List of High-Protein Foods

List of the best high protein foods to become leaner, stronger, & healthier

Back when I was dangerously underweight, and I was totally in the dark about nutrition, I thought eggs were a high protein food. But later I found out that eggs are actually around 60% fat and 30% protein in terms of calories. They’re a high-fat food.

Don’t get me wrong. Eggs are incredibly healthy and full of essential vitamins and minerals and can be quite great for building muscle, and it seems to have remarkable properties when it comes to building muscle (study).

But it’s critical to understand the subtle difference between “this food has protein in it” and “this is a high protein food.”

When talking about a high protein food, we mean there is a high amount of protein in the food relative to fats and carbs.

Knowing what foods are high in protein is crucial if you’re aiming to:

  • Become leaner by burning fat. The reason why is because as you eat less calories, you’ll naturally get less protein. You’ll need to eat many high-protein foods to keep your strength as you burn fat.
  • Become stronger by building muscle. If you’re bulking, it’ll be easier to hit your protein goals compared to when burning fat. But eating high-protein foods is still a good idea because it may help make your gains leaner.
  • Become healthier in the short-term and long-term. This is because by eating high-protein foods you can better fix any amino acid deficiencies. And in the long-term, eating high-protein foods will help you keep your strength and become anti-fragile and resilient.

We’ll cover even more details below but here’s the list to get started:


A simplified ranking of high-protein foods

First, let’s get the big picture of what foods are high in protein. It could be generally broken down to something like this (keep scrolling to see the full list of the top 100 foods):

  1. Protein powder
  2. Non-oily fish (especially dried to remove the water content)
  3. Game meat (with the fat trimmed off)
  4. Beef & veal (with the fat trimmed off)
  5. Chicken
  6. Turkey
  7. Oily fish
  8. Pork products like pork chops, bacon, ham, etc.
  9. Low-fat milk products like
    • Parmesan cheese
    • cottage cheese
  10. Roasted soy beans

Top non-meat protein foods

  1. Whey Isolate Protein (MyProtein Impact Whey, for example)
  2. Soy protein powder
  3. Vegan Protein Powder (Garden of Life, for example)
  4. Parmesan cheese topping (too hard to eat a lot of this though)
  5. Roasted soy beans
  6. Under 30g of protein per 100g:
    • Roasted pumpkin, squash seeds, and peanuts
    • Swiss & Provolone cheese (again, hard to eat a lot of this)
    • Butternuts (had to look this up, related to the walnut)
    • Muenster, cheddar, and mozzarella cheese
    • Black beans
    • Mexican cheese
    • Blue cheese
    • Roasted almonds and almond butter
    • Sunflower seeds
    • Tofu
    • Quaker Puffed Wheat

Plant-based proteins and digestibility

There is something researchers call protein quality. It is a scoring of how effectively our bodies can digest and use the protein in the food. In the case of meat, eggs, and cheese, the protein quality is quite high, and our bodies can digest it easily.

But for plant-based sources like oats, puffed wheat, and beans—it can be harder for our bodies to process. The protein quality score is often lower. So what you see listed on the packaging may not line up with what your body gets.

Take these two studies for example (study, study) and using the DIAAS protein quality scoring, here’s a few:

Protein Quality Score, Best Proteins

Some of these foods are so easy to digest that they’re off the charts. Others, we can’t get the full amount of protein out of, so you may need to eat more of them for your body to get the same equivalent of protein.

Plant-based proteins don’t score as well because they’re harder to digest. So if you depend on plant-based proteins for reaching your protein goals, you may need to eat even more. But there’s hope since researchers think digestive enzymes could help make these proteins more easily digestible in the future. (study)

Fish is an amazing source of protein and other healthy nutrients

The top 100 high protein foods

Per 100g. Sourced from the Government of Canada Nutrient File (we found the USDA Database had a couple weird anomaly’s in it’s scoring when double-checking their scores):

FoodProtein (g) per 100g
Whey Protein Isolate (MyProtein data from LabDoor)88
Soy protein isolate81
Game meat, dried moose79
Fish, dried steelhead trout77
Vegan Raw Protein (Garden of Life data from Labdoor)71
Fish, dried arctic char69
Fish, dried whitefish67
Fish, dried atlantic cod63
Game meat, dried caribou62
Snacks, pork skins61
Fish, smoked sockeye salmon with skin61
Fish, herring eggs60
Fish, smoked cisco58
Snacks, pork skins, barbecue58
Seaweed, dried spirulina57
Fish, dried inconnu57
Fish, dried smelt56
Whelk (sea snail) boiled or steamed48
Fish, dried herring packed in oil45
Cheese, low-sodium parmesan42
Beef, eye of round, sirloin tip, inside, and outside steak (fat cut off)41
Fish, smoked king or chinook salmon40
Soybeans, dried & roasted40
Veal, cutlets38
Beef, cross rib roast and steaks, and stewing beef38
Veal, leg37
Game meat, deer (venison)36
Seaweed, dried dulse (laver, nori)36
Veal, shank36
Pork, cured bacon36
Roasted Soybean kernels35
Beef, various cuts of steak and roast35
Veal, rib34
Beef, flank and blade steak, blade and round roast34
Veal, blade steak34
New Zealand Lamb, shoulder34
Veal, sirloin34
Game meat, bison34
Emu, full rump, cooked, broiled34
Chicken breast33
Turkey breast33
New Zealand Lamb, foreshank33
Veal, loin chop33
Beef jerky33
Turkey, light meat only33
Chicken, light meat33
Pork, centre cut loin33
Hemp seeds (hulled)33
Beef, New York striploin, and tenderloin33
Cuttlefish boiled or steamed32
Pheasant32
Emu, drum32
Beef, rib and top round roast32
Beef, T-bone steak (porterhouse)32
Turkey drumstick32
Veal, various cuts32
Cheese, romano32
Cheese, non-fat mozzarella32
Fish, smoked sturgeon31
Pork, sirloin and tenderloin chop31
Beef, extra lean ground31
Pork, various cuts31
Cheese, goat, hard31
Game meat, rabbit30
Roasted/dried Pumpkin and squash seeds30
Pork, centre cut (centre chop)30
Game meat, bison30
Game meat, elk30
Veal, various cuts (including fat)30
Turkey, all parts30
Duck30
Fish, fresh bluefin tuna30
Beef, ground, medium, patty, pan-fried30
Octopus, boiled or steamed30
Cheese, gruyere30
Turkey, dark meat only30
Beef, brisket30
Fish, yellowtail30
Beef, ground, lean, patty, pan-fried30
New Zealand Lamb, various cuts30
Turkey bacon29
Fish, Fresh Yellowfin tuna29
Fish, Canned Tuna in oil, drained29
Beef, Lean ground29
Chicken, dark meat29
Pork, cured breakfast strips29
Fish, canned anchovy with olive oil, drained29
Pork, various cuts29
Fish, roe29
Pork, back ribs (with fat)28
Cheese, swiss28
Cheese, parmesan28
Watermelon seeds28
Game meat, boar28
Fish, Skipjack tuna28
Cheese, low-fat monterey28
Game meat, horse, roasted28
Ostrich, various parts28
Oil-roasted Peanuts28
Sausage, Chorizo28

Here’s a couple of notes on how we processed the data:

  • We’re from Canada, eh? The Canadian list included many “Native” foods, and I suspect most people can’t get access to polar bear, Canada goose, bearded seal, beaver, narwhal, walrus, and beluga meat (which were all in the top 50). So I removed many of these super exotic foods that had the “Native” label.

  • We simplified the naming to make it more readable. So keep in mind that if it was beef or veal, the fat was cut off.

  • We added a couple of data points of protein powder supplements as measured from LabDoor. The reason why is so that we could see how a protein powder would compare to food.

  • We simplified this list to make it readable. For example, we removed items that were virtually duplicates, like different cuts of beef roasts with a similar score. Then we removed the raw meat foods from the list. We know that cooking can change the contents of a food a bit, and we wanted this list to be useful for what a regular person would eat. Then we removed weird additives—no one is eating sesame flour or egg substitute powder. Or… at least I hope no one is eating that. We also removed soups. Beef broth soup scored pretty high, with 75% protein in terms of calories. But that ignores the fact that most of it is water and it’s incredibly filling. So it’s not a good way to get a lot of total protein.

Keep in mind that this information is generalized. It doesn’t account for specific animals or specific processing types. In one study, researchers suspected that even just the way fish washing during processing could impact its nutrients. So this table above is only to get a general idea.

What does 100 grams of food look like?

A regular sized, uncooked 8oz steak is about 225g. Most meat and fish shrink around 25% in weight as the water inside evaporates. In this USDA analysis on cooking, I saw as low as 17% moisture lost and as high as 43% moisture lost when cooking beef. A good rule of thumb is to assume you’ll lose about 25% of its weight for meat. So an 8oz / 225g steak might shrink down to 169g.

So if a cooked beef eye of round steak has 41g of protein per 100g, then we multiply that by 1.69 to get to 169 grams, and that means the steak would have 69 grams of protein. Not bad for one serving!

Things to consider

Consider how much protein per gram is in it per 100g since that will tell you how easy it is to eat enough

Many non-oily fish (whitefish) and MyProtein Impact Whey Isolate almost scored identically for how lean of a protein it was. But it’ll be way harder (and more expensive) to get your protein from the fish. Why? Because you’ll need to chew and digest it. Chewing will fill you up, which is good when you’re trying to feel satisfied, but it’s bad when you’re trying to get lots of protein in. As common sense dictates, if you want to feel satisfied at dinner, eat some fish rather than drink a protein shake. But if you’re trying to increase your protein intake and you’re already full, have a protein shake.

Eat more fish for other health benefits

Things like omega-3 from oily fish had numerous health benefits, and it’s one of the hardest nutrients to find elsewhere. But those omega-3s are mainly only in the fatter, oily fish. But on the other hand, the lean non-oily fish (whitefish) don’t have as many contaminants like mercury or dioxins so you could eat them more often. Trying to eat both more often wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Eat a variety of protein sources

Each food has their own blend of other nutrients in them. For example, creatine is critical when it comes to brain health and other body processes. Having an abundance can even make you build muscle faster since you will be stronger in your workouts. (You can supplement with it, or try and eat foods with more creatine.) Fish and beef are the top scoring foods with creatine with pork, turkey, and chicken not far behind. (If you’d like to learn more about creatine, check out my article here on Bony to Beastly.)

The point is, not all foods have the same breakdown of other important nutrients, so it’s good to have some variety for health and performance.


Good questions

Why should you eat high protein foods?

Eating more protein will help you change your body by allowing you to keep your muscle as you burn fat, or allow you to build new muscle.

  • Because there’s no real way to store protein in your body (aside from your muscles), and your body needs protein to live, you will need to eat enough protein every day.
  • If you’re trying to lose weight and burn fat, eating more protein can help to curb your motivation to snack (study).
  • If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll need to eat an inhuman amount of protein to keep your strength as you cut calories. The problem is that research shows that how much protein you eat is linked to your total calorie intake. So many people fall into the yo-yo dieting trap, where they eat less to burn fat, then naturally eat less protein, then they get weaker. So then they start eating more again to feel better, and all the fat comes back. If you eat lean, high-protein foods, you can cut your calories while still eating enough protein to keep your muscle and strength.
  • If you’re trying to gain weight and build new muscle, because you’re eating a lot of calories, it’ll be a little easier to hit your protein goals. However, trying to focus on eating high-protein foods may help to keep your gains leaner since any extra protein you eat will mainly get burnt off as heat.
  • It’s good for your brain health, mood, depression, and fighting off diseases, and many people don’t eat enough. (study, study, article).

Isn’t too much protein bad for you?

There have been some rumours that too much protein can be bad for your kidneys. Dr. Eric Helms reviewed this rumour in the MASS (a research review paywall, vol. 2, issue 4). According to what the research says, it seems to indicate the opposite. Not only is eating a lot of protein not bad for your kidneys, but it seemed to be improving the health of the people studied. For most people, if you’re healthy, there seems to be no reason to be concerned. For example, one study tracked healthy people for two years eating a high protein diet. They found no changes in kidney or liver health markers.

Which high protein foods are good for burning fat?

Chewing more and eating foods with high water content is good when trying to lose weight. So almost any of the fish and meat are good options. If you’re trying to lose weight, you may want to cut off the fatty bits from the beef, pork, and chicken to reduce calories. You may also feel more satisfied after eating a big, chewy steak compared to eating a big burger, where the food is “pre-chewed,” and you can eat more before noticing you’re full.

If you’re trying to lose fat, you may want to consider intermittent fasting (check out our article here.) The most popular type of intermittent fasting right now is the 16/8 version, which is essentially cutting out one meal. That’d help you cut calories, and then in the first meal you break your fast with, you’d eat a super large portion of protein.

Which high protein foods are good for building muscle?

When it comes to building muscle, the most important detail of protein is getting enough.

So if you’re finding it hard to hit 0.8–1g of protein per ideal body weight (our boosted recommendation), then you may need to reverse what we wrote in the protein for fat-loss section.

If you want to eat more protein, choose a food source that has less chewing and less water naturally in it. So if your stomach is feeling stuffed and you need more protein, you might want to drink a protein shake. Even though there is water in that, there is no chewing so you can finish in a few seconds.

If you’ve got a small appetite, an easy way to eat more protein is to eat ground up protein. So eating things like burgers, chili’s, or a “Hamburger Helper” sort of meal (ground beef and noodles) could help you eat more protein because there is less chewing.

Eating protein more often will also help to build muscle because it will help since it will spike your muscle-protein synthesis more times (eating every 3-5 hours). If you’re a busy person on the go, sometimes having a homemade protein bar or a store-bought one like Quest could help you get enough protein.

What are good high-protein foods for breakfast?

What high protein foods are good for breakfast?

When you think about the traditional lumberjack breakfast, you could imagine them eating at least four eggs. Each egg has 7g of protein, so getting 28g of protein is not so bad, pretty good actually, and we saw above that eggs have an exceptional protein quality score. Alongside some pancakes, bacon, buttered toast, and whatever else, they’d have enough protein to stay strong and tons of energy from the calories to fuel their work.

The problem is that today, despite the level of flannel and beards we see around (guilty as charged), hardly any of us are real lumberjacks. Hardly any of us work a physically hard job. So eating that lumberjack breakfast might help us hit our protein goals, but if you’re trying to lose weight, that’d be a ton of extra calories so it’d be a bad start to the day.

When trying to lose weight, the problem isn’t so much the eggs, even though they’re not the highest protein foods, but all the other foods with tons of calories but limited protein like the buttered toast and pancakes.

The 21st century breakfast

The better breakfast would be having 4 eggs but as a lean omelette with peppers, garlic, and onions, with a side of fruit (which is not only healthy but low calorie). If you’re still feeling hungry without the buttered toast and pancakes, having oatmeal as a side is a good option since there is lots of fibre (healthy) and a bit of protein in that.

Smoothies make it easy to hit your protein goals, they’re quick to make, & can hide some greens

Other people like to make smoothies with fresh fruit and berries, some sort of greens, a bit of nut butter, and then add a super-lean protein powder. That way getting a lot of protein doesn’t feel heavy in the morning, like eating a steak would, while still getting 30+g of protein through the powder.

Honestly, getting a good protein for breakfast is a difficult question. Perhaps you can let us know what’s working for you in the comments section. But here’s what I do for breakfast…

  • When I’m gaining weight/bulking, I drink a huge 1,000 calorie smoothie with protein powder. Not chewing will allow me to eat more later, and I can get a lot of calories and protein in quickly to start my day off well.
  • When I’m burning fat and trying to get even leaner, I do intermittent fasting, so I don’t eat breakfast. For lunch, when I break my fast, I love eating “breakfast” foods and have a few eggs, toast, fruit, and a big glass of milk. This will get me enough protein to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, and because it’s I’m combining two meals into one, I am not overdoing it in term of calories.
  • When I’m just trying to maintain, I am still doing intermittent fasting but might loosen up the hours a bit to 15/9 instead of 16/8, but it still mostly looks the same as when I’m trying to cut but with another snack or two.

Summary

  • If you’re healthy, there is no evidence that eating a high-protein diet is bad for our health, but there is evidence that getting a high-protein diet can improve health markers.
  • Top foods high in protein are:
    1. Protein powder
    2. Non-oily fish (especially dried to remove the water content)
    3. Game meat (with the fat trimmed off)
    4. Beef & veal (with the fat trimmed off)
    5. Chicken
    6. Turkey
    7. Oily fish
    8. Pork products like pork chops, bacon, ham, etc.
    9. Low-fat milk products like
      • Parmesan cheese
      • cottage cheese
    10. Roasted soy beans
  • If you’re trying to get more non-meat protein, they aren’t as lean, but you can try:
    • roasted soy beans
    • roasted pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds and peanuts
    • cheese like swiss, cheddar and part-skim mozzarella
    • black beans
    • tofu
    • puffed wheat and oatmeal
  • Keep in mind protein quality for plant-based proteins, you may need to eat more of them despite what the packaging says since they are harder to digest (lower protein quality score.)
  • Eat a variety of protein sources to get more essential nutrients aside from protein.
    • Try eating both oily and non-oily fish. One is lower protein but has more omega 3s. The other is leaner and with lower omega 3s but has less mercury so you can eat it more often.
  • Eat protein with every meal since we have no way of storing it, other than breaking down your muscles (which will make you weak)
  • Eating even more protein could help with:
    • curbing the desire to snack
    • making it easier to burn fat, by preventing the yo-yo dieting effect
    • making it easier to build new muscle to become bigger and stronger
    • improving brain health, regulating mood, fighting off depression, and making us more resilient against diseases

​Unconventional yet proven tips.
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4 thoughts on “List of the best high protein foods to become leaner, stronger, & healthier”

  1. This is a great list. I have something similar on my fridge, but this one is nice and easy to read so I will start using it. I really gotta get on the smoothie train, because getting enough protein is a constant struggle and a fruit smoothie sounds so much better than yet another chocolate protein shake.

    Personally I eat tons of eggs because they’re so versatile and tasty. Plus all the amino acids and healthy fats. Quinoa can go die in a corner, eggs are the real superfood.

    1. Hey Chris,

      Glad to hear it’s helpful!

      Yeah, I love having smoothies. I often have two protein tubs on the go. One is unflavoured whey for using in smoothies, and the other is a flavoured protein powder for my workout drink. The other benefit is that you can dilute the flavoured protein a bit with the unflavoured kind if you find the flavour is too strong.

      When making smoothies, try blending all the ingredients but the protein powder first. Then once the smoothie is nice and smooth, then add in the powder at the end for a quick mix. It should help reduce any fluffiness that you would get by adding the powder at the beginning.

      Re: eggs are amazing! Just seems like many people only eat 1–2 and should try and get some other type of protein in there too (milk, cheese, bacon, smoothie, etc.)

      Haha, I gave up on quinoa a long time ago too.

      1. I’ve had a Vitamix in my Amazon cart for, oh, two or three years now just waiting for the time I’m ready to become a smoothie guy. I think I may be ready to make the leap! So you go with unflavored whey in your smoothies? I was thinking vanilla, but that’s probably overly sweet, huh?

        1. Vitamix’s are amazing! Definitely an investment, but a great product.

          Vanilla is good too, I just find the unflavoured whey gives more versatility since it doesn’t really add a flavour, only a creaminess. If you get a good recipe for a protein smoothie, you shouldn’t taste the whey. A good nut butter normally covers the taste up.

          One of my favourites is a simple one:
          – 1 banana
          – 4 frozen strawberries
          – 1 tablespoon of almond or peanut butter
          – handful of fresh spinach
          – 225ml of 2% milk

          Blend and then when that’s done, add 30g of unflavoured whey and do a quick spin. Should get you around 41g of protein (among other healthy nutrients!)

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