7 PROTEIN FOOD RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REPAIR & ReCOVERY - Sports Dietitian’s Kitchen Essentials for Athletes (Part 1 of 3)
Successful macro and calorie tracking requires the correct food supply to achieve success. However, many athletes get stuck not knowing what foods they should be eating to help them fuel for sporting success. Protein is especially important but you need to know where to get your protein hit to be able to eat enough protein.
In this blog post, you will learn about the main protein food staples I personally use on a regular basis to help me hit my macros and achieve nutrition success so I can achieve my goals. This will teach you about food choices you can start incorporating in your life to be more consistent with your nutrition plan - and hit yo protein target!
The truth is that without having the right food on hand, following a nutrition plan becomes a lot harder. That is why I've decided to write a series of posts to show you the foods I use to personally hit my macros.
This week it's about protein so I'm going to show you the protein foods that I personally use to help me hit my protein requirements. However, first let me give you a disclaimer. You don't have to eat the exact same things as me. You have your own nutrition plan so this is all just to give you some ideas and give you some direction.
So without further ado, let's show you my favourite protein foods….
The number one protein staple I ALWAYS buy is some good ol’ greek yoghurt. It’s a great way to increase your protein intake at either snack times or with main meals - either by itself or coupled with some fruit (or any toppings that tickle your fancy really).
In addition to a healthy dose of protein, yoghurt also gives you some extra nutrients such as calcium and B12 - which is very important for athletes engaging in strenuous activity. Yoghurt is right up there as one of my favourite protein sources and if you aren’t on the yoghurt bandwagon yet, well time to hop on my friend.
Notable choices include:
However, any Greek yoghurt will do if you eat an overall well structured diet. Just find one you like the taste of is affordable, accessible, and level up your protein game.
The humble egg is an underrated player in the nutrition game - namely due to the unnecessary hate it has received due to misinformation around eggs and heart health. The egg is what I call “Nature's protein ball” for a reason.
In fact, eggs are actually the highest biological value protein source in the world. Biological value is the rating of the protein quality of a food - the higher the value, the more complete and well absorbed it is in the body.
Also, it needs to be said that the WHOLE egg is the way to go. Are egg whites bad? No. They are perfectly fine. And I have no issue with athletes using it as a low calorie way to boost protein in dishes. However, if you are eating NO whole eggs in your diet then you are missing out on a lot of the nutritional value eggs provide. Eggs are very much a nutritional powerhouse in a small package.
“But Aleksa, eggs have fat and cause high cholesterol!”. No they don’t. Eggs do not cause high cholesterol as this is a myth that I’m hoping will die out soon. Cholesterol in eggs does not lead to elevated blood cholesterol. Just don’t be chugging down a carton of eggs a day and you’ll be...A-okay!
3. Fish (such as sardines, salmon, and Hoki)
Next we've got protein from the seas! Introducing the classic fish. My go-to options include sardines and salmon for a dose of protein and healthy fat but I also eat hoki from time to time for a leaner fish option. Doesn’t matter what you choose, fish will hit you over the head with enough protein to make your muscles go “YEAH BABY!”.
The reason I like to eat sardines and salmon is because they not only provide me with a good dose of good quality protein, but they also give me my daily dose of omega 3 fatty acids. Hoki on the other hand is a low calorie white fish option that I quite enjoy so I mix and match as I wish.
Also, keep in mind these 3 options are all lower mercury fish which I am quite conscious of too - as nutrition and health isn’t just about “calories and protein bro!”. And with that said, something like sardines or salmon with bones will also give you a dose of calcium for your bones to make them nice and strong which is a win-win situation in my opinion.
4. Lean chicken
How can you have a protein food list and exclude the classic chicken!? You can’t. Hence I didn’t. I often truly do “feel like chicken tonight” and if you eat meat, perhaps you should too. Lean chicken is one of my favourite and most often purchased protein foods (right up there with yoghurt). The reason why is because it tastes great, affordable, and very versatile - you can’t go wrong with that (unless you don’t like chicken….then don’t eat it obviously).
There really isn’t much to say about chicken really. It’s a lean, low calorie way to boost protein and can be added into most dishes with ease. Perfect for the athlete who wants to keep nutrition simple but delicious.
Now you may be wondering - should I only eat chicken breast or is the rest fine? The answer is that any part of the chicken is perfectly fine. You could even eat the chicken skin in moderation and make it fit your calories and you can’t go wrong. My personal favourite is chicken thighs but it’s all good in my books! Keep it interesting and eat what you prefer as that will make your nutrition more enjoyable and therefore sustainable.
Another dairy food makes the list so you can see quite clearly that I am a fan of dairy and do not believe dairy is bad as some “gurus” will have you believe. I personally choose skim milk myself for a low calorie option as I have no need for the extra calories from milk fat but any milk will do if it fits your plan.
Milk is a great way to add extra protein to your diet by having it with your protein shakes, smoothies, or just as a drink (yes I am one of those and proud). Plus it’s not just the protein I consume milk for as the calcium content is also very appealing to me and should be to you (as you can tell, I'm quite fond of ensuring my athletes have good bone health).
Now you may be wondering one of two things:
Let’s answer these for you. If you don’t like milk (or are vegan), then you can choose soy milk or protein almond milk - but ensure it has calcium fortification. And as for the second point, no milk is not unhealthy or bad for you unless you are allergic to dairy or have lactose intolerance. If either of those applies to you then see the first answer or choose lactose free. Simples.
6. Legumes/Baked Beans
Legumes are one of the best plant based options for protein - largely due to the additional benefits they provide. These benefits include: chock full of fibre and being packed with nutrients. My go-to options include either black beans or baked beans but I will also mix it up with four bean mix, chickpeas, and kidney beans as desired.
Quite simply, legumes enable you to hit your protein intake requirements while also providing good quality carbs and extra nutrients for good measure. As for how you should consume them? They go well in pasta sauces, salads, or as a side dish if you wish.
All in all, legumes are my preferred way to diversify my protein supply and add some plant based goodness into my diet so that I'm not just eating meat and animal food sources. I like to mix it up and balance out my nutrition so if you aren’t adding in plant based protein yourself, try legumes and see if you vibe with it.
7. Whey Protein Powder
We end today’s list with the very popular - whey protein. A protein powder is a great protein source?! NO WHEY! (don’t judge haha).
Whey protein is one of my staples because it's such a great way to boost protein intake when busy or for meals that aren’t naturally high in protein. Not to mention, protein powder enables me to create high protein baked goods or macro friendly dessert creations (CLICK HERE to go to my YouTube channel for some of these recipes!).
Some of my favourite ways to use protein include:
- Add to oats to create protein oats
- As a shake when on the go or post workout
- In yoghurt for a choc pudding
- Protein milk for cereal
However, while protein powder does come from food and is one of the few supplements that suits most athletes, it is still best to focus on ‘food first’ and use whey protein to supplement your diet as needed. However, if you are using it to fortify foods such as oats, then it’s hard to argue against that. Just don’t do what a lot of people do and swap out whole meals for the ease of protein shakes or think the shakes are going to elevate your game in and of itself.
So there you go. Now you know what foods I eat to hit my protein requirements. I hope this post has given you some fresh new ideas for your own diet and made macros a bit easier to understand and implement as an athlete.
However, if you read all of this but you’re vegan then you would be left thinking “what can I eat other than legumes!?”. Don’t worry, I got you covered. Simply click here to go check out my YouTube video where I cover the 10 best vegan protein foods.
Feel free to tell me in the comments section, what is your favourite protein food/s. Mine would be yoghurt and chicken - simple but effective.
Now it’s time for you to use this new knowledge and level up your food game even more and improve your fuelling.
Of course , if you want a sports dietitian to personally help you & work with you 1:1 to help you master your nutrition and get a handle over the flexible nutrition approach while providing more accountability and guidance...
I have a new 90-day nutrition program called the 90-Day Macro Sherpa program - which is a nutrition coaching experience designed to help kickstart your flexible nutrition lifestyle and show you how to harness it the right way.
Interested? To apply for this coaching experience, CLICK HERE.
Or you can shoot me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to ask me any questions.
Stay safe and stay determined.
Hi there! My name's Aleksa Gagic - i'm a Brisbane Dietitian & Nutritionist. The aim of this blog is to provide value and spread quality evidence-based nutrition information to counter the BS floating around.