Protein is not only super-important for building strong, lean muscles, it’s also a rich source of energy for your body. It keeps your metabolism revved throughout the day, says nutritionist Kelly Jones, RD. It fills you up too. “Since protein moves more slowly through the stomach than carbohydrates and fat, it can contribute to feelings of fullness,” says Jones. So, eating high-protein meals (that also pack some fat and fiber) can help you stave off mindless snacking throughout the day.
The USDA recommends that women consume 46 grams of protein daily. And protein is especially important for anyone who regularly hits up bootcamp class or never misses a gym day. That said, many factors affect how much protein your body needs, says nutritionist Roxana Ehsani, RDN.
“Women on a caloric restriction diet could benefit from consuming higher amounts of protein to help preserve lean body mass,” she explains. “If a person wants to gain weight, it might be helpful to bump up their protein as well to help them eat more calories.” If you're vegetarian or vegan, you may need to increase your intake too.
A pro tip for figuring out exactly how much protein you should eat at each meal: Multiply your weight in pounds by 0.13, Jones says. For a 130-pound person, that’s about 17 grams per meal; for a 200-pound person, that’s about 26 grams.
If you don't feel like doing the math, packing anywhere between 15 and 35 grams of protein per meal is ideal, according to Ehsani. “You can easily achieve this amount with a four-ounce serving of chicken, two eggs paired with whole-grain toast, or tofu paired with quinoa,” says Jones. Other great sources of protein include meat, seafood, eggs, Greek yogurt, beans, lentils, and nuts and seeds.
There are so many options out there. Get started with one of these 30 high-protein meals.
Turkey Falafel Meatballs with Lemon Yogurt Sauce
Serve these meatballs with a side of veggies and hummus, and you’re in Mediterranean heaven.
Per serving: 338 calories, 19.1 g fat (3.6 g saturated), 732.6 mg sodium, 20.6 g carbs, 3.6 g fiber, 4.9 g sugar, 22 g protein
Chicken Avocado Black Bean Salad
A combo of chicken and black beans give this salad a serious protein punch. Add the mixture to a lettuce wrap or tortilla for a more travel-friendly meal.
Per serving: 676 calories, 27 g fat (5 g saturated), 750 mg sodium, 55 g carbs, 17 g fiber, 18 g sugar, 56 g protein
Mediterranean Grilled Turkey Burgers
Meal prep these turkey burgers to eat with baked fries one night and chopped up in a salad or stuffed into lettuce cups the next.
Per serving: 404 calories, 8 g fat (3 g saturated), 909 mg sodium, 31 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 49 g protein
Asian Chicken Quinoa Bowl With Almond Butter Sauce
Creamy almond butter makes this chicken and grain bowl extra satisfying. The whole dish is done in 30 minutes!
Per serving: 555 calories, 31 g fat (4 g saturated), 639 mg sodium, 33 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 34 g protein
Lauryn Higgins is a freelance journalist whose work focuses primarily on public health. Her work tracking the coronavirus for The New York Times was part of a team that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. When she's not working she loves spending time in her kitchen and garden, taking barre classes and cuddling with the love of her life, her 90-pound bernedoodle, Gus. Her work has also appeared in NPR, Salon, Teen Vogue and Well + Good.
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