Posted by on Mar 26, 2015

Jason is a coach and algebra teacher devoted to bringing quality fitness education and coaching to the everyman. Founder of Anyman Fitness, Jason uses his mathematical background to help clients acheive their goals. Want to train with Jason? We can hook you up.

A noob macro counter, when faced with a higher protein intake than ever before, can have some difficulty.

That number, the “P” in the P/C/F trio of macro counting, can be a toughie to tackle.  Even moreso if you’re new to the macro game.

Many protein sources have lots of other “tagalong” calories.   It can be a tough assignment to keep your “C” and “F” in check while keeping your “P” sky-high.

But it’s doable.

So, what we have here is a guide for you.  This list will be your friend – just in case you’re looking for a few legitimate, solid protein sources that won’t blow your day’s calories.  And for your enjoyment, and because this is ‘Murica, they are graded and ranked.  Because that’s what we do.  We must have a winner at all times.  If you ain’t first, you’re last.

The protein sources have been ranked via 4 criteria.  For the first 3 criteria, we researched our data via Calorie King.  So, if you have any issues with #1-3, it’s their fault.

Criteria #1:  Serving Size.  The bigger the serving, the better the grade.

Criteria #2:  Protein Per Serving.  The more protein per serving, the better the grade.

Criteria #3:  Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein.  For this metric, we took an average male with an estimated TDEE of 2,400 calories. We assumed he would get 1/3 of his calories from protein, which would be 800 calories.  Since there are 4 calories per gram of protein, this puts his daily protein intake at 200 grams.

So, we asked ourselves how many calories this fictitious man would need to consume in order to hit his 200 gram protein goal strictly from that particular food.  The fewer calories required to hit 200 grams of protein, the better the grade.

Criteria #4:  Taste.  Completely subjective.  No apologies there.

Overall Grade:  4 grades, each worth 4 points.  Standard ‘Murican grading scale of 4.0. Averaged out to get an overall grade. [Remember, folks, in his other life, Jason is an algebra teacher!]

Game on.  Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up to the top…

Here they are – The Best Protein Sources in America – Period.

21.  Almonds

Serving Size:  1 ounce – D
Protein Per Serving:  6 grams – F
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein: 5,467 – F
Taste:  A

Overall Grade:  1.25 out of 4.0 – D-

Almonds are a heralded “healthyfood” and the king of the obnoxious mainstream media protein sources.  But we have bad news for you– the almond is such a poor choicefor protein, our fictitious character would be eating over TWICE his daily calories in order to consume all 200 grams of his protein from this so-called “superfood”.

philosoraptor almonds

If you got all 200 of your protein grams from almonds, you would be consuming 477 grams of fat – in one day.  How a food that has that much fat content has ever positioned itself to be a legitimate protein source is beyond us.

The only saving grace for the almond is the awesome taste.  So, be sure you recognize fully what the almond truly is:  A treat.

20.  Peanuts

Serving Size:  1 ounce – D
Protein Per Serving: 7.3 grams – F
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein: 4,411 – F
Taste:  A

Overall Grade:  1.25 out of 4.0 – D-

Coming in just ahead of its nutty friend, the peanut is right up there as a caloric bomb of goodness.  Other than the amazing taste, the peanut, as the almond, is an extremely poor choice of protein.

If it weren’t for the majesty of crunchy peanut butter, the actual peanut itself might just be forgotten and discarded.  But the unparalleled deliciousness of natural, salted, crunchy peanut butter, as well as the slight calorie edge over the almond, keeps the peanut from bringing up the rear.

But just as the almond, the peanut is a mere treat, not a legitimate source of protein.

19.  Cheese – American

Serving Size: 1 slice – D
Protein Per Serving: 4 grams – F
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein:  3,500 – F
Taste:  A

Overall Grade:  1.25 out of 4.0 – D-

You may be starting to see a common theme at the tail end of this list:  Sky high fat content which causes amazing taste.  It’s no secret – fat is nature’s gift to us.  And for those of us who are blessed to have solid digestive systems that can handle the lactose, there’s no better treat than some creamy, salty, and (possibly) stinky cheese.

Many cheese types could have made its way onto this list.  But this is a list of ‘Murican protein sources.  And nothing is more ‘Murican than ‘Murican cheese.

Just be very mindful of what cheese is meant to be – a topping for your burger, or a lubrication for your sandwich.  Not an actual meal.  Or those calories will add up very quickly.  Be sure, if you’re eating cheese, it’s accompanying a few of those items from the tip-top of this list.  A stand alone protein source, it is not.

18.  Kind Bar – Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Flavor

Serving Size:  one bar – C
Protein Per Serving:  7 grams – F
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein: 5,714 – F
Taste:  A

Overall Grade:  1.5 out of 4.0 – D

One of the few processed items on this list, the Kind Bar has marketed its way into the hearts of GMO-petrified, Food Babe shills from far and wide.  The “don’t count calories, count chemicals” folks love this product.  Tons of health claims with no scientific merit whatsoever.

With buzzwords on the side of the package like “Non-GMO”, “Sea Salt”, “Gluten Free”, and “Super Grains”, you’d best believe the misguided health conscious crowd will devour these bad boys as a frequent treat – and then wonder why their waistline won’t budge.

In order to take in 200 grams of protein, one would need to consume 29 Kind Bars, which would consist of 371 grams of fat and 485 grams of carbs for a grand total of 5,714 calories.  Which is easily the highest caloric content of any food item on this list.

Snickers, anyone?  Because that’s pretty much what you’re getting.  But then again, there’s no GMO’s.  Which will make you lose weight.  ‘Cuz internet.

Right?

17.  Quinoa

Serving Size:  1 cup – A
Protein Per Serving: 24 grams – A
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein: 5,216 – F
Taste:  F

Overall Grade:  2.0 out of 4.0 – C-

See the problem with getting your protein from non-dairy and non-animal products?  The caloric content is astronomical.  In order to get your 200 grams of protein in, you would need to consume 904 grams of carbohydrates as “tag along” macros.  That equals over 3,600 calories from carbs ALONE.  Dr. Atkins is rolling over in his grave.

These statistics truly highlight just how difficult it is for vegetarians and vegans to adequately consume enough protein to sustain their LBM.  Without (very expensive) vegan protein powders, such as rice and hemp, it’s going to be a relatively daunting endeavor.

16.  Bacon

Serving Size:  1 ounce (roughly 1 strip) – D
Protein Per Serving:  10.5 grams – C
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein:  2,914 – D
Taste:  A+

Overall Grade:  2.0 out of 4.0 – C-

Bacon.  It makes everything taste better.  Everything.  Donuts, burgers, eggs, chocolate milkshakes……..everything.

Same as cheese, bacon should be viewed as a topping.  But we are biased over here.  Bacon is much more than just a topping and a garnish.  Bacon is a way of life.  And what a fabulous life it is, indeed.

You can shave off a few of those 2,914 calories by draining the fat, but that sure wouldn’t be much fun.  We recommend using the drippings as flavoring in chili.  Or just drink it.  That works, too.

Is there an “A++” to describe the taste?  This treat of the gods is in a category all its own.

15.  Eggs

Serving Size:  1 egg – C
Protein Per Serving:  6.3 grams – F
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein: 2,476 – C
Taste:  A

Overall Grade:  2.0 out of 4.0 – C-

We love eggs.  Unabashedly.  Luckily, the days of eggs being blamed for health problems are firmly in the past. The USDA is finally relenting that their warnings of the dangers of cholesterol and fat were largely overblown.  And eggs, including the yolks, are finally getting the love they deserve.

But unfortunately, this list isn’t the list of “awesome foods you should eat”.  It’s a breakdown of the top protein sources.

Should you eat eggs?  Hell yes, you should.  They’re nutritious, tasty, and versatile.  But you’ll likely need to watch yourself.  The fat content of these bad boys adds up quickly, which could wreak havoc on your waistline.

Bonus:  If you combine #15, #16, and #19, you are eating a food unicorn.  Just add bread.

14.  Skim Milk

Serving Size:  1 cup – 8 ounces – B
Protein Per Serving:  8 grams – F
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein:  2,250 – D
Taste:  A

Overall Grade:  2.0 out of 4.0 – C-

Certain foods have tag along calories that not too many know about.  A few are obvious.  Everyone knows there is fat in nuts and carbs in quinoa.  Hopefully.

But milk?  Milk is a tricky little devil.  If you wanted to get all of your protein from skim milk, you would be consuming around 325 grams of carbs – sugar at that – in order to do so.

Cow juice is delicious and fantastic.  But a solid source of protein it is not.  Milk is best used for cooking and for lubing your cereal.  But you’re better off going with unsweetened almond milk and tossing in a bit of whey for some extra protein.  More taste AND more bang for your buck.

13.  Lowfat (2%) Cottage Cheese

Serving Size:  1 cup – B
Protein Per Serving: 31.1 – A
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein:  1,305 – B
Taste: C

Overall Grade:  3.0 out of 4.0 – B-

Most on a high protein diet have a need to supplement their meat intake.  It’s difficult on your wallet, and sometimes your digestive system, to get 100% of your protein from animal sources.

The best options for supplementation are low-fat dairy options.  Namely, yogurts and cottage cheeses.  We’ve heard quark is a solid choice as well, but this is ‘Murica.  Sorry, quark.  ‘Nuff said.

The taste grade can be improved dramatically by adding hot sauce, sriracha sauce, pickles, or pineapple.  But this list is for the straight up food with no “frills”.  So, a “C” it is.

Cottage cheese is a protein staple for bodybuilders.  Casein for the gainz, bro.  Go get some.

12.  Lowfat Greek Yogurt

Serving Size:  5.3 ounce container – B
Protein Per Serving:  14 grams – B
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein:  1,571 – B
Taste:  B

Overall Grade:  3.0 out of 4.0 – B-

Another viable substitute when the meat menu becomes a bit too costly, lowfat Greek yogurt comes in some amazing tastes and flavors.  If it wasn’t for the moderate carbohydrate and sugar content, this concoction would be a bit higher on the list.

If you can find it, “Non-fat Greek Yogurt Lite” has no fat, fewer carbs, and most of the taste.  If we were looking specifically at that version, it would certainly be kicked up a few notches on the “brotem pole”.  Good luck finding it, though – it’s a rather elusive product.

11.  Tuna Packed in Water

Serving Size:  5 ounce can – B
Protein Per Serving:  42.1 – A
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein:  907 – A+
Taste:  D

Overall Grade:  3.0 out of 4.0 – B-

Tuna packed in water is as bro-tastic as the whey shake.  Mercury levels be damned, we’re eating this shit by the truckload.  Time to get swole.

Once upon a time in bro-science land, you would top your dry tuna with hot sauce and mustard to create the only acceptable food source to consume after 7 pm.  Luckily, such dogmatic nonsense has disappeared.

But it’s easy to see why tuna packed in water is preferred by the physique conscious.  Almost pure protein, you can pretty much feel each forkful being directly synthesized on your biceps.  At a mere 907 calories per 200 grams of protein, if you can’t stay on point diet-wise when eating tuna, you just may be the worst dieter in the history of mankind.

For fun times:  Try the “tuna-dog-dare”.  Two cans, no condiments, in two minutes or less.  Spoiler alert:  Not gonna happen.

10.  Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein – Birthday Cake Flavor

Serving Size:  1 scoop – C
Protein Per Serving:  24 grams – A
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein:  1,083 – B+
Taste:  A

Overall Grade:  3.25 out of 4.0 – B

With about a zillion flavors, Optimum Nutrition Whey has become almost like a religion.  A bro could get dizzy trying to find his favorite flavor.

The health benefits of whey are many, and the literature leans heavily towards incorporating it into your diet for maximum gains.

There’s only one issue:  It has a very poor satiety grade.  Quite simply put, whey doesn’t fill you up, which diminishes its value slightly.

But if you’re bulking or you don’t have hunger issues, you’d be hard pressed to find a better and more tasty protein source than Optimum Nutrition Whey.  Low tag along macros, high protein, insane taste……….what’s not to love?

One of our favorite bulking meals is skim milk mixed with ON Birthday Cake Whey poured over Frosted Flakes.  It’s divine.

9.  Chicken Thighs

Serving Size:  4 ounces – A
Protein Per Serving:  29.3 grams – A
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein:  1,611 – C+
Taste:  A

Overall Grade:  3.5 out of 4.0 – B

Chicken thighs pack a protein wallop – 29.3 grams of protein per 4 ounce serving.  The unfortunate fact is they also pack a bit of a fat wallop as well.  In order to take in 200 grams of protein with these bad boys, you’re going to be consuming almost 84 grams of fat.  Which is a bunch.

But man, oh man, does that extra fat do some extraordinary things to your taste buds.  Throw some salt on those chicken thighs – and that’s all which is needed for saliva-inducing deliciousness.  Our personal favorite is a chicken thigh or two along with some pesto pasta post-workout.  Fit it into your macros – today if you can.

8.  Salmon

Serving Size:  4 ounces – A
Protein Per Serving:  25 grams – A
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein:  1,864 – C-
Taste:  A

Overall Grade:  3.5 out of 4.0 – B

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’re fully aware of the lack of Omega-3 in our ‘Murican diets.  And we’re gonna go out on a limb and guess you aren’t a member of the Inuit tribe.  Chances are high you need some supplementation – or a steady dose of one of our favorite foods, salmon.  Salmon is almost the perfect food.  If it weren’t for the high fat content, this protein-champ would be given an even more prestigious spot on our countdown.

This tasty cold blooded fish is incredibly versatile.  Baked, grilled, smoked, whatever your preference is – devouring a huge chunk of this delectable fish makes us feel as if we are a large group of grizzly bears snatching spawning swimmers out of the air in Northern Canada.

Actual photo of Coach Thom Lamb.

Extra points for those who eat their salmon with cream cheese, onions, tomatoes, and capers on an “everything” bagel.  As it should be done.

7.  Ham

Serving Size:  4 ounces – A
Protein Per Serving:  19.4 grams – B
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein:  1,265 – B+
Taste:  A

Overall Grade:  3.5 out of 4.0 – B

We know what you’re thinking.  “Ham is just cured pork.  It shouldn’t have its own category.”  And guess what?

You’re right AND you’re wrong.

Ham is definitely cured pork.  But it’s so delicious, so fantastic, and so relatively low in calories, that it needed its own category – and it clocks in at a lofty #7 on our list.  If we’re gonna count bacon, we need to let its lower-calorie cousin onto the list as well.  Low-fat, high taste, and fantastic.  If you can afford the higher deli-counter prices, it’s one of the best ways to get some flavor into your diet while trying to shed fat.

6.  Shrimp

Serving Size:  3 ounces – B
Protein Per Serving:  17.3 grams – B
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein:  1,040 – A
Taste:  A

Overall Grade:  3.5 out of 4.0 – B

There are only two issues with making shrimp your #1 go-to as far as protein consumption:  Price, preparation, and the tail.  Wait, that’s three.  Whoops.

Thank God for Costco and Sam’s Club for making shrimp a bit more affordable, but the fact of the matter is – if you’re in a land locked state, your odds of getting cheap, quality shrimp are slim to none.

And then they must be cooked in a skillet or a grill… and their tails!  Annoying!

Other than that, this protein-filled, tasty treat is an excellent choice for boosting those macros numbers with almost zero tag along calories.  Win-win-win.

5.  85% Ground Beef

Serving Size:  4 ounces – A
Protein Per Serving:  31.3 grams – A
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein:  1,847 – C
Taste:  A

Overall Grade:  3.5 out of 4.0 – B

Whether you go the organic, small farm route, or your supplier reads like an Upton Sinclair novel, you can’t deny the fantastic qualities of ground beef.

Rich, flavorful, substantial, protein packed, filling… ground beef is the base of some of the greatest foods on earth – tacos, sloppy joes, meat sauce, just to name a few.

Moving that 85% up to 90% or higher can bring those calories down a notch to fit your macros a bit more nicely.  But whether you enjoy your ground beef a bit fattier or a bit leaner, this bad boy holds a permanent place on our protein list – with no chance of being derailed.

4.  Chicken Breast

Serving Size:  4 ounces – A
Protein Per Serving:  26.1 grams – A
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein:  950 – A
Taste:  C+

Overall Grade:  3.5 out of 4.0 – B

Chicken breast gets a bit of a bad rap.  Picture a bodybuilder.  What do you see?  Protein shakes, big gym bags, and tupperware containers filled with… chicken and broccoli, of course.

But the versatility of chicken can’t be denied.  If you spice it up and grill it over an open flame, you have a taste that can’t be beat – with almost zero carbs or fat.  Coming in behind ONLY water packed tuna and turkey breast on the calorie criteria, chicken breast is a solid, high protein staple in any good weightlifter’s diet.

The only thing which caused chicken to be a bit lower than the tippy-top of this list is the tendency to cook it incorrectly.  Best cooked for longer times over lower heat, an overcooked chicken breast is one of the least appetizing items on the planet.  Be careful while manning your grills.  Five, short minutes is quite literally the difference between mouth watering and “pass me the ketchup – STAT!”.

3.  Tilapia

Serving Size:  4 ounces – A
Protein Per Serving: 29.5 grams – A
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein: 983 – A
Taste:  B

Overall Grade:  3.75 out of 4.0 – B+

A fantastic protein source, tilapia (otherwise known as “white fish”) has nearly everything going for it.  Solid serving size, high protein content, almost no fat, and an appetizing taste.  We can only see one thing stopping it from being served at nearly every meal.

Tilapia can wreak havoc on your wallet.  Nearly all seafood has this unfortunate problem.

But in the summer, there’s no better option than a well seasoned tilapia filet grilled on a wooden cedar plank.  With some mixed veggies on the side, the meal will be so low-calorie you can even sip on your favorite cocktail or three and enjoy the warm, July breeze – all the while staying under your maintenance and shedding fat.

2.  Turkey Breast

Serving Size:  4 ounces – A
Protein Per Serving: 34 grams – A+
Calories Per 200 Grams:  900 – A+
Taste:  B+

Overall Grade:  3.75 out of 4.0 – B+

The simple, turkey breast is such an amazing protein source that we ‘Muricans have a holiday which completely revolves around this fantastic cut of bird.  Rumor has it that the Pilgrims were simply in the post-workout, anabolic window when they arrived on the Mayflower.  And the Native Americans knew just what to do – give ‘em corn and turkey to max those gains.

With nearly a perfect score, turkey breast does well in every category.  Even the taste is just a shade off of that “A-line”.

The case for turkey breast very strong.  Just don’t eat too much of it, or you’ll be asleep on your couch.  Nevermind those three pumpkin pies you ate.  It was that damn tryptophan.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

Don’t let this happen to you.

And now, Anyman Fitness presents to you…

The BEST Protein Source In America…

1.  Lean Pork Chops

Serving Size:  4 ounces – A
Protein Per Serving:  25 grams – A
Calories Per 200 Grams of Protein:  1,043 – A
Taste:  A

Overall Grade:  4.0 out of 4.0 – A

When grading our protein sources, we used as much objective criteria as possible.  Other than the taste, of course.

When tallying up the final scores, we were a bit surprised to see what topped our list.  Not that pork chops aren’t an excellent choice.  They just didn’t seem like the obvious choice as the protein king.

But data doesn’t lie.  Lean pork chops are filling, protein packed, low-calorie, and taste great.  They aren’t #1 on any of those criteria – but the solid “A’s” all the way around earn this bad boy our highest honor.

Our apologies go out to those with religious restrictions.  The pig quite honestly should have a list all its own.  With bacon, ham, and pork chops on our countdown, and sausage, pork belly, pork shoulder, and countless other options close behind, the pig truly is a “magical animal” – to quote Homer Simpson.

Good old Porky.  Our hero.

Honorable Mentions

We hope you enjoyed this list… and now it’s time for the Honorable Mentions.  Here are some foods which have some protein value and were suggested by others, but just didn’t make our cut:

Game meats (thanks, Kathy) – rabbit, duck, quail, etc.  Not widespread enough to be staples.

Horse (thanks, Omar Atlas of Alpha Aesthetics) – but this is ‘Murica.  Horses are for betting on.  And for forcing to run around a track with a petite Mexican immigrant sitting on top.  Not for snacking on.  Sorry.

Kangaroo (thanks, Sam) – again, ‘Murica, people.  Kangaroos are adorable when boxing.  You crazy Australians.

Codfish (thanks, Stan) – a solid choice, but too similar to tilapia.

Edamame, tofu, legumes, lentils and soy (thanks, Melissa, Robbie Farlow of Sidequest Fitness, and Liddy) – we already have quinoa on the list.  That’s enough for the vegan options.  Quinoa was a stretch as it is.

– Casein (thanks, Nick Sorrell of Nick Sorrell Training) – we agree with you, especially when making protein fluff.  But we didn’t want too many powders on this list – and there was no way we could leave off whey.

We did have one, glaring omission we must address:  steak.  The decision to omit steak was a tough one.  But with the very high variance in fat content of sirloin v. NY strip, v. porterhouse, v. filet, etc., we figured it was easier to just leave it off.

But yes, you should eat steaks.  In fact, eat all the steaks.  Preferably with potatoes and asparagus.

It’s anabolic.

God. Bless. America.

Happy Protein Pulsing!

– Jason

Featured image courtesy of oomni and used under a Creative Commons License.

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