Losing weight or staying lean can be difficult, especially if you’re trying to tone up your muscles or gain some muscle mass at the same time. Your body needs protein to rebuild your muscles after tough workouts, but sources of protein often come with a high calorie count or fat content. While protein intake is paramount to building muscle, or maintaining your current muscle mass, taking in an excess amount of fat can show on your waistline.
Popular sources of protein like red meat and fish contain fat. Some of the fats that they contain are good fat which support body processes and heart health, but if you’re getting all of the protein you need from high-fat sources, you’ll find yourself with some pretty un-lean mass. No diet should be completely without fats, but keeping the fat content low can be very helpful in keeping your total calorie count down and maintaining that caloric deficit required to lose weight.
Even if you’re trying to gain mass, getting too many of your daily calories from fat can come back to haunt you in the form of a dense layer of fat covering all of those muscles you’ve been working your butt off for. High-fat protein sources won’t be as detrimental to your diet as someone trying to lose weight or maintain their weight, but you shouldn’t be getting all of your protein from fat-dense foods.
If you’ve done some digging around, you’ve probably uncovered one or two low-fat or fat-free sources of protein that are your go-to items. However, eating the same thing over and over again gets boring pretty quickly. Spicing up your diet with some variety can dramatically increase the chances that you’ll stick to the diet – as most diets fail not because of the principles behind them, but because they’re not adhered to. Switch up your diet with these great fat-free protein sources.
1. Fat-Free Dairy
Fat-free dairy varieties are probably the most popular way to get some protein in your diet without elevating your fat intake. There are quite a few dairy products available without fat, ranging from fat-free cottage cheese and Greek yogurt to kefir and milk. Dairy is also a good source of calcium and several vitamins and minerals, and takes no preparation, making it a great on-the-go snack or quick protein boost at work. The protein levels can vary per product, but they generally are at the upper tier of protein sources, ranging anywhere from 6 or 7 grams to around 20 grams per serving.
2. Egg Whites
Eggs have been a bodybuilding staple for decades, and that’s not going to end anytime soon. Eggs contain a large amount of protein (around 8g per egg). However, egg yolks contain fat, which can add up if you’re eating a lot of eggs (which you should be if you’re trying to gain muscle). Egg whites, on the other hand, are fat-free and still retain the high protein content. Egg whites can be hardboiled, softboiled, fried, poached and prepared in dozens of other ways.
“Beans? You mean the things in burritos?” Yup! Now, keep in mind, not ALL beans are fat-free. Pinto beans and fat-free refried beans are fat free, with other varieties not being fat free, but VERY low in fat – usually below 2g per serving. Beans are also great sources of dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates to keep your digestive tract happy and your energy levels high throughout the day.
4. Fat-Free Protein Powder
If you’re looking for the most protein per serving, you’ll find it within fat-free protein powder. These supplements are designed specifically to deliver a ton of protein and have it absorb into your muscles quickly and efficiently. There are several fat-free varieties of protein powder available, and in several different flavors. These can also be mixed with some non-fat dairy products like non-fat milk or Greek yogurt to really pack the protein on.
I mean, it’s good enough for Popeye, right? It turns out that Popeye was on to something, as this unlikely source of protein is also packed with vitamins and minerals. One cup of cooked spinach contains 5g of protein, which is great for a green vegetable that has so much else going towards promoting good health. Remember to steam spinach in lieu of other preparations, as it helps retain the nutrients.
Weren’t expecting this to be on the list, were you? Artichokes are actually a pretty good source of protein, weighing in at 4.2g of protein per medium-sized artichoke. One of the great things about artichokes is how versatile they are in cooking. If you haven’t looked up any recipes with artichokes, you’re missing out – artichokes can add a great texture and layer of depth to several dishes, all while remaining fat-free.
Let me just start by saying that a cup of peas has 8g of protein, the same amount as a large egg. Many people are against the taste of these little spheres of nutrients, but they are great sources of protein without the fat. Getting these in your diet can give you a great macronutrient boost, so maybe peas are worth a revisit, don’t you think? Hot tip: frozen peas are WAY better than canned, and fresh are the best; also, a little salt and pepper goes a long way.
As we discussed earlier, no diet should be completely without fat. Unsaturated fats are good food you, they help regulate blood pressure and cholesterol and help transport nutrients throughout your body. That being said, fat is a dense calorie and most of us don’t need nearly as much as we’re taking in, which can put us at a caloric excess – the natural enemy of those trying to lose weight or stay lean. The foods listed above are great sources of fat-free protein, and there are many sources of low-fat protein out there. Do some experimenting with the foods above to incorporate them into your diet, keep the workout regimen going strong, and you’ll be just fine.