If you're already filling your diet with chicken, beef, and salmon, you're off to a great start when it comes to getting the best protein you need to get that little extra buff. And throwing in a few beans into the mix for a kick of plant-based protein is an added bonus.
But just as you shouldn't be doing the same lifts every workout, you shouldn't be relying on the same old protein foods to sustain full-force muscle growth. Because experimenting with some surprising alternative proteins can not only add a new nutritional twist to your diet, but also add flair to your menu that has gone, so to speak, dated. (Seriously, who gets stoked by another dinner of dried-out chicken breasts?) Interestingly, a Cornell study found that people who were more adventurous eaters tended to maintain more physical activity and also were more concerned about the nutritional quality of their food.
So get ready to take your physique and culinary skills to the next level with these exciting new high-protein foods (in no particular order) that you'll want to add to your shopping list and be sure to flaunt on Insta.
Best Protein #1: Sablefish
Protein power: 15 grams cooked in 3 ounces
Sure, canned salmon and canned tuna are great catches when it comes to providing the protein you need to build muscle like a champ, but consider casting your line more often for that overlooked swimmer. Floating on the ocean floor in the frigid waters of the rth Pacific, sablefish (also known as black cod) is blessed with a highly flavorful buttery meat that provides a boatload of quality protein and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
On this point, when it comes to omega-3 fatty acids, the coalfish is pounding the salmon fin-to-fin. And that's remarkable when you consider a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which found that people with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood were more likely to live longer and healthier lives. Far from being a two-hit wonder, the deep-dwelling sablefish also brings to the table an array of vital micronutrients, including phosphorus, selenium, and niacin. And not to be overlooked, Monterey Bay Aquariums' acclaimed Seafood Watch conservation program gives US wild-caught sablefish high-water marks for being a sustainable choice given their well-managed fisheries.
Eat more: Similar to other white-fleshed fish like halibut and tilapia, redfish fillets can be steamed, grilled, poached, pan seared, or thrown on the grill. Luckily, its high fat content makes sablefish forgiving for the novice cook because all that fat acts as a buffer against overcooking. Ergo, your chances of ending up with fish jerky are much lower. It works amazingly well with all types of salsas, glazes, marinades, and spiced rubs. Great in tacos too.
Have to know: High oil content means coalfish don't have a long shelf life, so finding a fresh catch isn't always easy. Knowing this, ask your fishmonger about frozen cuts, which are also high quality and can be cheaper, not to mention they're available year-round.
Best Protein #2: Tempeh
protein power: 20 grams in 3 ounces
Are you trying to eat more plants? Who isn't these days. A good place to start, like everyone, is with tempeh. , not tofu, we mean tempeh. It's made when whole soybeans are soaked, boiled, fermented with a fungus, and then pressed into a firm, dense patty that has a great earthy umami flavor with hints of nut flavor.
Compared to tofu, tempeh provides about 60% more protein in one serving. That's a big step up and almost equals the amount of protein you would get from a piece of chicken breast. So the belief that plants are protein soft is certainly not the case with tempeh. It should also be commended for its hefty amounts of fiber, 10 grams in a serving cup. It's worth noting that very few American men meet their daily fiber needs. This is a big problem considering the important role fiber plays in heart health, digestive function, stabilizing blood sugar levels and improving the gut microbiome.
There are very few foods on the market that can better meet your protein and fiber needs at once than tempeh. Recent research suggests that the fermentation process that leads to the creation of foods like tempeh allows for better bioavailability of their nutrients, a measure of how easily your body can absorb certain nutrients in a food like iron, calcium and magnesium, which are found in Tempeh are included. Tempeh also appeals to consumers who don't have an appetite for the sophisticated plant-based products like meatless burgers and faux chicken nuggets that are now everywhere.
Eat more: You can buy tempeh plain flavored or with added flavors like maple or teriyaki. Lightlife is an excellent branded option. Since it absorbs flavors like sauces and condiments well, try marinating plain tempeh slabs like steak and other proteins and then grilling, baking, pan frying, or dicing and then frying. Use cooked tempeh in cereal bowls, salads, sandwiches, and tacos. Or crumble a block with the big holes of a box grater (or finely chop with a knife) and use the crust to make a meatless chili, plant-based meatballs, veggie burger, or meatless bolognese for pasta night.
Have to know: Since tempeh is made from soybeans, if you have a soy allergy you will most likely have to stay away from it.
Best Protein #3: Chickpea Pasta
protein power: 13 grams in 2 ounces
Think pasta, but with a lot more protein and fewer starchy carbs. An example of processed foods that can work in your favor. This modern pasta is made by drying chickpeas, grinding them into flour, and then forming them into noodles of various shapes.
Depending on the brand, chickpea noodles can provide nearly twice the protein of regular noodles and even more than most other gluten-free rice noodles on the market. This makes the pasta much better at helping you build your muscle mass and much less likely to send your blood sugar on a rollercoaster ride. And the latest research suggests that getting most of it from plant sources is perfectly acceptable when it comes to building new muscle, as long as you're getting enough total protein in your diet.
An analysis of data from more than 30 studies published in JAMA Internal Medicine linked higher protein intake overall, and plant protein in particular, to a lower risk of all-cause mortality. Another plus: up to 3 times more fiber than wheat-based pasta. This, in turn, can set you up for fewer post-meal hunger pangs and also improved blood sugar levels, making you feel less sluggish after a big meal. You'll also get extra amounts of vital micronutrients like magnesium, iron, and potassium, which are found in abundance in chickpeas.
Best of all, the manufacturers have worked hard to ensure that the textures of their cooked products wouldn't make an Italian grandma cringe. Two excellent branded options are Chickapea and Banza.
Eat more: Anywhere regular pasta goes, the chickpea version can go too — doused in meat sauce, made into pasta salads, used in soups, baked in pasta casseroles, you name it.
Have to know: There are a few important things to keep in mind when preparing chickpea-based pasta. Most notably, they can go from perfectly al dente to mushy in moments, so the taste test often comes close to the recommended cooking time. The noodles will also foam like crazy in boiling water, so skim this off with a spoon as needed as it cooks. Unlike wheat noodles, these should be rinsed with cold water after draining.
Best Protein #4: Beef Heart
protein power: 20 grams in 4 ounces
OK, we admit, this is the joker of the bunch. But listen to us. While many people balk at the very thought of slicing organ meat, smart people see it as an opportunity to cheaply upgrade their diet (less appetizing to the masses often means a lower price). Worth far more than being ground into animal feed, beef heart can pump your body full of nutrients, including high protein, vitamin B12, iron and the powerful antioxidant selenium.
In all honesty, beef heart can be more nutritious than most other cuts of beef at the butcher. And in this new era of rising food prices, it's good to have food options that offer more nutrients for your money. Remember that a cow's heart is a constantly functioning organ. Because of this, it's always exercised, which means it's pretty much pure muscle and very little fat. Four grams of beef heart has 20 grams of protein for 119 calories and barely a gram of saturated fat.
And take this to heart: Cow heart doesn't taste as strong as other offal like liver, and is easy to work with in the kitchen as it has a similar flavor and texture to more common steaks. (Beef tongue? t so much.)
Eat more: Before preparation, cut off white connective tissue. Because it's so lean, it's best to thinly slice a beef heart and then quickly cook the slices over high heat to no more than medium-rare that's browned around the edges but still a little crimson in the center is. You can also skewer slices and grill kabob style. Eat the heart meat on its own or stuff it into sandwiches, salads and tacos.
Have to know: You probably won't find beef heart along with other shrink-wrapped meat at the grocery store. So the best way to get hold of this high-protein red meat is to ask a local butcher to set one aside for you if they're processing a cow. A beef heart is about a pound of meat, which should make up about three servings.