We have talked in-depth about the importance of protein in your diet. But what are some of the best protein source for bodybuilders?
In this post, I take a look at the best protein source for each type of person, including vegan and vegetarian options. The first 10 are my all-time favorite, so make sure you add some of it to your diet.
Let’s get started.
Best protein source for bodybuilders
Remember. There is a big difference between losing fat and building muscle. When eating protein, keep your goals in mind. If you want to build muscle the most optimal way, eat about 35-45 grams of protein per meal. Spread your meals throughout the day, eating every 2-4 hours.
Here are the best sources of protein for bodybuilders.
1. Chicken breast
The all-time best protein source for bodybuilders! Chicken breast is a staple on the diets of most bodybuilders and rightfully so. Not only is it very high in protein, but its fat contents are minimal to none.
Macros per 100gr (raw): 21p/0c/2f
2. Perch (Perca)
From all-white fish options available in the market, Perch is by far the tastiest. Bodybuilders use it as a regular source of protein, especially during contest prep, since Perch fillet is low in fat and sodium. When it comes to fish options, this is the best protein source for bodybuilders by far.
Macros per 100gr (raw): 21p/0c/1-3f
Eggs contain a number of different vitamins including A, E, and K as well as B vitamins (B12, riboflavin, folic acid). Eggs are also packed with all the essential amino acids that bodybuilders need to recover and build minerals like iron, Zinc, and Calcium. Additionally, their many ways of cooking make them a great repeatable food option.
Macros per one large egg: 6p/0c/5-6f
Store-bought salmon fillet contains around 21 gr of protein per 100gr, as well as 7-10gr of fat. While the fat contents may seem kind of high, these are crucial for your heart’s health (omega-3 fatty acids and monosaturated fats). The reason for the diverse fat content in salmon is because each part of the fillet has different amounts, depending on the part of the fish. Ideally, if you want to keep your fats towards the low end, you want to opt for a salmon fillet that has thinner white lines throughout its orange color.
Macros per 100gr (raw): 21p/0c/7-10f
5. Deer (Venison)
Game is rarely seen as one of the best protein sources, due to its high price and limited availability. If you can find it, however, it is the best source of red meat you can possibly eat. Compared to beef, Venison meat contains more protein, less fat and a lot more vitamins and minerals, to keep your heart and liver healthy. Personally, I am buying the best venison cut for about $15 per pound, cause I honestly believe it is the best source of protein for bodybuilders.
Macros per 100gr (raw): 26-27p/0c/0-1f
6. Lean beef
While many people tend to condemn red meat, the truth is that it can be a great source of protein when consumed responsibly. Not only does it have the same protein contents as chicken or white fish, but it also has lots of phosphorous, potassium, iron, and creatine, all of which are very important for bodybuilding.
Macros per 100gr (raw): 23p/0c/4-5f
7. Whey protein (Isolate)
Did you know that your typical scoop of whey protein contains 3-4 grams of carbs, as well as 2-3 grams of fat? Isolate gets rid of that by being further filtered and thus being absorbed faster in the body. While it doesn’t have the same sweetness as normal whey protein, it is much better for those that are deep in their cutting cycle.
Macros per 100gr: 23p/0-1c/0-1fat
8. Lean pork (loin)
Pork may be unusual as a “clean” source of protein, meaning low-fat cuts, but if you manage to find your way around it, it can work wonders. Store-bought pork is not the best solution, as most are high in fat content. What I like to do is get a lean cut (±5% fat) and put it through the grinder to make meatballs. Like beef, Pork meat also contains essential minerals needed in bodybuilding.
Macros per 100gr: 21p/0c/4-5fat
9. (Fresh) tuna
Tuna has been a somewhat controversial topic in bodybuilding cycles. This is due to the Mercury contents of canned as well as fresh Tuna. While science has already debunked this (Sherlock et al., 1984, Cherian et al., 1978), let me give you some advice here. As long as you don’t consume more than one portion per day you should be good t go.
Macros per 100gr (raw): 21p/0c/0-1f
10. Pelēkie zirņi (grey peas)
Grey peas are typically found in East European markets are relatively unpopular with the public. Not only are they packed with vitamins and minerals, but their protein to carbs ration is better than any other pea or legume out there.
Macros per 100gr (cooked): 11p/24c/0f
Another 40 high-protein foods for bodybuilding
The 10 protein sources shown above are the ones I most often eat. However, these may not best fit you and thus aren’t the best protein source for bodybuilders of your type. Here are a few more that you should consider.
11. Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt tastes amazing, is packed with casein protein and contains probiotics. But be careful. There are many “Greek-style” yogurts that are full of sugar and less than half the protein. So, to get the real deal, always choose the brand TOTAL.
Macros per 100gr: Total 0%: 10p/5c/0f, Total 2%: 10p/4c/2f
12. Turkey breast
Turkey is one of the all-time favorite protein sources for bodybuilders. Not only is it higher in protein than chicken, but it is also lower in fat. Some people find its texture to be less appealing than chicken, since it can get rather chewy, and for that reason, they choose ground options. So, if you are looking for tasty chicken alternatives, consider adding this option, at least occasionally.
Macros per 100gr: 23p/0c/0-1f
13. Duck breast
While some people tend to avoid duck breast due to its higher fat content, it can be a great alternative to your traditional chicken or turkey breast. Simply cut the fatty parts off and you are left with a delicious, high protein option. It is also a great meal when eating out at restaurants.
Macros per 100gr (cooked): 29p/0c/4-5f
Tilapia and asparagus – two foods every hardcore dieter probably hates by now. Tilapia is chewier than it is meaty and often has a somewhat blatant flavor. It is a great option for fish soups or fish stews (if you want it for the flavor). However, keep in mind that frozen Tilapia has around 1 gram of salt per 100gr and should thus not be consumed in large portions during the latest stages of prep.
Macros (raw): 18p/0c/0-1f
15. Cod fillet
Cod is a great source of protein, Phosphorus and Selenium. What makes cod an excellent option is its low fat and mercury contents, which often make it a staple (even multiple times per day) during cutting periods. Personally, I’d always pick fresh cod over frozen, since the flavor and texture are completely different.
Macros (raw): 17p/0c/0-1f
Oatmeal is a great option for protein, especially for vegetarians and vegans. While primarily eaten for its show-digesting carbs, oats contain a whopping 11 grams of protein per 100 grams. Simply add a scoop of protein and you have a complete meal.
Macros (raw): 11p/60c/8f
Chickpeas are a great option to enhance an already healthy diet. They contain
both soluble and dietary fiber, which maintains a healthy digestive system and improves bowel movements. Additionally, chickpeas are full of antioxidants, calcium, folate, magnesium, iron, vitamin b6, vitamin c, potassium, zinc, and phosphorus.
Macros (cooked): 10p/30c/0f
18. Kidney beans (Red beans)
Kidney beans, more commonly known as red beans, are the type of beans you often see in chilies and Mexican burritos. The great thing about these is that you can find the canned pretty much everywhere. As such, if you need a quick boost of fiber, all you need to do is grab a can and eat. That being said, kidney beans are also full of vitamins and minerals and contain a high amount of protein.
Macros per 100gr (cooked or canned): 9p/23c/0f
19. Black-eyed peas (Cowpeas)
Black-eyed peas are a popular protein-rich option for salads. They are often preferred by vegetarians and vegans due to their high contents in vitamins and miners, but also because of their versatility in cooking. These are used anywhere from Indian curry dishes to fresh summer salads. They also include lots of protein and fiber.
Macros per 100gr (cooked): 8p/20c/0f
20. Cottage cheese
A great diary option and one that can be eaten in a lot of different ways is cottage cheese. It has a high amount of protein (which is a little diverse depending on the brand) and almost zero fats. While this is not necessarily my go-to option, I know of many bodybuilders that use this option when making desserts.
Macros per 100gr: 14-18p/2-3c/0-4f (depends on brand)
21. High-protein milk
While not very common, high-protein mild can be found in many commercial supermarkets in many different countries. What this means is that there is a slight elevation in the protein contents of the milk, while all the other macronutrients remain on the same levels. In most cases, their macros will look like below.
Macros per 100gr: 5p/4c/2f
22. High-protein cheese
Every supermarket has a 10% fat cheese option. These cheeses will usually have a much higher protein content, which makes the cheese harder to melt and even harder to fully enjoy. Once you get used to the flavor and texture, however, you will forget how normal cheese tasted like. Every brand will have slightly different macros but the baselines can be found below:
Macros per 100gr: 30-35p/0-1c/10f
23. High-protein (yogurt) drinks
These are what you might refer to as store-bought protein drinks. In most cases, these drinks will have a thicker consistency and a fruity flavor, matching those of yogurt drinks. While some stores have more options than others, you will almost always find at least one option available.
Macros: Highly depends on individual brand; check the labels
Looking for a great way to add some extra protein to your diet, while also adding iron, calcium, selenium, potassium, and magnesium? What about some additional A, C, E, K and B vitamins? You guessed it – broccoli is a superfood that should be a staple in every diet due to its high contents in all minerals and vitamins your body needs. Cook them as a side dish or eat them as a crunchy snack throughout the day.
Macros per 100 gr (raw): 4p/4c/0f
Similar to broccoli, spinach is one more superfood when it comes to its vitamin/mineral contents. It is no luck that Popeye was eating it to get big. Green leafy vegetables are a great way to improve your digestion (fiber) while maintaining your overall health (vitamins/minerals). Additionally, it is packed with protein and can be a great side-dish to your meals.
Macros per 100gr: 3p/4c/0f
26. Green peas
I love green peas because I can eat so much of them and get such a little amount of calories. But the reason I love them, even more, is because of their protein content. You see, compared to other canned alternatives, green peas make a great option for protein, whether you are a meat-eater or not.
Macros per 100gr (canned): 4p/11c/0f
Lentils are a great source of both protein and slow-digesting carbs. They contain lots of dietary fiber, Folate, and Magnesium. You can eat them cold in a salad or hot in a stew. It is a great option for people who are experiencing difficulties with their bowel movement.
Macros per 100gr (cooked): 9p/21c/0f
A mere 150 grams of halibut offer more than 1/3 of your body’s needs in several vitamins and minerals, including but not limited to selenium, niacin, vitamin B6 and B12, magnesium, and phosphorus. Additionally, it has one of the highest protein contents when it comes to other fish options.
Macros per 100gr (uncooked): 23p/0c/0-3f
Octopus is more popular in Mediterranean diets and can get pretty pricey if it’s not fished locally. Aside from that, octopus needs to be cooked in a certain way to get the right texture and actually become enjoyable as a meal. But if you can manage all the above, you will find yourself with one of the tastiest seafood options for bodybuilding.
Macros per 100gr (boiled and grilled): 27p/0c/0f
Shrimps make an excellent option for salad. They enrich the protein content of all side dishes you create, adding a plentiful of omega-3 fatty acids and the antioxidant astaxanthin to your diet.
Macros per 100gr (frozen): 17p/0c/2f
Either you love them or hate them. Mussels are one of the relatively cheap seafood, compared to the rest of the selections, and you will most often find them frozen. When cooked well, they make a great food option for additional protein.
Macros per 100gr (frozen): 17p/3c/0f
32. Boiled poultry slices
If you are looking for a quick way to get in those last grams of protein for the day, and don’t mind the added sodium, poultry slices are the way to go. You can eat them on bread or simply snack on them. You can find all the different variations in your local supermarket.
Macros per slice: 3p/1c/0f
33. Smoked ham slices
Similar to poultry slices, low-fat ham slices are a great option for your protein needs. They usually have a slightly higher fat content, so always look for the low-fat options. In European countries, these are called “carbonade” slices, which stands for steak. Make sure you are aware of their sodium contents as well.
Macros per slice: 3-4p/1c/0-3f
34. Beef jerky
My all-time favorite protein snack. Beef jerkies have been increasing in popularity over the past few years and most commercial supermarket is now selling low-fat options. You can find them in BBQ, Teriyaki or original flavor and they usually contain a high amount of sodium. So next time you are looking for a muscle-building snack, you know what to do.
Macros per 100gr: 51p/0c/8-12f
35. Fish jerky
Another, less popular jerky option, mostly popular in Eastern European countries, is fish jerky. You will usually see options for salmon, Ahi and Rainbow trout, while some supermarkets also sell dried sardines. While they are a bit fattier than beef, they contain essential omega-3 oils, which have an array of benefits for your health.
Macros per 100gr: Depends on the fish, check the label
36. Biezpiens (dry-curd cheese)
While it’s pretty hard to find in normal supermarkets, dry curd cheese is the better brother to cottage cheese. Not only is it high in protein and has zero fat, but it is also great for pretty much… everything. You can turn it into pancakes, use it in sauces, put it in a salad, even eat it on its own with sweetener. This is my go-to option when I need to eat protein fast and I have no prepped meals.
Macros per 100gr: 18p/2c/0f
Best Protein Source for Vegan Bodybuilders
And here are some of my favorite options for vegan bodybuilding enthusiasts.
37. Tofu (plain white)
While many rant about the bad effects of soy for bodybuilders, tofu is a great protein option if you eat it in moderation. It is a great addition to noodle dishes or if you’re sick of eating eggs. It can also be a great option if you are a vegetarian or vegan and want some diversity in your meals.
Macros per 100gr: 8p/2c/4f
Note: Make sure you check the label as many tofu options have higher carb and fat contents.
38. Nutritional yeast
Yeast flakes are a popular alternative to parmesan cheese for vegans. You can sprinkle it over pasta, cooked vegies or other warm foods. It’s best to add nutritional yeast to foods in small amounts (10-15 grams) because they also contain a lot of sodium. Overall, it gives more taste than cheese (the cheddar kind of taste) and adds to your total protein intake.
Macros per 100gr: 51p/37c/4f (also contains B1,B2,B3,B6, folic acid, biotin and iron)
Mushrooms are a great option for those who want a bit more food diversity or follow a plant-based diet. They are a low-calorie food, contain lots of fiber and many important vitamins and nutrients. More, specifically, I like to use portobello mushrooms instead of burger buns when I’m in the depths of my cut.
Macros per 100gr (uncooked): 3p/4c/0f
40. Soba noodles (buckwheat noodles)
Noodles are definitely not a protein source for most. They are usually eaten for their carbs. But hang on… buckwheat is not only a great source for complex, low GI carbs. It also contains as much protein as oats, which makes them an awesome choice for plant-based bodybuilders.
Macros per 100gr (dry): 10-11p/60-65c/0-2f
Note: You can find sweet options with raisins as well. This is not only considered to be best protein source for bodybuilders by also amazing as a dessert.
41. High protein Peanut butter
Let’s face it – nothing tops original peanut butter. But if you are too addicted and don’t seem to get enough, it might be worth investing in an option that has slightly different macros. I have tried the Scitec option and find it to taste almost exactly identical to high-quality, liquid PB. As for their nutritional value – they contain more protein and less fat than the original option.
42. Protein bars
Protein-packed bars have improved both in micronutrient contents and in flavor over the past few years. By now, I can hardly taste the difference from a normal bar, especially from brands such as Bodylab or Barebells. These low-carb bars are a great option when you need something “on-the-go” and cost less than your average cup of coffee. The reason I added them here is that there are a lot of vegan protein bars that you can use to increase your protein intake.
Macros per bar: Every bar has different macros, check the label.
43. Protein water (Collagen-protein water)
Ever since the extraction of protein from collagen, there have been experiments to create a non-”milky” protein drink. This is finally possible now. Protein water simply tastes like a strong-flavored BCAA drink and contains 0 sugar. Most 500ml bottles contain 16-20gr of protein, making it a great way to add some more protein to your diet.
Macros per 500ml bottles: 15-16p/0c/0f
44. Bean or pea-based pasta substitutes
Vegan protein options have increased in the last few years. Nowadays, pea-based pasta (bean-based too) is much higher in protein than traditional pasta. However, the flavor is not all best, especially if you are used to and often eat traditional pasta dishes. These are best eaten only as a last resort if your protein targets have not been for the day.
Macros per 100gr (dry): 16-22p/51-60c/0-2f
Many popular bodybuilding trainers are not adding quinoa as a complex-carb option for their athlete’s diets. Not only do they contain lots of vitamins and minerals but they also make an excellent source of protein, especially if you are on a plant-based diet.
Macros per 100gr (dry): 11p/58c/2f
46. Butter beans
One more popular high-protein option for Mediterranean diets are butterbeans. These large-sized beans contain a higher protein to carbohydrates ration, lots of fiber and are often used in soups.
Macros per 100gr (cooked or canned): 9p/20c/1f
Tempeh is a somewhat compressed soy product with a high amount of protein, vitamins, and miners. It has been said to decrease one’s cholesterol levels, oxidative stress, and appetite while aiding to bone health. Additionally, Tempeh contains prebiotics, which is great for your digestive health. That being said, all soy-based products tend to increase your estrogen levels so make sure you eat this food in small portions.
Macros per 100gr: 19p/9c/3-11f
48. Hemp protein powder
Finally, let’s have a look at protein powders that are more oriented towards vegan athletes. Hemp protein contains a lot more antioxidants, minerals, fiber, and unsaturated fats than whey protein. While it makes a great choice, it does contain fewer grams of protein per scoop, compared to pea or soy protein.
Macros per 100gr: 15p/3c/3f
49. Pea protein powder
An excellent protein choice, but less so on the taste aspect, is pea protein. This option works much better than soy-based protein for bodybuilders who can’t or won’t consume whey and beef-based protein options. It is also much cheaper.
Macros per 100gr: 21p/3c/2f
50. Rice protein powder
What makes rice protein so great is its digestion timing. It is considered a medium-digesting protein, being slower to release than whey but faster than casein protein. Technically speaking, rice protein is not a complete source of protein but it does contain all EAAs and is therefore considered to possibly be the best protein source for bodybuilders who are vegan.
Macros per 100gr: 19p/3c/1f