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 >>
Red meat, a category that includes cow, bison, lamb, and pork (not a "white meat," as the slogan implies), is high in iron, B vitamins, zinc, and animal protein, which speeds muscle growth and recovery. But despite its reputation as a protein superfood, red meat receives only a "good" score in our ranking, because it's lower than other foods in the amino acid tryptophan, which helps regulate appetite. Plus, meat can also be high in hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals, so prioritize grass-fed or organic when possible, and limit consumption to three times a week.
Choose a half-pound burger made from lean, grass-fed meat for 42 grams of protein, plus less saturated fat and more omega-3s than grain-fed chuck. Top round, flank, and trimmed sirloin are also lean. Protein Power: Good*
*Rankings are Excellent, Good, and Fair, based on the Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), which rates foods' amino acid profile.