Regardless of how old you are, what your current health and fitness goals look like, and what foods you like, one universal fact holds true: Eating enough protein is key if you want to feel your best. To help you meet your needs, we asked the experts to share some of their go-to high-protein snacks.
The macronutrient protein performs a variety of functions in our body—from transporting nutrients through the blood to developing bones and muscles.
“Protein is the building block for all cells in the body,” explains Pauline Nordin, C.I.S.S.N., C.P.T., founder and president of FighterDiet. “It also drives body tissue remodeling, balances blood sugar, reduces appetite, and supports gut and immune health.”
Though it’s a must-have for strong bones and healthy skin, hair, and nails, protein is even more essential if your goals include building muscle or shedding body fat. Without protein, muscles can’t recover and grow properly. Plus, it also helps you feel satiated and hold onto muscle mass if you’re cutting calories to get lean.
How Much Protein To Eat—And When
Many experts recommend the average physically active person eat between 1.4 and two grams of protein per kilogram of lean body weight (your total weight minus your body fat) per day. For the average 185-pound guy with 15 percent body fat, that’s 99 to 142 grams of protein per day.
However, if your workouts emphasize strength training and you want to maintain or build muscle, Nordin recommends eating three grams of protein per kilogram of lean body weight per day. That’s about 213 grams per day for that same 185-pound guy.
Eating at least this much protein is especially important if you’re keeping an eye on calories or are over 40, when the body’s ability to use protein starts to decline.
In addition to hitting your total daily protein goals, it’s also crucial to spread that protein out throughout the day, says Meghan Lyle, M.P.H., R.D.N., Seattle-based dietitian and coach at Arivale, which provides personalized, genetics-based health coaching. That’s where snacks come in.
Lyle recommends packing at least 12 grams of protein into your snacks. Doing so can help you recover from your workouts better, build that precious muscle, and make it to your next meal without feeling hangry. Here are eight nutritionists love.
1. Yogurt Protein Smoothie
Protein: about 30 grams
Whatever your favorite flavors and protein powder preferences may be, a protein smoothie is a great blend-and-go snack. Lyle’s favorite recipe combines the following ingredients:
- ½ cup plain yogurt
- 1 scoop whey protein powder
- ½ banana
- ½ cup blueberries
- 1 tsp honey
- dash cinnamon
- water and ice for desired consistency.
When it comes to eating to support muscle recovery and growth, whey protein is a well-researched favorite.
Related: 4 Whey Protein Myths—Debunked
“Plus, with the addition of yogurt, you get even more protein, along with probiotics,” says Lyle. “More and more research has been identifying the importance of healthy microbial diversity in the gut for lower inflammation and better immune function.”
2. Egg Bento Box
Protein: about 17 grams
A great source of protein, eggs also provide a number of micronutrients, like choline, B vitamins, and vitamin D. By pairing these nutritious all-stars with fruit and whole-grain crackers, you’ll also score some fiber to support satiety.
The combo is simple. Just grab:
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- 1 piece fruit or serving veggies
- 1 handful whole-grain crackers
Protein: 12 grams
A favorite of many of Lyle’s clients, RXBARs are made of egg whites, nuts, dates, and a few other easy-to-identify ingredients, depending on the flavor.
“I like RXBARs for their simple ingredient list,” says Lyle. “Study after study shows that when we refine whole foods, we lose key nutrients.” If you can’t get your hands on a whole food to munch on, an RXBAR—whether it’s the Peanut Butter Chocolate, Chocolate Sea Salt, or Blueberry—is the next best thing.
4. FAGE Total 2% Greek Yogurt Split Cup
Protein: 12 grams
If dairy doesn’t upset your stomach, Greek yogurt is a quality, protein-packed snack option. FAGE’s Split Cups, which come ready with tasty toppings to add in as you please, make the snack especially convenient. Lyle likes the creaminess of the two percent fat yogurt they’re made with, and the fact that you can choose how much of the often-sugary topping you want to mix in.
To add a few more grams of protein to this one, Lyle recommends throwing in a handful of nuts and/or seeds.
5. Simple Protein Smoothie
Protein: 24 grams
When in doubt, a basic protein shake is an easy grab-and-go snack. “I like whey because it doesn’t spoil, travels well, and is cheaper than most protein foods of equivalent nutritional value,” says Nordin. Not to mention, using protein powder to make a shake means you’ll also down some fluids.
Nordin’s go-to protein shake includes:
- 1 scoop whey protein
- almond milk
- 1 cup ice
Throw everything in the blender and you’ve got a creamy, satisfying shake. If you want to up the calories for extra energy before a workout (or to support recovery post-workout!), add a banana and/or swap the almond milk for canned coconut milk.
6. Cottage Cheese + Nut Butter
Protein: about 20 grams
An often overlooked source of protein, cottage cheese offers about 18 grams of protein per cup! Not to mention, it’s loaded with bone-building calcium, says Nordin.
Start with one cup of cottage cheese as your base. Then, add a tablespoon of warmed almond butter, which provides another three grams of protein, and some vitamin E. Finish with a little sweetener—like stevia, erythritol, or honey—if desired.
7. Celery + Garlic Quark Dip
Protein: 24 grams
Though nut butter and raisins on celery will never get old, it’s not the only stalk-containing snack worth a spot in your repertoire.
Celery is also the perfect vessel for all sorts of dips. For a protein-packed, gut-friendly dip, Nordin likes to use a trendy, creamy, yogurt-like cheese called quark. All you need is:
- 1 cup quark
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- 1 clove garlic, minced
“Quark contains probiotics and high-quality protein,” Nordin says. Play around with the spices and seasonings you add to your quark to mix up the flavor!
8. Peanut Butter Protein Pudding
Protein: 36 grams
We’re crossing into the major league with this final treat—an easy peanut butter protein pudding recipe.
- 20 grams all-natural peanut butter (about a tablespoon and a half)
- 3 Tbsp peanut flour
- 30 grams whey protein (about a scoop and a half)
- chocolate stevia or erythritol, to taste
- 1/2 cup water (more, as needed)
Combine your ingredients in the blender and voila, you’ve got a thick, creamy, dessert-worthy treat. Nordin loves that it packs healthy fats and additional protein in the peanut butter and peanut flour!
Pin this infographic for the next time you stock up on snacks:
Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!