Meat is arguably one of the most potent sources of protein we have in our diets. It plays a pivotal role in building and repairing tissues, as well as contributing to various bodily functions. However, not all meats are created equal when it comes to protein content.
With an array of choices available—from beef and chicken to fish and pork—you may be interested to know which ones pack the highest protein punch.
We’ve consulted with dietitians to present you with the meats that offer the most protein per serving. Our intention is not only to guide those who are looking to up their protein intake, but also to help you make more informed dietary choices.
What’s The Highest Protein Meat?
When we talk about the highest protein meat, we are referring to the type of animal meat that has the highest amount of protein per serving.
Protein is a macronutrient that is essential for building and repairing tissues, making enzymes and hormones, and supporting overall growth and development (12). Protein is present in meat in the form of complete proteins, meaning that they contain all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot make themselves.
Meat proteins, particularly those from lean sources, are highly bioavailable. This means they are easily absorbed and used by the body. They also tend to be high in certain nutrients that are less abundant in plant foods, such as vitamin B12, zinc, and iron. Craving meat can be a good excuse to get your dose of these essential nutrients.
However, although meats provide high-quality protein, they also contain saturated fat and cholesterol, particularly in red and processed meats (13). Therefore, it’s essential to balance your diet with a variety of protein sources, including plants.
Comparatively, plant-based proteins are generally incomplete, which means they don’t contain all the essential amino acids (8). However, this can be countered by consuming a variety of plant-based proteins throughout the day. In addition, plant proteins come with the added benefits of fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, and are also low in saturated fat.
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What Meats Have The Most Protein?
Meats that are leaner and less processed tend to be the best sources of protein. Here is a list of the highest protein meats, according to dieticians:
Pork tenderloin, which is often considered one of the highest protein meat and fish options, is a lean cut of meat from the muscle along the backbone of a pig. With 22 grams of protein per 3 ounces, it’s a powerhouse for those who want to increase their protein intake.
This cut of pork is also low in fat and calories, which makes it a perfect choice for the highest protein, low-calorie meat diet.
In addition to being an excellent source of protein, pork tenderloin is rich in several essential vitamins and minerals, such as thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, and phosphorus. It’s also an excellent source of selenium, a nutrient that is known for its antioxidant properties (2) (1).
Canned tuna has an impressive 22 grams of protein per 3 ounces and is a convenient and versatile source of high-quality protein. It’s a popular choice with athletes and bodybuilders due to its lean profile and high protein content.
An excellent option for the lowest calorie highest protein meat, canned tuna can be added to salads, sandwiches, or casseroles to give you a quick protein boost.
While it is a potent source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals (4), it’s important to be cautious about the high mercury content of tuna. This can lead to health issues, particularly among pregnant women and young children. Therefore, moderation is key when consuming canned tuna, and choosing lower mercury types (such as “light” or skipjack rather than “white” or albacore) can be helpful (5).
Elk meat boasts 26 grams of protein per 3 ounces and is a lean, gamey meat rich in protein. This wild game meat offers a unique taste experience while also providing a substantial protein punch.
Similar to other game meats, elk is lower in calories and fats than traditional meats, which makes it a great addition to a high-protein, low-calorie diet.
Elk meat is also packed with nutrients such as iron, phosphorus, and zinc (3). However, due to its wild nature, it’s imperative that you ensure it’s properly cooked to avoid any potential foodborne illnesses.
Chicken breast has one of the highest protein contents of poultry, with 27 grams per 3 ounces. It is rich in protein, but also low in fat and calories, which makes it a staple of many healthy diets. Chicken breast is versatile and can be used in a variety of cuisines, from grilling and baking to stir-frying.
In addition to its high protein content, chicken breast is a good source of niacin, selenium, and vitamin B6 (9). Skinless chicken breast is the healthier option as the skin adds significant amounts of saturated fat and calories.
Turkey is another poultry option that has a high protein content, offering 26 grams of protein per 3 ounces. This lean meat is not just for Thanksgiving; it’s a great source of high-quality protein all year round. Turkey, particularly the breast meat, is also known for its low calorie and low fat content, which makes it a favorite among those who are on a diet.
In addition to protein, turkey is rich in several nutrients such as niacin, selenium, and vitamin B6 (11). It’s also an excellent source of tryptophan, an amino acid that plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy sleep patterns. As with chicken, you should opt for skinless turkey breast to keep your calorie and fat content in check.
When it comes to protein in fish, salmon is a top contender with approximately 20 grams per 3 ounces. This oily fish is not only high in protein, it is also packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon is a flavorful and nutritious option for those who are looking to incorporate more high-protein meats into their diets.
Salmon is also rich in vitamins D and B12, selenium, and iodine (10) and is a low-mercury fish option.
Beef is a classic source of protein, with around 22 grams per 3 ounces. It’s a versatile meat that can be used in many dishes, from steaks and roasts to stews and burgers.
While it is high in protein, beef also contains a significant amount of fat, so lean cuts are recommended for a healthier option.
Beef is an excellent source of iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, nutrients that are essential for various body functions. However, it’s also high in saturated fats, so moderation is advised if you are incorporating beef into your diet (7).
Shrimp is a seafood option that packs a high protein content, with 20 grams per 3 ounces. This small yet mighty shellfish is low in calories and fat, which makes it a fantastic choice for those who are looking for high-protein, low-calorie foods.
In addition to protein, shrimp is rich in iodine, selenium, and vitamin B12 (14). However, its source should be considered, as some shrimp farming practices are harmful to the environment.
Goat meat provides 23 grams of protein per 3 ounces. Also known as chevon, goat is leaner than beef and even has less fat than chicken, which makes it a healthy alternative for meat lovers.
Goat meat is also rich in iron and potassium, in addition to being lower in saturated fat than many other types of meat (6). However, it’s not as widely available as other meats, so you may need to search a little harder to find it in your local grocery store.
What Is The Leanest Meat With The Highest Protein?
Chicken breast is one of the leanest meats with the highest protein. In addition to chicken breast, other lean meats that are high in protein include turkey breast, bison, venison, and pork tenderloin.
Lean ground beef also provides a significant amount of protein. Just 3 ounces delivers 22 grams of protein.
Fish also feature prominently as lean, high-protein foods. Options such as tilapia, tuna, and salmon offer substantial amounts of protein and are generally low in fat. In addition, they provide beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
What Foods Have Higher Protein Than Meat?
Meat isn’t the only option when it comes to high-protein foods. In fact, there are many non-meat sources of protein that can be great additions to your diet.
For example, legumes such as lentils and chickpeas are excellent protein sources. A cup of cooked lentils provides approximately 18 grams of protein, while the same amount of chickpeas offers approximately 15 grams.
Soy products are also high in protein. For example, tofu contains approximately 10 grams of protein per half-cup serving. Tempeh and edamame are other protein-rich soy products.
Seeds and nuts pack a protein punch too. Almonds contain around 6 grams of protein per ounce, while chia seeds offer about 5 grams per ounce.
Whole grains such as quinoa and teff are not only rich in fiber, they also contain a good amount of protein. One cup of cooked quinoa has approximately 8 grams of protein.
Dairy products, particularly Greek yogurt and cottage cheese, are also high in protein. A cup of Greek yogurt can provide you with as much as 20 grams of protein.
Finally, eggs are an excellent source of protein, and one large egg provides around 6 grams.
Healthy Ways to Consume High-Protein Meat
Although meat is a rich source of protein, it also contains saturated fats. Therefore, healthy preparation methods and careful portion control are essential if you are to reap the benefits of an all-meat diet while maintaining overall health and wellness.
Choose Lean Cuts: Opt for lean cuts of meat, which contain less fat and fewer calories. For example, choose skinless chicken or turkey breast, lean cuts of beef such as sirloin or tenderloin, and pork loin.
Healthy Cooking Methods: Grilling, baking, broiling, and steaming are healthier cooking methods as they don’t require any extra fat. Avoid frying or sautéing meats in butter or oil, as this adds unnecessary calories and unhealthy fats.
Control Portions: The American Heart Association recommends portion sizes of 3 ounces of cooked lean meats and poultry. Practicing portion control can help ensure you get enough protein without exceeding your daily calorie needs.
Balance Your Plate: Make sure you balance your plate with vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats to ensure you get a wide array of nutrients. Half your plate should be filled with fruits and veggies, a quarter with lean protein, and the remaining quarter with whole grains.
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Mind Your Marinades: Marinades can be a source of hidden calories and sodium. Opt for homemade marinades that use ingredients such as olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and herbs rather than store-bought versions, which are sometimes high in added sugar and salt.
Limit Processed Meats: Processed meats such as bacon, sausage, and deli meats are often high in sodium, nitrates, and unhealthy fats. You should limit these in your diet and opt for fresh, whole cuts of meat whenever possible.
Consider Other Protein Sources: Remember that meat isn’t the only source of protein. Eggs, dairy, legumes, and nuts are also excellent sources of protein and can add variety to your diet.
Frequently Asked Questions
What food has the highest protein?
Chicken breast is considered to be one of the foods with the highest protein content. A 3-ounce serving of chicken breast provides approximately 27 grams of protein.
Is pork high in protein?
Yes, pork is high in protein. For example, a 3-ounce serving of pork loin contains approximately 22 grams of protein.
How much protein is there in beef?
A 3-ounce serving of beef provides approximately 22 grams of protein. However, this can vary depending on the specific cut.
How much protein is in steak?
The protein content in steak can vary depending on the type and cut of the steak. However, a 3-ounce serving of steak provides about 23 grams of protein on average.
What meat is the healthiest?
Chicken breast is often considered the healthiest meat due to its high protein content and low levels of fat and calories. Fish is also sometimes considered the healthiest meat due to the healthy fats it provides. However, the healthiness of meat is dependent on a variety of factors, such as the way it’s cooked and specific individual dietary needs.
The Bottom Line
High-protein meats are a great way to get the necessary protein our bodies require. Chicken breast, lean ground beef, fish, pork tenderloin, and game meats are all excellent sources of protein that have relatively low amounts of fat and calories.
Choosing lean cuts, controlling portion sizes, and practicing healthy cooking methods are all key to reaping the benefits of these high-protein meats. In addition, there are plenty of non-meat sources of protein that can be incorporated into a well-rounded diet.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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- Effects of Eating Fresh Lean Pork on Cardiometabolic Health Parameters (2012,nih.gov)
- ELK MEAT HEALTH BENEFITS (2020,rangelandbison.ca)
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- Guidelines for Eating Fish that Contain Mercury (2023,epa.gov)
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- Health benefits and risks of plant proteins (2005,nih.gov)
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- Salmon and Its Health Benefits (2022,nih.gov)
- The health benefits of turkey (n,d,aztecnm.gov)
- What are proteins and what do they do? (2021,medlineplus.gov)
- What Are the Negative Health Effects of Eating Meat? (2023,news-medical.net)
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