The underrated ingredients and foods that boost your gains and expand your palate
If you’re an active guy and mindful of the food you use to fuel your fitness, then you’re no doubt aware of quality protein sources. You stock up regularly on salmon, thick cuts of steaks and plenty of chicken breasts and thighs. But that same old food routine can get a little monotonous. A man can only eat so many eggs and tubs of whey powder only comes in so many flavors. If you’re looking to break out of a nutrition rut, or simply up your protein intake while expanding your palate, we’ve consulted some experts to round up ten uncommon but very satisfying sources of protein. Start making your grocery list now.
You don’t need to munch on dried crickets to get the benefit of these nutrient-rich insects. When ground into flour or protein powder, it’s easy to add into smoothies, muffins or veggie burgers. Dr. Christopher Mohr, a sports nutritionist who’s worked with top NFL and college teams, recommends them “because insects are a very high quality source of protein,” he says. “And it’s a complete protein, providing all the essential amino acids.” Just two tablespoons of the flour offers up 10 grams of protein.
If you want to take a break from your standard seafood or shellfish, try some mollusks like oysters. An impressive source of lean animal protein, one eight-ounce serving of oysters yields about 18 grams of protein, or about 35% of your daily recommended intake. They’re also a great source of iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. Shoot them raw or try the canned smoked oysters as a snack or mixed into pasta.
A cup of indulgent ‘choke hearts contains 4 grams of protein. Skip all the peeling and trimming by utilizing frozen, jarred or even canned varieties. Throw some on top of salads or snack on them solo. You could also put a few in a blender with a little Greek yogurt, lemon and garlic for a creamy, healthy dip for veggies or pita bread.
You know soy has plenty of protein. But have you ever had soy beans like this? If you're tired of snacking on standard nuts, much on a handful of roasted edamame. Salty and crunchy, they have a rich, nutty flavor and boast 11 grams of soy protein along with six grams of hunger-fighting fiber in each 100-calorie serving.
Spinach delivers 5 grams of protein per cooked cup. Collard greens and Swiss chard ring in just under at 4 grams. Steam them in the microwave and pause in a food processor with garlic and the nut of your choice for a vitamin-rich, protein-packed pesto sauce. Add the leaves to your salads or stir in a few handful to any soup to add a protein boost.
Ounce for ounce, peanuts are one of the most protein-dense nuts. When you're on the go, rip open the top of a single-serve squeeze pack and eat the butter right from the pouch. Trust us, it's very satisfying. For more of a sit-down snack, smear some of the sweet and salty spread onto a sliced apple. A two-ounce serving promises 14 grams of protein and a helping of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Just make sure to reach for the natural variety with little to no added sugar.
Lentils, like beans, pack a lot of protein in a little package. For reference, just one egg has about seven grams of protein, but one cup of lentils has 18 grams. The nutrient-dense legumes are also rich in polyphenols, iron, calcium, magnesium, and fiber. Simple to cook, they don't require soaking like beans and are easy to incorporate into soups and salads. Swap this affordable protein in for any recipe that calls for ground meat.
Want to get really paleo about your protein? Try adding spirulina to your diet. The nutrient-rich algae is the superfood of the sea. Per dried weight, spirulina is one of the densest sources of complete protein on the planet - three times more complete than beef. It’s often sold as a deep green - colored powder or a tablet as a dietary supplement. Stir the powder into a smoothie or add it to brownie batters. Just know that whatever it’s added to will change colors to a deep, dark green.
Often overlooked as a simple side, a cup of green peas packs a whopping 8 grams of protein - more than any other vegetable. While pea protein powders have recently gained popularity, Dr. Mohr suggests eating them dried as a snack or adding them to a meal, such as a salad or pasta, to reap the nutritional benefits. Try to find them fresh at the farmers market or buy them frozen (they’re usually sweeter and more nutritious since they’re flash-frozen at the peak of freshness).
Those green seeds known as “pepitas" aren’t just crunchy and nutty, they’re also loaded with antioxidants and a decent amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids and potassium, as well as vitamin E. A 1/4-cup serving clocks in around 9 grams of protein. Sprinkle them on top of oatmeal or yogurt at breakfast. And come dinner, mix them into hearty grains like quinoa or farro for stuffing an acorn squash or bell pepper.* FYI: Brian St. Pierre, RD, director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition, says athletes might need to consume more than previously thought to maintain their fitness levels. He suggests men eat six to eight palm-sized portions of protein a day to stay in peak shape.