak the mushrooms in a bowl with warm water for about 30 minutes.
- Scoop the mushrooms out, then strain the liquid through a colander. Save the liquid and put it aside.
- Remove stems from the mushrooms, then cut them into slices.
- Heat olive oil in a large frying pan, then add the onions, carrots, garlic, and ginger. Cook for 12 minutes, stirring constantly. Then, add the mushrooms, strained liquid, soybeans, tomatoes, textured soy, and chili powder and bring to a boil. Season with salt and let simmer for about 20 minutes.
1 serving has 21g protein, 8g fat, 35g carbs, and 279 calories.
Takeaway: The 7 Best Protein Tips
- Make sure to get protein before and after your workout
- Cover your protein needs primarily with natural foods
- Supplements are no substitute for a balanced diet
- Do not exceed your protein needs – be careful with supplements
- Protein powder is not absolutely necessary
- If you consume protein powder, choose one based on your needs
- Make sure the powder is pure and is good quality
Do you pay special attention to your protein intake? What are your favorite protein foods? Leave us a comment below.