Protein from animal sources contains all of the essential amino acids that the body needs for recovery and protein synthesis. Good choices of meat protein include skinless, boneless poultry (chicken and turkey), and lean cuts of red meat such as round, chuck, sirloin or tenderloin. Besides being packed with protein, they’re good sources of B vitamins, iron and zinc. They also contain the important nutrient creatine, which can help drive energy levels in muscle cells.
Fish is a staple in the bodybuilding diet, especially when it comes to contest season. This very high-quality protein contains good-for-you fats found in the oils of fish, which offer great health benefits, including keeping the bad (LDL) cholesterol in check, and the good (HDL) cholesterol elevated. Stay away from scavenger species and shellfish, which have higher toxin levels. Stick to fin fish such as tuna, orange roughy, tilapia, cod, sole and salmon. Most fish fillets or steaks provide 22 grams of protein per 3.5-ounce serving, while a 6-ounce can of tuna provides 40 grams.
Red meat is high in iron and vitamin B12, which helps keep nerve and blood cells healthy. It also contains zinc, which not only is important to immune health but also is involved in maintenance of testosterone levels, as well as many other metabolic processes. For inclusion in a bodybuilding diet, stick to lean cuts including sirloin, tenderloin, or round eye. Generally, meats are labelled lean if they contain less than 10 grams of total fat per 3-ounce piece and approximately 22 grams of protein.
Two of the most popular choices for bodybuilding are turkey and chicken. With either option, it should be noted that the white meat, particularly the breast, is the choice source. Additionally, the meat should be eaten without skin, as this is primarily where the fat lies. Turkey is naturally low in fat, containing 1 gram of fat per ounce. A 5-ounce serving provides almost half of the recommended daily allowance of folic acid and is a good source of vitamins B1, B6, zinc and potassium. These nutrients have been found to keep blood cholesterol down; protect against birth defects, cancer and heart disease; aid in nerve function and growth; boost the immune system; regulate blood pressure and assist in healing processes. Chicken is considered a very good source of protein, providing 30 grams of protein per 3.5 ounces. It’s also a very good source of B3 (niacin) and B6, which help support energy metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates into usable forms of energy. Niacin can also support regulation of blood sugar levels, helping to optimize insulin levels. Vitamin B6 is essential for the body’s processing of carbohydrate (sugar and starch), especially the breakdown of glycogen, the form in which sugar is stored in muscle cells and to a lesser extent in the liver. A 4-ounce serving of chicken supplies 72 percent of the daily value for niacin and 32 percent of the daily value for vitamin B6. Chicken is also a good source of selenium, which is an essential component of several major metabolic pathways, including thyroid hormone metabolism, antioxidant and immune function.
Milk is considered a complete protein, and is a good addition to a whey protein shake. One cup of skim milk contains 8 grams of protein and just 90 calories. Milk is rich in all the essential nutrients that are vital for the health of our bones and teeth including vitamins, minerals, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, vitamin A, and the B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin and nicotinic acid.
Whey is the ultimate protein in terms of quality and bioavailability and contains the highest proportion of BCAAs, which are needed to build muscle tissue. Whey protein is extremely fast-digesting protein and highly soluble, making it great for after a workout to restore protein synthesis. In fact, studies have shown that whey protein can stimulate anabolism after working out. Whey protein can be used as a source of protein for a quick meal or can be added to almost any food to supplement your protein needs.
Casein is a rich and slow-digesting protein source that supports immune function and muscle growth. Research conducted on casein protein has demonstrated it to sustain steady amino acid levels for up to seven hours after ingestion, making this protein an excellent choice for preventing muscle breakdown.
Cottage cheese is unlike most other cheeses, which are strictly off the list when it comes to bodybuilding. Cottage cheese is very high in protein and low in calories. One-half cup of fat-free cottage cheese contains 15 grams of protein, and one-third cup of regular cottage cheese contains 9 grams of protein.
Yogurt is made from milk that has been cultured with bacteria. This dairy product has all the nutritive value of milk and is easier to digest and offers good-for-you bacteria such as acidophilus and lactobacillus, which are beneficial to your digestive system. They can help your body make important vitamins, principally vitamin K, as well as some of the B-complex vitamins. These good bacteria are important in fighting certain infections as well as in helping to maintain proper elimination. One cup of non-fat yogurt provides approximately 8 grams of protein per serving.
Eggs and egg whites are considered the perfect protein source and generally are used as the standard against which to measure the quality of all other protein sources. Eggs do contain cholesterol, but they also contain lecithin, which helps to prevent fats from accumulating on the walls of the arteries. They also contain approximately 13 essential vitamins and minerals, including folate and vitamin D. Whole eggs should be eaten in moderation, while egg whites are a great alternative packed with just protein. One half cup of egg whites provides 24 grams of protein and zero grams of fat!
Legumes may not be not a typical protein selection when it comes to bodybuilding but can provide many nutrients, including protein, complex carbs, B vitamins, iron, phytochemicals, potassium, magnesium and calcium, and are a good meat alternative. This vegetable class includes beans, peas and lentils. Generally speaking, legumes provide between 7 to 10 grams of protein per half cup, are low in fat, are high in fiber and contain no cholesterol. It should be noted that, with the exception of soy, this source of protein is not considered complete, which means that legumes do not contain all the essential amino acids needed, and therefore are not a preferred source of protein for bodybuilders. Additionally, bodybuilders and athletes have unique needs and increased metabolic requirements for amino acids such as tyrosine, methionine, lysine and carnitine, which serve as building blocks for stress hormones and energy compounds; these specific aminos are often deficient in certain legumes. There are some ways to balance out the amino acid profile. Combining two incomplete sources of vegetable protein such as rice and beans can provide you with the full complement of essential amino acids.
Soy is a great protein alternative to animal choices and even great for those who have allergies to lactose. Soy protein contains saponins, which have been shown to support healthy immune system function, and isoflavones, which have been shown to help maintain good cholesterol levels and reduce bad cholesterol levels. This derivative of soy has also been shown to improve bone retention. Soy protein is also low in fat and contains other healthy compounds such as phytates that can act as antioxidants. Protein powder made from ground, roasted soybean can deliver all the benefits soy has to offer.