This is a three-part article series where in Part 1, I answered the following questions:
- What is protein?
- What are great sources of protein?
- How much protein do I need? Is more protein safe?
In Part 2, I discussed how dietary protein intake can largely effect your weight loss, weight gain, or body recomposition goals. There’s a couple more questions to tackle that tend to leave the public stumped due to the overwhelming amount of misinformation out there. Everyone wants to know what the BEST sources of protein are and when to consume them. Let’s break it down right meow…
The “Best” Sources of Protein
Figuratively, there are no “best” sources of protein, only the ones you choose to consume based on personal preferences & tolerance, goals, and other nutritional needs. Let’s be clear though, most of your daily caloric intake should consist of various protein sources from whole foods because they offer various sources of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other nutrients that most supplements can’t offer. Take salmon for example: it’s loaded with healthy Omega-3 fats and Vitamin D which I consider to be two of the most important nutrients to supplement in your existing balanced diet due to the plethora of positive research on them both.
Some protein sources are low in fat while others are high in fat. You may be able to include both depending on how flexible your diet is with your daily fat macronutrient targets. It’s all in how you balance it out day-to-day, week-to-week. Having more flexibility with your dieting will keep you more sane in the long run while still being able to make progress.
If you’re into eating the flesh of slaughtered animals like myself, choose from a variety of sources such as fish, fowl, red meats, pork, eggs, and dairy to fill out most of your day. If you’re into “meat is murder” lifestyle, your options may include protein sources from beans, nuts, soy, grains, and vegetables. More info on this topic can be found in Part 1.
Make sure to choose your meat and fish selection wisely because some cuts are much leaner than others. Leaner sources of most meats will be anything including key words such as skinless breasts, loin or tenderloin, or filet (i.e. chicken or turkey breast, pork tenderloin, sirloin, and filet mignon).
Keep in mind that one gram of fat is 9 calories so the fattier the meat, the higher the caloric content that serving will be. Fattier meat selections, which I would advise to eat sparingly depending on your goals, would be most ground meats that aren’t specified as being lean, thighs, ribeye steaks, strip steaks, or any fowl with skin still in tact. If you’re out for a nice steak dinner, opt for the top sirloin or filet if you’re feeling like a high roller.
Another great non-meat source of protein would be eggs. Protein from whole eggs is of very high quality mainly due to the ease of digestibility along with the added benefits from the yolk itself. Again, like fatty meats, if your goal is to limit fat intake throughout the day then I would also suggest limiting your whole egg intake and opt for the egg whites instead. Blending both whole eggs and egg whites may help to maintain the flavor of your eggs so an example would be to prepare your eggs in a 3:1 ratio of whites to yolk.
Dairy, for those that can tolerate it, is an exceptional source of protein as well. Dairy consists of milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream, kefir, whey protein powder, and casein protein powders. If you’re dieting and monitoring calories, go with a reduced fat version of milks, cheeses, and yogurts. If you have more wiggle room in your daily caloric intake, opt for the full fat versions as the fat in dairy products may have other health boosting benefits. Cow’s milk is 20% whey protein and 80% casein protein by nature – both of which are of very high quality. This is another reason whey and casein proteins supplements are so popular. Not only do they offer convenience but they are very high quality sources of protein to meet your daily needs.
For my readers that are non-meat eaters, your sources of protein would not be considered the “best” due to the lack of quality of your protein sources. For more info on vegetarian sources of protein, see Part 1 of this series.
When Do I Eat Protein for the Best Results?
This is a loaded question with many possible ways of answering. I’m going to assume everyone that reads this is currently engaging in regular exercise and more importantly, regular weight training. I will say this: “When” you consume your protein is of less importance. How much you consume on a day-to-day basis is the more relevant question.
You may have heard that consuming 6 small meals a day keeps your metabolism elevated. This has been disproven for some time and is not supported in the scientific literature (3-5). There is no metabolic advantage to eating more frequent, small meals.
Personal preference and your daily schedule is what should dictate your meal frequency. Some studies report eating more often blunts hunger while others report spacing out larger less frequent meals keeps them more satiated (6-12). Point being, it comes down to personal preference.
At the end of the day, are you meeting your daily protein targets in 3 meals versus 6 meals? When matched calorie for calorie, you get the same result (11). This also goes without saying that the human body is very efficient at digesting protein whether it be in large amounts or small amounts.
Protein consumption surrounding your training times is likely the more important factor concerning any protein timing. Research indicates that eating an ample amount of protein a couple of hours before training and a few hours shortly after training will cover all your bases in terms of enhancing muscle recovery, preventing muscle breakdown, and setting the stage for new muscle growth (1). A great example would be to consume 25% of your target lean bodyweight in protein within a one to three-hour window both before and after training (2).
So again, timing isn’t really as important. Just make sure you’re hitting your daily targets by not skipping out on protein at every meal. Staying consistent with that guideline will be sure to yield better result in your body composition over the long run!
1. Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. Nutrient timing revisited: Is there a post-exercise anabolic window? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Jan 29;10(1):5,2783-10-5.
2. Aragon, Alan. “Is There a Limit to How Much Protein the Body Can Use in a Single Meal?” Wannabebig. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2014.
3. Campbell B, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007 Sep 26;4:8.
4. Tipton KD, Wolfe RR. Protein and amino acids for athletes. J Sports Sci. 2004 Jan;22(1):65-79.
5. Symons TB, et al. A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in young and elderly subjects. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Sep;109(9):1582-6.
6. Ohkawara K, Cornier MA, Kohrt WM, Melanson EL. Effects of increased meal frequency on fat oxidation and perceived hunger. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Feb;21(2):336-43.
7. Smeets AJ, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Acute effects on metabolism and appetite profile of one meal difference in the lower range of meal frequency. Br J Nutr. 2008 Jun;99(6):1316-21.
8. Speechly DP, Rogers GG, Buffenstein R. Acute appetite reduction associated with an increased frequency of eating in obese males. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1999 Nov;23(11):1151-9.
9. Speechly DP, Buffenstein R. Greater appetite control associated with an increased frequency of eating in lean males. Appetite. 1999 Dec;33(3):285-97.
10. Leidy HJ, Tang M, Armstrong CL, Martin CB, Campbell WW. The effects of consuming frequent, higher protein meals on appetite and satiety during weight loss in overweight/obese men. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Apr;19(4):818-24.
11. Cameron JD, Cyr MJ, Doucet E. Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet. Br J Nutr. 2010 Apr;103(8):1098-101.
12. Leidy HJ, Armstrong CL, Tang M, Mattes RD, Campbell WW. The influence of higher protein intake and greater eating frequency on appetite control in overweight and obese men. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Sep;18(9):1725-32.