I talk to my teams over and over again about the importance of protein in their diet. Athletes need protein for muscle growth and repair, and yes, they require a little more than the average child or teenager. However, it is essential they understand not only that the standard American diet provides more than enough protein (no need for so many shakes, powders and bars), but also that protein needs to be consumed throughout the day, not just at lunch and dinner.
I recently had one of my teams, a high school baseball program with about 60 players fill out a food diary. While they were great about eating breakfast and consumed the right number of calories per day, I noticed that most of them ate a significant amount of protein a dinner. Of the 175-200 grams of protein needed per day, most were eating 75-100 at dinner, but had other meals or snacks without any protein.
Ideally, young athletes, especially high school athletes wanting to increase muscle mass or “bulk up” safely, naturally and effectively, should eat 6 smaller meals. The maximum amount of protein should be 30-35 grams per meal. They should always consume a small amount of protein before and after workouts. I am not a huge proponent of supplements in general, especially those providing protein that we can easily obtain from food, but I do understand their convenience. Today I decided to suggest some “Grab-and-Go,” high protein snacks you can incorporate into your meal plan, because whole foods will not only provide complete proteins, they also provide young athletes with vitamins, minerals, calcium, healthy fats and antioxidants.
Just one cup of milk provides 8 grams of protein as well as a significant amount of calcium. Cow’s milk is best when it comes to protein; it is a complete protein which is best for muscle growth. And don’t forget about chocolate milk as recovery fuel after a long workout! Read my Chocolate Milk as Recovery Fuel Blog.
2. Hard-Boiled Eggs
Hard-boiled eggs are very portable and convenient. Eat them whole, or add them to a salad or as part of a snack. Each egg contains about 7 grams of protein. Buy them already cooked and packaged at Trader Joe’s so you don’t have to stink up the house!
Jerky is a simple, high-quality form of protein that comes from beef, turkey and now there are even vegan options. Jerky ranges from 10-13 grams of protein per ounce. Read labels for fat and sodium content, or even better, Make Your Own Beef Jerky.
4. Nuts and Nut Butters
We have all heard about nuts and nut butters and their healthy fat content, but they also have a respectable amount of protein! An ounce of nuts provides between 4-8 grams of protein while nut butters offer 7-8 grams per tablespoon. Highest protein nuts are peanuts, almonds or pistachios. Grab a handful as a snack or add to dishes to fulfill your protein quota. Add nut butters to fruit, toast or crackers for a great, easy, high protein snack.
5. String Cheese
Who doesn’t like sting cheese? From toddlers to adult athletes, string cheese should be in everyone’s menu! Two rods of string cheese contain approximately 15 grams of protein, so pack them with you!
Edamame, or soybeans, is not only a fabulous source of protein, with 15 to 20 grams per serving, but also provides plenty of fiber! Eat them hot or cold; they’re easy to make ahead and take to school! Choose organic edamame if you have concerns about GMOs.
7. Greek Yogurt
Of course greek yogurt makes the list! Also easy and portable, as little as 3/4 cup of greek yogurt provides 12-18 grams of protein. Add fruit, granola, nuts, seeds and honey for a true breakfast of champions!
8. Cottage Cheese
While I must admit that cottage cheese is an “acquired texture,” only 1/2 a cup offers 12-14 grams of protein. Great for an after-school/before practice high protein snack, paired with sweet fruit like pineapple, cantaloupe or berries.
Tuna is a protein power house! Almost 23 grams of protein per small can, take one to school and eat during the day with some crackers. Grocery stores now sell convenient little packages of tuna for those of you on the go.
Don’t forget about the seeds! Sunflower and pumpkin seeds provide between 5-8 grams of protein per ounce. They are very portable, heat stable and easy to eat. Just grab a handful and go! Add Chia or flax seeds to smoothies or cereals. Seeds also include fiber and healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
So next time you think the only easy, portable solution is a commercial drink or bar, think again!
More great ideas
Photo Credit: Karen Stefaniak