Top 20+ Protein Foods When Counting Macros

how much protein to eat daily

When counting macros, hitting the calculated protein recommendation is often difficult for many.

It is perhaps the number one difficulty that my coaching clients report. They get frustrated when they can’t reach their protein target without going way over on their fat or carb goal.

Therefore, it’s not a matter of just telling them to “eat more meat”. But instead, it’s teaching them to choose the correct sources of protein so that their other macros don’t suffer the consequences.

In this article, I’ll list the 20+ top protein foods to use when counting macros so that you can satisfy that macro with the least impact to the other macros.

Best Protein-Based Foods While Macro Dieting

Food Protein per 8 oz (227 g) serving
Boneless/skinless chicken breast 52 grams
Canned solid white albacore tuna 71 grams
Ahi tuna steak 56 grams
Lean turkey breast cold cuts (nitrate-free) 44.5 grams
Pork loin 47.5 grams
Lean ground turkey (99%) 54 grams
Egg whites 20 grams (5 eggs worth)
Whey Protein (About Time brand) 25 grams (per scoop)
Tilapia filets 42 grams
Swai filets 40 grams
Shrimp (peeled) 32 grams
Lean brisket 47 grams
Venison steak 67.6 grams
Beef jerky 120 grams
Turkey jerky 104 grams
Cod 40 grams
lean ground grass-fed beef (96%) 48 grams
Salmon 48 grams
Canned chicken breast 30 grams
Lean bison 46 grams
Vegan Options
Seiten 56 grams
Vegan protein powder (About Time brand) 24 grams (per scoop)
Tofu 27 grams
Tempeh 32 grams

*Most of the items are raw weight unless the item typically comes precooked or ready to eat.

How Much Protein You Should Eat Daily

The daily protein requirement is often debated among fitness professionals and there are a lot of myths around figuring out an optimal daily amount. But, in general, most people believe they need to eat more protein than they actually do.

The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for protein is .8 gram of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight or .36 grams per pound. This is considered the minimum amount and based on the individual being sedentary.

Therefore a sedentary man who weights 180 pounds would need to eat 64.8 grams of protein a day.

That’s a far cry from what many believe, which is a person should eat one gram of protein per pound of body weight. It’s not that this is completely false, it’s just not a rule for everyone.

This “rule” is actually a bodybuilding rule and was intended for bodybuilders who are bulking up and adding more muscle by doing intense weight training.

However, this doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t eat more than the RDA of protein. Here’s why…

  • Protein helps preserve muscle mass during periods of calorie deficit.¹
  • Protein takes more energy to digest so there is a greater thermogenic effect of feeding when eating higher protein meals. ²
  • Those that exercise, especially strength train, need more protein than those who are sedentary.³
  • Protein dominant meals/snacks are more satiating than more carb dominant meals.²

How Should I Calculate My Protein?

When calculating your optimal daily intake of protein, you should consider the following factors:

  1. Lean body mass compared to fat mass (your fat mass doesn’t require protein)
  2. How much and what kind of exercise you are doing.
  3. Your goals: Weight loss or weight gain.

When constructing our macro calculator, we recognize that most people can benefit from more protein than the RDA of .36 per pound of body weight, so we calculated for three optimal protein settings.

Moderate (.65 gram per pound) is good for sedentary individuals that are wanting to lose weight. This is also an appropriate amount on a rest day and this would also be appropriate for obese individuals. If a five-foot-three-inch woman weighs 220 pounds, 143 g of protein is more than adequate given her estimated lean mass, even with exercise factored in.

High (.82 gram per pound) is appropriate for most people who are engaged in moderate exercise and have an average body fat percentage.

Maximum (1 gram per pound) is appropriate for those that are wanting to gain weight, have a low body fat percentage, and are engaged in intense weight lifting. Also, athletes who are extremely active can benefit at this level.

You can also customize your protein as long as you know your body weight or Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) with some simple math.

Say you want to calculate for .7 grams of protein: You would simply multiply your body weight times .70

Example: a 180-pound person would need 126 grams. (180 x .7 = 126)

Say you just want to eat a certain percentage of your diet as protein. 25-35% is usually an acceptable range depending on lean mass and lifestyle factors.

Example: A woman with an exercise day TDEE of 1800 calories at 30% protein would need to eat 135 grams. [ (1800 x .30) / 4 = 135 ]

Can You Eat Too Much Protein?

Yes, you can eat too much protein. A person’s body can only absorb about 25-40 grams of protein at a time so if you are eating more than this each meal then some of it could be going to waste as far as your muscles are concerned.

Also, protein is harder for the body to digest and too much of it can place a strain on your kidneys which may be a problem if you have an undiagnosed kidney condition. It’s better to eat enough for your goals but not overdo it too much when eating protein.

Do You Need Protein Every Day?

The truth is that you can survive without protein daily. The human body evolved during a time when food was scarce, so the body does have systems for synthesizing protein when it’s in short supply dietarily. But, this involves breaking down muscle tissue for the amino acids it needs to make new proteins. Therefore it’s good to at least have the minimum recommended amount, that I discussed above, daily. This ensures that your muscles stay strong and that your body has the nutrition it needs.

Does protein quality matter?

I think paying attention to the quality of the protein you are eating does make a difference in your overall good health.

Do you really want to eat a chicken breast that’s laced with growth hormones and antibiotics? Do you want to eat fish that has high levels of mercury in their muscle tissue?

Understanding where your food comes from and how it is produced/caught is important and trying to choose clean protein sources when possible is also important not only for your health but also for the health of the planet.

References:

  1. Frestedt, J. L., Zenk, J. L., Kuskowski, M. A., Ward, L. S., & Bastian, E. D. (2008). A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study. Nutrition & Metabolism5(1), 8. link
  2. Halton, T. L., & Hu, F. B. (2004). The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition23(5), 373-385. link
  3. Phillips, S. M., & Van Loon, L. J. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of sports sciences29(sup1), S29-S38. link
Ted Kallmyer is an ISSA certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition, a Certified Fitness Trainer, and is Healthy Eater's author and nutitional coach. If you need help reaching your weight loss/fitness goals see his personal macros coaching options.
Last Updated: September 19, 2019