Whether you’re a seasoned professional fighter or you’ve taken up a martial art for fitness, nutrition is important. The overused phrase is that getting in top shape is 20% gym work and 80% kitchen work, and when it comes to the nutrition side of things protein is top of the list. The benefits of protein are endless – it helps keep you feeling fuller for longer, can stop insulin spikes (believed to contribute to fat storage) and most importantly helps build and maintain muscle, and the more muscle you have the easier it is to get rid of fat.
So if you’re trying to cut weight for a fight or add some lean muscle you need to make sure you’re getting enough of it – the rule of thumb is at least 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight – and to help make sure you manage it we’ve put together a list of the top ten high protein foods that you definitely need to be fitting into your diet.
1 – Chicken
Let’s start with the most obvious answer. When you tell someone you’re eating clean the first thing you hear is a comment about eating nothing but chicken and rice, and for good reason. A long standing nutritional staple, the humble chicken breast packs in a sizeable 18.3g of protein per 100g. Easy to batch cook and freeze there’s zero reason that chicken shouldn’t make up a good part of your weekly protein intake.
2 – Eggs
In this list the Egg comes after the chicken, but it’s a very close call. Eggs are a brilliant source of protein, their biological value (the amount of protein in them that can be used in the body) is one of the highest you can get hold of. They pack a ton of essential amino acids, and coming in at 6g of protein for each large egg it’s difficult to go wrong. Eat them for breakfast scrambled, poached or in an omelette or hard boil them in batches for a quick, muscle building snack.
3 – Minced Beef (5% fat)
Beef is a brilliant source of protein and 5% fat mince is a great ratio for making juicy homemade burgers, or cook into a delicious chilli. Totalling 21.5g of protein per 100g, it’s the equivalent of a solid dose of creatine – one of the best nutrients for building muscle and powering your training. Grass fed beef tends to be a bit more nutrient dense, but if you’re on a tight budget then factory farm will do.
4 – Canned Tuna
Cheap, easy to store and even easier to consume. Opt for tuna canned in water to save yourself from extra calories from the oil. 100g of this powerhouse fish delivers you 25.5g of protein, and as far as convenience goes you’re hard pressed to beat a tin of tuna. A tin in a salad or sandwich gives you an instant meal, or if you’re really in a pinch all you need is a tin, a fork and maybe some willpower.
5 – Quinoa
Hugely popular with vegan and vegetarians, quinoa is a fairly unique grain as it contains the full arsenal of amino acids, making it a complete protein that is great for muscle building. Per cup it packs in 8g of protein. It’s a great addition to salads, or as a substitute for rice or potato.
6 – Pork Loin
Pork chops are on a similar level to chicken in terms of how easy they are to prep – throw them on a baking tray, little bit of seasoning and chuck them in the oven. Freeze half, other half in the fridge and just grab one when you need it. Packing a hefty 21g of protein per 100g, they’re a great option.
7 – Wild Salmon
Salmon is a brilliant source of both protein and fat fighting omega-3 fatty acids. It’s widely recommended to have at least 2 oily fish portions a week, and salmon is my personal favourite. Opt for wild salmon over the farmer variety, not only does it taste better, it packs in an extra 25% more protein. Look for fillets with the skin still on, it helps add flavour when it’s cooking.
8 – Cottage Cheese
This curd filled cheese is a great snack to eat just before bed, it’s packed with casein protein, which is a slow digesting protein that will keep your muscles stocked with a steady supply of those vital amino acids. At 14g of protein per 1/2 cup serving it’ll keep you fuelled all night. A lot of cottage cheeses are quite high in sodium, so make sure you compare brands to find the lowest salt option.
9 – Greek Yogurt
Another dairy option, easy to have as a snack or mixed with some honey and homemade granola as an on the go breakfast, Greek yogurt also packs in 23g of protein per cupful. Pro tip though, avoid flavoured types – they can contain three times more sugar than the plain flavours.
10 – Whey Protein
Finally, no list can be complete without including Whey protein. Definitely the easiest way to get a portion of protein in, it’s typically used post-workout to flood the muscles with amino acids as soon as possible after they’ve been broken down by hard training. Servings vary from brand to brand (and there are hundreds of brands) but ideally you want at least 25g per scoop (normally around 35g). You need to make sure you check the other ingredients in the powder as well, a lot of the companies add in sugars and sweeteners to improve the flavour, but they quickly rack up the calories. A good measure of the quality of a protein powder is if you can mix it in a cup with a fork. If it stays lumpy it’s not very well made.
As we’ve mentioned, protein is the building block that makes muscle, and as a fighter muscle is essential. Don’t let all that hard training go to waste, make sure you’re getting enough protein in to fuel that growth and let you come back stronger!