To build lean muscle (and lose belly-fat), protein is absolutely essential. You can’t transform your physique without the essential building blocks that make up your entire body (muscles, bones, organs etc.) and are used for every metabolic process in your body.
More specifically, these building blocks are called amino acids, which can only be obtained by eating foods that contain protein. In total, there are twenty amino acids that your body uses to build proteins and they are separated as essential and non-essential.
Non-essential amino acids are produced by your body and don’t need to be consumed, while essential amino acids cannot be produced by your body and need to be obtained through foods that are high in quality protein. To build muscle and maintain health, you need all the essential amino acids in the right amounts every day. Animal sources of essential amino acids are the best and highest quality you can consume, followed by plant sources.
Animal proteins are considered complete proteins as they contain all essential amino acids your body needs to build new lean muscle tissue, speed up recovery from exercise and keep you healthy. Following this paragraph, you will discover the best animal protein foods that, when eaten daily, will put you on the fast track to building a lean, fit body that turns heads.
While foods such as nuts, soybeans, beans, and lentils contain a decent amount of protein, they do not make this list of best protein foods as they don’t contain essential amino acids; thus, their protein quality is considered low when compared to the foods rich in essential amino acids outlined below.
Egg whites are rich in essential amino acids that your body converts to lean muscle tissue. One large egg contains about six grams of protein, with about two grams coming from the yolk and four from the white. Since egg yolks are a rich source of essential fats and many vital vitamins, I do not suggest that you throw away the yolk and only eat the white for protein. Instead, add an additional two-three egg whites to whatever egg dish you are eating. So, if you are preparing an egg omelet with two or three whole eggs, simply add an additional two or three egg whites into the mix for a potent meal high in essential amino acids.
Ounce for ounce, chicken contains more essential amino acids than any other meat in the grocery store. Chicken is rich in essential amino acids and contains all the building blocks your body needs to grow new, lean muscle tissue, speed up your metabolism, and help speed up recovery from your workouts.
If possible, choose organic and free-range chicken instead of conventional or non-organic chicken. You’ll find that organic chicken is better and fresher tasting as organic chicken hens are not fed a diet of GMO grains or any animal by-products. Organic chicken hens usually have plenty of outdoor access so they are healthier overall compared to non-organic chicken hens, which makes for a higher quality meat that tastes better and fresher.
According to Adi Crnalic, a fitness coach and author, when weight loss is your goal, the white meat part of the chicken is best. White meat, or chicken breast has almost no fat and contains the highest amount of protein and the least number of calories compared to the rest of a chicken. In addition, be sure to trim the skin and any visible fat off the chicken before cooking. Although it’s a natural animal fat, chicken skin is high in fat and calories, which can interfere with your fat-loss progress.
Always go with baked or oven-roasted chicken—never fried. Frying adds unnecessary fat and calories, which you absolutely don’t need when you’re working hard to transform your body. If you want to learn more about food, diet and fitness, make sure to click here.
Lean Red Meat
The leanest red meat comes in at a close second after chicken when it comes to high quality amino acids. Many people, including myself, tend to have a difficult time digesting red meat. If this tends to be the case for you, you will know it almost immediately after eating red meat.
Eating any food should never make you feel sluggish, lethargic or ill-at-ease. Only the highest quality fuel should be put in your mouth at each meal. This means if a food does not sit well with you, then you certainly do not have to eat it, no matter if this book or any other one says that you must.
Based on personal experience and research, it is my belief that game meat such as venison, buffalo, and elk tend to be easier to digest and process as compared to cattle or beef. This is because our hunter-gatherer ancestors thousands of years ago hunted and ate these game meats which were part of their habitat. As our early human ancestors ate wild game meat, this allowed our digestive systems to adapt and get used to digesting these meats throughout thousands of years.
Modern cows or cattle, on the other hand, were not farmed for beef on any large scale until just a few hundred years ago. What this simply means is that our digestive systems have not yet had the time to adapt to processing cow meat or beef, leading to sluggishness and an overall less-than-ideal feeling after eating beef.
If you love red meat, I would highly recommend that you start eating different types of game meats and stop eating or strictly limit your consumption of beef. You may find that game meat digests better and doesn’t make you feel heavy or sluggish after eating.
In addition to being easier to digest, game meats are leaner than beef, another reason to choose it over beef. Bison, elk and venison meat is not easy to find, so visit your local butcher or look for companies that sell game meat on the internet by doing a Google search.
Cheese & Yogurt
If you can tolerate dairy, eat yogurt and cheese several times a week. Yogurt and cheese are animal-derived, which means they’re full of quality protein that is rich in essential amino acids your body needs. Along with being a good source of essential amino acids, dairy products are also a great source of calcium which is essential for strong bones.
With that said, not all dairy products are created the same. Many health experts will argue that dairy products are not natural for humans to consume, and that is certainly true. As humans, by nature, we are only supposed to consume mother’s milk as babies to aid in growth and development.
Any dairy consumption after the growth period, especially from another animal, is not natural to humans. However, people in some areas of the world have been eating dairy for thousands of years, which has allowed human genes to adapt to dairy products over thousands of years.
About three quarters of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. Lactose is the main carbohydrate in dairy and is also known as “milk sugar.” As infants, our bodies produce a digestive enzyme called lactase, which breaks down lactose from mother’s milk. As adults, many people lose the ability to produce lactase. This is known as lactose intolerance and it affects about seventy-five percent of the world’s population. Lactose intolerance has symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other symptoms.
Some lactose-intolerant individuals can consume fermented dairy products such as yogurt and high-fat dairy products like butter. A large number of lactose-intolerant individuals can also eat cheese without any problems, while some people have a difficult time digesting any form of dairy.
If you are able to tolerate dairy, always choose grass fed and organic dairy products such as cheese, milk, yogurt, and butter. Cows that are pasture-raised have many more essential omega-3 fatty acids and another essential fat called CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid). Grass-fed cows also produce milk that is much higher in several very important fat-soluble vitamins, especially vitamin K, which is a critical vitamin for heart and bone health.
By choosing organic dairy products, you will avoid the pesticides and other harmful by-products that find their way into your food. As I’ve already covered in the first few protein foods listed, organic and free-range animal products are always the best option when it comes to your health.
Pasture-raised cows are far healthier than their feedlot-raised counterparts, which means they are more nutritious and healthier to eat on a regular basis compared to conventional agriculture products. As the fat in cow’s milk is made up mostly of healthy fats, CLA and omega 3s, always go with full-fat dairy products, whether or not weight loss is your goal. Choose fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir, as they are a rich source of beneficial fatty acids and health-boosting vitamins.
Most low-fat dairy products tend to have added sugars, which is a big reason to avoid them. The reason for this is that sugar makes up for the fat that is removed, and fat is what adds the rich flavor to our food. Always read the ingredients’ list of the yogurt and other dairy products that you plan to purchase to ensure they do not contain added sugars.
As all dairy products (apart from some cheeses) contain lactose (the natural milk sugar), it is normal to see a few grams of sugar listed on the nutrition facts’ label. However, if you see words such as “cane sugar,” “cane syrup,” “corn syrup,” or “high-fructose corn syrup” on the ingredients’ list, avoid buying as these are all known as added sugars. You will learn more about the damaging effects of processed sugar in the foods to avoid chapter.
Like chicken, turkey is very high in protein and contains all of the essential amino acids your body needs. Four ounces of skinned turkey breast will provide you with thirty to thirty-five grams of protein and less than one gram of total fat. Recent studies have shown that turkey, when eaten daily in small to moderate amounts, is associated with a decreased risk of pancreatic cancer when eaten skinless. Like chicken, eating organic turkey is the best way to go.
Choosing organic turkey ensures that the meat you are eating does not contain any pesticides or animal by-products found in non-organic turkey.
Like chicken, turkey is a lean meat and should be purchased fresh. Harmful additives like MSG, sodium erythorbate and others are not allowed in fresh turkey, unlike frozen and processed turkey, which always contains additives. You should go even further and choose only free-range turkey, also known as pasture-raised. Pasture-raised and organic turkey is the healthiest turkey you can buy. Turkeys fed an organic diet and raised in a free-roaming environment contain the leanest and healthiest meat and the most amount of lean protein pound for pound.
Fish & Seafood
Most fish are excellent sources of lean protein along with essential omega 3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, most Americans eat very little fish in their diets. According to a 2002 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. adults average less than one ounce of fish per week. A long-term, recent study involving over 40,000 U.S. adults took a very close look at fish consumption and found that at least one serving of fish per week helps men lower their risk of heart disease.
Researchers at Harvard University and at the University of Kuopio in Finland compared men who very rarely ate fish to men who ate fish at least two to three times per week. Men who consumed more fish had a fifteen percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to men who only ate fish occasionally, or about once a month.
This connection between once-per-week fish intake and lowered risk of cardiovascular disease remained despite other negative factors, such as smoking or positive factors like exercising, that were considered. As for the specifics of the study, the researchers did not include shellfish in their analysis, but they did include all other types of fish, including fatty fish such as salmon and non-fatty fish such as cod.
Unfortunately, due to the pollution of lakes, oceans, and rivers, and due to the still-pending implementation of organic seafood recommendations adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fish remains a controversial food with respect to health. That said, when it comes to eating fish, if you choose high-quality wild fish and stay away from the farm-raised variety, your health and weight loss will only benefit.
Wild-caught fish such as salmon is one of the healthiest and most nutrient dense foods in earth. Salmon is packed with lean protein, omega 3 healthy fats, vitamin A, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, selenium, potassium, and phosphorus. If salmon isn’t your type of fish, there are plenty of other seafood species to choose from. Unlike meat from land animals (chicken, turkey, beef), fish is easier and quicker to digest, which makes it convenient to eat shortly before workouts and at other times when you’re on the go and need a quick boost of protein.
Apart from salmon, the most protein- and nutrient-packed fish are wild-caught trout, Atlantic mackerel, Pacific sardines, and white shrimp. Large game fish such as swordfish and tuna are also excellent sources of protein and nutrients; unfortunately, swordfish and tuna fish are high in mercury, which is a neurotoxin and can cause serious negative health effects if consumed in high amounts—especially in young children and the elderly.
Fish is healthiest when it’s eaten baked or steamed. Avoid frying fish and eating fish that’s breaded as these cooking methods add additional fat and empty calories, which can negate the health benefits of fish. Any type of seafood goes well with green vegetables or a mixed salad. Fish pairs well with green beans, spinach, and other nutrient-rich greens.
Nut butters are full of nutrition and appetite-suppressing dietary fiber and protein. While the protein quality of nuts is not of the same quality as the animal-based protein foods already outlined, eating nut butters is a tasty way to boost your overall protein intake. Almond butter, cashew butter, and peanut butter contain energy-boosting healthy fats along with quality amino acids from protein.