Protein Payout: 2 tablespoons, 191 calories, 7 grams of protein
This creamy spread is downright addictive. While eating too much peanut butter can wreak havoc on your waistline, a standard two-tablespoon serving provides a solid dose of muscle-building protein and healthy fats. According to a 2014 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consuming peanuts can prevent both cardiovascular and coronary artery disease — the most common type of heart condition. Look for the unsalted, no sugar added varieties without hydrogenated oils to reap the most benefits. If you’re tired of plain old PB&J sandwiches, try stirring the spread into hot oatmeal, smearing it on fresh produce, or blending it into your post-workout smoothie.
Protein Payout: 1 cup, 112 calories, 4.2 g protein
The highest-protein fruit, guava packs more than 4 grams per cup, along with 9 grams of fiber and only 112 calories. With 600 percent of your DV of Vitamin C per cup — the equivalent of more than seven medium oranges!
Protein Payout: 1 cup, 118 calories, 8 g protein
It’s enough to make Popeye do a spit take: Despite their wimpy reputation, a cup of green peas contains eight times the protein of a cup of spinach. And with almost 100 percent of your daily value of vitamin C in a single cup, they’ll help keep your immune system up to snuff. Layer them into a mason jar salad or add them to an omelet to boost eggs’ satiating power.
Protein Payout: 4 oz strip steak, 133 calories, 26 g protein
When it comes to steak or burgers, go grass-fed. It may ding your wallet, but it’ll dent your abs. Grass-fed beef is naturally leaner and has fewer calories than conventional meat: A lean seven-ounce conventional strip steak has 386 calories and 16 grams of fat. But a seven-ounce grass-fed strip steak has only 234 calories and five grams of fat. Grass-fed meat also contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, according to a study published in Nutrition Journal, which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
LIGHT CANNED TUNA
Protein Payout: 3 oz, 73 calories, 16 g protein
Tuna or to-not? That is the question. As a primo source of protein and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), canned light tuna is one of the best and most affordable fish for weight loss, especially from your belly! One study in the Journal of Lipid Research showed that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation had the profound ability to turn off abdominal fat genes. And while you’ll find two types of fatty acids in cold water fish and fish oils—DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—researchers say DHA can be 40 to 70 percent more effective than EPA at down-regulating fat genes in the abdomen, preventing belly fat cells from expanding in size. But what about the mercury? Mercury levels in tuna vary by species; generally speaking, the larger and leaner the fish, the higher the mercury level. Bluefin and albacore rank among the most toxic, according to a study in Biology Letters. But canned chunk light tuna, harvested from the smallest fish, is considered a “low mercury fish” and can–and should!–be enjoyed two to three times a week (or up to 12 ounces), according to the FDA’s most recent guidelines.
Protein Payout: 3 oz. cooked breast, 142 calories, 26 g protein
A 3 oz. cooked chicken breast contains only 142 calories and 3 grams of fat, but packs a whopping 26 grams of protein — more than half of the day’s recommended allowance. But the go-to protein can be a fail on the taste front. (Our casual poll on the taste of plain breast elicited answers ranging from “air you cut with a knife” to “wet sock.”) The good news: With just a little creativity, you can make it a savory post-gym dinner.
Protein Payout: 1 egg, 85 calories, 7 g protein
Eggs might just be the easiest, cheapest and most versatile way to up your protein intake. Beyond easily upping your daily protein count, each 85-calorie eggs packs a solid 7 grams of the muscle-builder! Eggs also boost your health: They’re loaded with amino acids, antioxidants, and iron. Don’t just reach for the whites, though; the yolks boast a fat-fighting nutrient called choline, so opting for whole eggs can actually help you trim down. When you’re shopping for eggs, pay attention to the labels. You should be buying organic, when possible. These are certified by the USDA and are free from antibiotics, vaccines, and hormones. As for color, that’s your call. The difference in color just varies based on the type of chicken—they both have the same nutritional value, says Molly Morgan, RD, a board certified sports specialist dietitian based in upstate New York.
2% GREEK YOGURT
Protein Payout: 7 oz, 150 calories, 20 g protein
Yogurt may be one of your key allies in weight-loss efforts. A study printed in the Journal of Nutrition found that probiotics like the ones found in creamy, delicious yogurt helped obese women lose nearly twice the weight compared to those who did not consume probiotics. Both sets of subjects were on low-calorie diets, but after 12 weeks, the probiotic poppers lost an average of 9.7 pounds, while those on placebos lost only 5.7. Bonus: the subjects who were given the good bacteria continued to lose weight even after an additional 12 weeks, an average of 11.5 pounds to be accurate! The group that didn’t get the probiotic boost? They maintained their 5.7-pound initial loss but didn’t trim down further. The good bacteria in probiotics can help ramp up your metabolism and improve your immune system, but it pays to be picky about your sources. Yogurt’s a great way to get a.m. protein and probiotics, but to get the healthiest yogurt you’ll have to read labels; most are packed with added sugars that exceed their protein levels.
Protein Payout: 8 oz, 110 calories, 8 g protein
Organically raised cows are not subject to the same hormones and antibiotics that conventional cows are; no antibiotics for them means no antibiotics for you. Grass fed cows have been shown to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids (good) and two to five times more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) than their corn and grain fed counterparts. CLA contains a group of chemicals which provides a wide variety of health benefits, including immune and inflammatory system support, improved bone mass, improved blood sugar regulation, reduced body fat, reduced risk of heart attack, and maintenance of lean body mass. While skim milk may be lowest in calories, many vitamins are fat-soluble, which means you won’t get all the benefits of the alphabetical nutrients listed on your cereal box unless you opt for at least 1%.
Protein Payout: 1 oz, 164 calories, 6 g protein
Think of each almond as a natural weight-loss pill. Combined with a calorie-restricted diet, consuming a little more than a quarter-cup of the nuts can decrease weight more effectively than a snack comprised of complex carbohydrates and safflower oil—after just two weeks! (And in this study of overweight and obese patients, after 24 weeks, those who ate the nuts experienced a 62 percent greater reduction in weight and BMI!) For optimal results, eat your daily serving before you hit the gym. Almonds, rich in the amino acid L-arginine, can actually help you burn more fat and carbs during workouts, a study printed in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found.
When it comes to vegetarian favorites, lentils are the George Clooney of the group: They’ve been around forever, but that doesn’t make them any less desirable. And for good reason: These flavorful beans are packed with B vitamins, folate, as well as fiber (1 cup accounts for more than half of your daily needs) and—yes, you guessed it—protein. And just like good ole George, lentils have a significant effect on your heart. Research shows that adding beans to your diet could help to lower your blood pressure and improve overall heart health.
Protein amount: 18 grams per cup
Prep tip: Resist the urge to add salt or any other acidic items to your lentils until after the beans are done cooking. That way the lentils stay perfectly crunchy and avoid any potential mushiness.
The little chickpea (also known as the garbanzo bean) has one impressive résumé. Not only are they a protein powerhouse, these legumes are also brimming with hunger-fighting fiber. The best part of all? Research has shown that including ¾ cup of these beans on a daily basis can help cut your LDL or bad cholesterol.
Protein amount: 14 grams per cup
Prep tip: Celiacs, rejoice! The benefits of chickpeas don’t end with the bean itself. Chickpea flour is a wheat alternative that’s gluten-free and brimming with protein.