A Simple Breakdown of Good, Better, Best Protein Choices

fish meat protein

A good amount of lean protein is important for any diet, but it’s especially helpful for those looking to build and maintain muscle. During my college years—before I was too experienced in the fitness industry—I thought that if I was consuming any type of protein food source it was going to be great for so-called workout gains. But now I know better!

There are many protein options, and they’re not all equal in their quality or ability to help me or someone I’m training reach their goals. There are good, better, and best protein sources. When selecting something to consume, you mainly want to watch out for how much fat content is included. Making sure that your protein sources are lean or do not have too much fat will allow you to save some unnecessary calories in your overall intake for the day. Let’s look at a variety of options and consider why some are better than others.

Good Protein: Bratwurst

Bratwursts are tasty, and flavorful, and that’s typically why they only fall into the good protein category of foods. That extra flavor is usually due to added ingredients and fat. According to USDA nutrition facts, one bratwurst has 17 grams of dietary fats, minimal carbohydrates (<2 grams), and eight grams of protein. I’d advise other protein choices before this one, due to that high amount of dietary fats—unless you’re someone who has trouble adding muscle or weight to your body. Most people have better options to throw on the grill though, so consider those better protein sources!

Other sources of “good” protein: bacon, hot dogs, and sausages.

Better Protein: Ground Beef

Hamburger is another popular outdoor cookout food. Since they’re made from ground beef, the lean-to-fat ratio options are pretty broad. You’ll want to look at the percentages before purchasing your ground beef in the store. You can find ground beef ranging from 73% lean/27% fat to 93% lean/7% fat. The difference is clearly the amount of fat, and we already learned that’s the key factor to watch when considering lean proteins! If you didn’t purchase the beef, one way to tell how much fat a hamburger has when you are cooking or eating out is to look for grease. The greasier the burger, the higher the fat percentage.

Other sources of “better” protein: pork chops, lentils, quinoa, and nuts.

Best Protein: Grilled Chicken

If you are looking for a food source that is high in protein but does not have all the fat content, you will want to select a skinless grilled chicken breast. When selecting chicken breast from your local store or meat company, you can tell how much fat is on the breast before you even purchase it. Even if there is extra fat on the chicken breast, you can easily cut off the fat before you start the cooking process. Now, you won’t eliminate all fat from the chicken breast, but you can decrease it quite a bit. A typical uncooked chicken breast contains 3-4 grams of dietary fat and up to 30 grams of protein per 100 grams (USDA). The fat to protein ratio is astonishing—1:10! So if you are looking for the best source of protein to consume, go for the grilled chicken breast.

Other sources of ‘best’ protein: eggs, turkey, salmon, tilapia, and cottage cheese.

So, don’t be like young Patrick seeking any type of gains. Make sure to select a protein source that will save you calories in other areas of your nutrition, while increasing your overall protein intake. Heck, you may even save some calories for dessert.

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Patrick Thompson is a certified fitness nutrition specialist and personal trainer at Anytime Fitness Peoria in Illinois, and was named Peoria’s Best Personal Trainer in 2016. He graduated from Monmouth College with a degree in Exercise Science and has been a certified personal trainer since he was 19 years old. Patrick’s passion is found in personal training, but his purpose is supporting his family and members in all aspects of healthy living. Patrick loves spending time with his fiancé and their miniature dachshund, Pumpkin.