More protein, fewer carbohydrates: It's the prescription of nearly every weight-loss and muscle-building plan today. But how much protein do you need?
Active men should aim to get 20 percent of their daily calories from protein. So if you weigh 180 pounds and eat about 2,400 calories a day, this means consuming 120 grams – the equivalent of a pound of steak. If this sounds gluttonous, remember that meat isn't the only source. Dairy, soy, fish, beans, and nuts contain protein, as do vegetables and grains. A head of cauliflower packs in 5 grams, while a cup of quinoa delivers 8 grams, the same as a glass of milk. Brown rice and whole-wheat bread have 5 grams and 4 grams of protein, respectively. Although these foods aren't complete proteins, meaning they don't have all nine essential amino acids, they can and should still be combined into your daily protein intake.
Even if you're not vegetarian, consider making more of your meals meatless: Many conventional cuts of meat are packed with saturated fats, hormones, antibiotics, and other harmful additives. Use this guide to help identify which foods are highest in protein but low in saturated fat and unhealthy chemicals. Launch Gallery >>
Beans boast an average of 15 grams of protein per cup. Though they don't contain all nine essential amino acids – the reason for their "good" score – beans have something that animal products don't: fiber, with 11 grams per cup. Chickpeas have a little fat, but it's polyunsaturated, shown to help prevent heart disease. Choose lentils, with 18 grams of protein per cup – more than any other bean. Lentils also have twice as much iron. What's better, dried or canned? There's no nutritional difference between them, but since canned beans can be high in sodium, rinse and drain them before use. Protein power: Good.