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 >>
Work out regularly? Eat dairy, which contains casein, the optimal protein to prevent muscle breakdown, and whey, which helps promote muscle growth. Whole milk, yogurt, and cheese are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, so opt for 1 percent or skim, and low-fat or non-fat yogurt. Look for reduced-fat varieties of cow and goat cheeses, and stick to one ounce – about the size of two nine-volt batteries. Choose nonfat Greek-style yogurt, which has 18 grams and a consistently high dose of probiotics to help promote digestion and gut health. A six-ounce container of plain, low-fat yogurt has only 9 grams of protein and, on average, fewer probiotics. Protein power: Excellent.