What is a Lean Protein

Proteins are combinations of amino acids that are necessary to support and sustain numerous parts and functions of our bodies.  Proteins not only build muscle but also create enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, antibodies, aid in growth and repair, and control body fat.  Suffice it to say, that we need protein or we will not function properly

Additionally, consuming enough protein will not only help improve body composition but it will improve your immune system so you do not get sick as often, it will increase your metabolism so you have more energy, and it will help you stay full longer, which helps manage body weight.

As stated above, proteins are combinations of amino acids.  There at 20 types of amino acids that our body needs. 12 of them are called “non-essential” because our body can make them itself.  However, 8 are called “essential” because we can only get them from our diet.

To ensure we get all the amino acids we need, we must consume a variety of high quality foods.

So how much Protein do you need?

This number varies depending on age, lifestyle, fitness regime, body type, etc.  However, the basic minimum to avoid protein deficiency is approx. 0.4g per 1-pound of body mass every day.  So a 200lb person would need 70g of protein or so per day. Note that this is not optimal, it is just the minimum.

An optimal amount of protein per day is going to be in the range of ¾ to 1 gram of protein per pound of body mass per day.  Again, this number would need to be adjusted to account for a variety of factors but it is a good starting point.

Now here is the kicker, just because it has “protein” does not mean it is quality.  You need to consume high quality, lean sources of protein to reap the benefits.

What makes it “Lean”?

The term “lean” takes into consideration a number of factors to ensure your protein sources are going to benefit you more than harm you.   These factors are:

Types of Protein Sources:  Stick to whole fresh meats from a local butcher that have no additives.  Also, look to dried beans and legumes will have no added salts and preservatives that you might find in the canned versions. Avoid highly processed meats such as those you would get from microwavable meals, fast food joints, pre-packaged meat snacks, or sugar packed “protein” or “health” bars.  Marbled steaks, fatty lamb, ground beef and pork are not necessarily bad but due to their high fat content should be eaten much less frequently than low fat sources. Additionally, when these higher fat meats are consumed should their fat content should be taken into consideration as you balance out your day’s macros.

How its Prepared: when you cook your protein be sure to use high quality cooking oils (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil) and avoid hydrogenated oils (canola or vegetable oils).  Additionally, avoid breaded options and lean more towards pan fried, grilled, broiled, roasted, etc.  Lastly, a well grilled piece of chicken covered in processed or sugar laden sauce is a no go. The chicken may be lean but when consumed with the sauce it is essentially cancelling out the health benefits.

Organic/Grass Fed/Etc: If you can afford it, look to purchase grass feed and free range meats as well as organic beans and soy products.  Be careful of the “organic” label on meat products. It can often mean that the animal was simply feed organic grains and not grass, which makes the meat not worth the added price tag.

“I am not a big fan of meat” or “I am a vegetarian”

Not a problem.  If you are not a big fan of meat, but still not a vegetarian then try to sneak high quality meat sources into items such as chili or salads.  Meat is still one of the best sources of protein out there, so try to get some from time to time.

If you are not a big fan of meat or a vegetarian then eggs, beans, legumes, tofu, and seafood are your jam.  Try to consume one of the items at nearly every meal to ensure you are getting adequate amounts of protein.

Additionally, you may want to look into adding one protein supplement per day to ensure you are consuming adequate amounts per day (see below).

“I am a vegan”

This is hard.  There is no denying it.  However, it is not impossible.  Every food you eat has protein in it and, as such, you can get it from non-meat based sources without eating beans at every meal.  For example an avocado has 4g or protein, cupped handful of quinoa has 5g, and a fist-sized amount of broccoli has 3g. However, these foods also have higher concentrations of carbohydrates or fats, so you will need to account for that as well.

Essentially what it means is that you will need to do some planning to ensure you get enough protein every day.   Using macro calculator acps like My Fitness Pro will help you with this.

Additionally, look to incorporate beans, legumes, tofu, jackfruit, temph, and other items in to your regular diet. You will also need to incorporate a protein supplement to ensure you get adequate daily amounts (see below).

List of Protein Sources (not exhaustive):

  • Animal Organ Meat (heart, liver, kideney, tongue)
  • Beans
  • Chicken
  • Chickpeas
  • Duck
  • Eggs
  • Flank Steak
  • Flax Seeds
  • Fowl
  • Ground Turkey
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Lamb
  • Lean Ground Beef
  • Lean Steak
  • Lentils
  • Rabbit
  • Salmon
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp
  • Soy/Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Tilapia
  • Tuna
  • White Fish

Protein Supplement

Protein powders are an extremely useful supplement if you are struggling to get enough protein in your diet or you need portable options due to a busy schedule.  However, before regularly taking a protein powder, ensure you are getting adequate amounts of “real food” already. It should be used as a supplement and not a primary source.

Protein powders are dietary supplements that contain a high percentage of protein per gram of total weight.  These powder can be derived from a variety of different food sources, including:

  • Rice
  • Egg
  • Milk
  • Pea
  • Hemp
  • Soy
  • Cranberry
  • Artichoke

There are pros and cons with each protein type, however, as you start, the big three variables are quality of product, taste, and digestibility.

Not all supplements are “healthy” as some have low quality protein sources or have lots of added sugars and carbohydrates.  They do this to improve cost of production, shelf life, or taste. So be sure to always check your labels for low sugar and read quality research and reviews of products before buying.

Also, some sources will make you feel bloated or the taste is so gross that you just can’t drink it.   

Therefore, experiment with different types and flavors until you find the sweet spot. If you find a few that you like, GREAT!.  Rotate them every few weeks or months to ensure you do not build up any intolerances.

Wanna Learn more about Protein Powder? Check out THIS article from Precision Nutrition.


This article was intended to be an overview and nowhere near exhaustive.  To learn more about Macronutrient Balance and how to include it into your daily life, reach out to me at coachjosh@flexfitnessot.com or checkout www.FlexFitnessOT.com.


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