The greatest way to keep our energy levels high and our moods stable is to eat foods that are rich in protein. Protein is built from amino acids and is known to aid in muscle strengthening and repair, brain power, organ functioning, transportation of blood cells, and weight maintenance. Thus, eating foods high in protein can make us healthier and more productive with day-to-day tasks.
As a certified health coach, I am always helping my clients find lean, wholesome forms of protein that both work with their dietary needs and and are delicious and filling. Protein makes for a great breakfast and snack, as its filling nature can provide a boost of energy and brain power and keep you full until the next meal. In fact, research shows that eating protein at breakfast enhances productivity and creativity for the day ahead. Eating protein throughout the day can also help banish brain fog and keep mood levels stable, preventing any irritability that can result from hunger. Protein also keeps the metabolism revved, enabling you to burn more calories during the day to better maintain a healthy weight. Here are thirteen high-protein foods that will give you tons of energy and keep you mentally and physically strong.
With six grams of protein per egg, eggs make for an incredible breakfast to start the day off on a high note. In addition to its protein content, eggs are rich in choline to boost mental alertness, and if purchased organic, can tout omega 3 fatty acids, which are optimal for brain and heart health. Eggs are extremely versatile: make them in an omelet for breakfast or as a hard boiled egg for a snack. "Pair an easily digestible carb-like fruit such as dates or a banana with a food high in protein and fat, like an egg or nuts," says running coach and personal trainer Susie Lemmer, over email with Bustle, for sustainable energy.
Going off of what Lemmer suggested, nuts are high in protein and other vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, zinc and vitamins B and E. It's best to choose nuts high in protein and low in saturated fat, such as walnuts, almonds, and pistachios. Plus, walnuts and almonds boast healthy fats, omega 3 fatty acids in the former and monounsaturated fats in the latter. Eat a handful or throw into a Greek yogurt for breakfast or after a workout. Make sure to purchase unsalted nuts, suggests certified holistic health coach and personal trainer Jen Bruno of J.B. Fitness and Nutrition over email with Bustle, as salt can make you feel uncomfortably bloated.
3. Plain Greek Yogurt/Kefir
Plain Greek yogurt and kefir have tons protein to provide long-lasting energy and can be paired nicely with other high-fiber and high-antioxidant foods for extra carbohydrates and vitamins. Throw some berries with slivered almonds in a yogurt, or add bananas, kiwi and coconut to a kefir smoothie. There are also healthy bacterial strains in Greek yogurt, known as probiotics, to promote gut health and decrease inflammation.
4. Dark Leafy Greens
For all the vegans and vegetarians out there, leafy greens make for an excellent high-protein food that can provides tons of sustainable energy to make you more productive and happier. Bruno recommends spinach, kale, mustard greens and collard greens as top choices. Throw some in a blender with a yogurt, milk or protein powder for a breakfast shake or afternoon snack.
5. Nut Butters
Bruno recommends carrying around unsalted, unprocessed nut butters as a convenient and healthy snack. You can grind nuts, such as peanut, cashew or almond, up fresh at a grocery store or you can find a natural brand that is free of additives and salt and will list solely the nut on the ingredient list. Pair with a complex carbohydrate for even more energy, such as an apple or a slice of whole grain bread.
6. Lean Meats
Studies show that lean meats are incredibly high in protein and can keep you full for hours. Lean meats are also rich in key nutrients, such as iron, which helps transport blood cells throughout the body and keep us energized, as well as magnesium, to build strong bones, and B vitamins to banish fatigue and keep us mentally and physically alert. Choose lean cuts of steak, bison, chicken breast and turkey breast and pair with leafy greens for a full-rounded meal.
While plant-based protein is less easily absorbed than animal protein and cannot fulfill a complete protein on its own, it still offers tons of energy and protein and can be combined with other nutrients to make a complete-protein meal. Beans, such as lentils, black beans, kidney beans and chickpeas (or garbanzo beans), are a terrific meatless protein and can reach a complete requirement with the help of a complex grain, such as brown rice or quinoa. Throw on a salad or create your own hummus and pair with whole wheat toast or pita chips.
8. Protein Powder
Consuming a protein shake post-workout can be beneficial, as the protein found in powders deliver immediate rescue to repair and strengthen muscles and replenish lost energy stores. If you can tolerate whey, try a whey blend, as it offers tons of fast-acting protein. However, if you are sensitive to dairy, try a rice or pea protein blend, instead. Over email with Bustle, certified health coach Cova Najera suggests a "green powder" to get in a few extra greens and nutrients.
9. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese consists of casein, a type of protein that is slow-acting to provide sustainable energy and keep you full throughout the day. There are 14g of protein per half a cup serving. While this makes for a great breakfast or snack, avoid cottage cheese after a workout and opt for something that provides more fast-acting protein to give immediate solace to your hard-worked muscles.
Oily fish is high in protein and healthy omega 3 fatty acids to decrease inflammation, leading to greater mental alertness and brain health, and keep energy levels high. The fatty acids can also boost mood, making you feel happier and less moody, which can make you more productive. Choose wild brands over farmed at your local grocery store for even more protein and health benefits. A can of tuna in water for lunch makes for a quick and convenient meal, and cooking salmon for dinner is simple to prepare and can be ready in under ten minutes.
Lean jerky, in bison, beef, turkey, chicken, salmon, or more crazy alternative meats you might come across, makes for a filling and nutrient-dense snack during the day. When energy sags, reach for a stick. Check brands to make sure that you are buying a brand that is low in saturated fat and sodium for gaining the optimal amount of clean energy. Many jerky brands can be high in these measures, so be cautious. Usually a turkey or chicken will be lower in saturated fat and calories than beef, but not necessarily.
12. High Protein Chips
Swap out typical potato chips for alternative, high-protein chips. Opt for black bean, lentil, chickpea, quinoa and kale. These chips are pretty high in protein for a chip and can satisfy any crunchy and salty cravings during that afternoon slump at work. Pair with healthy dip, such as hummus, guacamole or Greek yogurt dip.
Tofu is rich in protein and is a terrific meat replacement for vegans and vegetarians. With 12g of protein per three ounce serving, it is nutritious and filling. Tofu is also very versatile and can pair with nearly any type of sauce or seasoning. You can also reach for edamame, which is just the soybean form, for a healthy, protein-packed snack to supply long-lasting energy.
Starting your morning off right with protein-rich foods can provide enough energy to get you through the day feeling balanced, productive and alert. When energy sags, grab something with protein and pair with a complex carbohydrate; the protein will keep you strong, mentally sharp and motivated for a great day ahead.
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