Gain Mass

Protein Snacks for Massive Gains

8 high-protein, whole-food snacks that pack everything you need to keep building muscle between meals

September 14, 2013

By Nicole McPherson

Have you ever stopped and thought about how many protein shakes and bars you’ve consumed over the course of your bodybuilding career? Hundreds? Thousands? The number’s probably too high to even wrap your head around. For serious athletes wanting instant, high-quality protein, supplements just make sense. Still, like every bodybuilder, every once in a while you just want a snack that isn’t a shake or a bar, but that’s still high in protein. When it’s feeding time again and the only thought on your mind is having something hearty with a bit of extra flavor, try one of these eight high-protein snack ideas that’s either grab-and-go or can be ready in just minutes.

Variety is Key


The saying “change is a good thing” certainly applies to your nutrition plan. Varying your protein sources and bringing whole foods back into the mix are excellent ways to rev your metabolism and ensure you’re getting a full range of amino acids and other key nutrients needed for muscle growth.

“The truth is, we’re still discovering all of the chemicals and nutrients in our foods,” says Brad Pilon, author of Eat Stop Eat and How Much Protein? “So while protein supplements absolutely have their time and place in any bodybuilder’s diet, you just can’t beat the complexity of whole foods as staples in your meal plan.”

Protein Powerhouse: Soybeans


Soybeans

Why We Love ’Em


You may be more familiar with soy as a protein powder, but the actual whole beans (also called edamame) are an ideal snack option for bodybuilders. Soybeans contain the same protein quality as animal meats, with the full spectrum of essential amino acids, so they’re considered a complete protein source (according to the PDCAAS, or Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score). One cup of soybeans provides an impressive 33 grams of protein. These muscle-building legumes also contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and key minerals such as iron and magnesium.

In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers demonstrated that soybeans elevate levels of nitric oxide in the body, which improves blood flow to muscles and transports oxygen, hormones and other nutrients necessary for growth.

Natural soy nut butter offers the same nutritional advantages, as it’s made from roasted soybeans. Just make sure you look for unprocessed versions without salt, sugar or other additives.

When to Eat ’Em


Soybeans are relatively high in fiber — containing about 11 grams per cup — so your best bet is to consume these snacks outside of the pre- and post-workout windows. For any other times of day, they make a handy on-the-go snack that’ll keep you satiated until your next meal.

Serve ’Em Up


Fresh soybeans can be found at most supermarkets and natural-food stores. To prepare, boil the whole pods (or shelled beans) in a large saucepan filled with water for 3–5 minutes. Drain and spread out on a baking pan to cool for a few minutes. Some grocery stores also sell precooked packages of edamame in the refrigerator or frozen food sections.


Protein Powerhouse: Hard-Boiled Eggs


Eggs

Why We Love ’Em


While they can fill your kitchen with a strong stench, hard-boiled whole eggs are chock-full of protein. Nearly half of the egg’s protein content is found in the yolk, not to mention all of the egg’s vitamin A, D and E, so if you’re consuming only the white, you’re missing out on a lot of the nutrients. According to the USDA Nutrient Database, two whole, hard-boiled eggs (100 grams) contain 156 calories, just over 12 grams of protein, 1 gram of carbohydrate and 10.5 grams of fat.

When to Eat ’Em


Grab a couple of hardboiled eggs when you need a filling protein snack without extra carbs. Because of their low-carb and high-fat contents, however, this isn’t a snack that should be eaten around the time of your workout.

Serve ’Em Up


Hard-boiled eggs can be eaten as is (plain or flavored with salt, pepper and other spices) or crumbled on top of a salad.


Protein Powerhouse: Beef Jerky


Beef-Jerky


Why We Love It


A true “man’s man” snack, beef jerky consists of strips of meat that have been marinated in a spicy, salty or sweet liquid, and then dried or smoked on low heat. Because most of the fat is trimmed, beef jerky is considered a quality source of protein. The average 30-gram portion nets about 10–15 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat and 0–3 grams of carbs. Though readily sold in convenience and grocery stores, you’ll find the most healthful (usually lowest sodium content) beef jerky at health-food stores. You can also buy it online or even download recipes to make your own.

When to Eat It


Beef jerky can be eaten fresh or can be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration, making it ideal for bodybuilders on the go. Much like protein bars and shakes, beef jerky is very convenient, and contains less artificial sweeteners and flavorings. Because of its macronutrient profile, we recommend beef jerky anytime a high-protein snack is required (or just plain wanted!).

Serve It Up


No fuss, no muss. Just rip open the package and indulge in this gritty high-protein snack.


Protein Powerhouse: Shrimp


Shrimp


Why We Love ’Em


Like many white-flesh fish, shrimp are high in protein and low in fat. A 4-ounce serving of shrimp yields approximately 23 grams of protein, 112 calories and less than 1 gram of fat. They’re also an excellent source of selenium, vitamin D and vitamin B-12. Shrimp can be cooked shelled or unshelled, and served hot or cold.

When to Eat ’Em


High in protein, low in fat and with zero carbs, shrimp make an ideal snack for bodybuilders anytime during the day. The only concern is if you’re packing them to take with you as a snack for later. Just make sure to use ice packs in your cooler bag or store the shrimp in the fridge, so they stay cold until you’re ready to eat. Nutritional bonus: The seafood cocktail dip traditionally paired with shrimp is usually low in calories.

Serve ’Em Up


Shrimp takes only about 5–7 minutes to cook, whether sautéed, grilled, baked or broiled, so they’re a quick protein fix. For some added flavor, toss the shrimp with a tablespoon of olive oil, some chopped garlic and seasonings (e.g., sweet chili pepper, cayenne, chili powder) before cooking.


Protein Powerhouse: Hummus


Hummus


Why We Love It


This traditionally Middle Eastern dip/spread boasts a strong macronutrient profile with 204 calories, 10 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates and 10 grams fat per ½ cup. While the fat content is slightly high, keep in mind that it comes mainly from the olive oil, which is rich in monounsaturated (read: healthy) fat. Chickpeas are very high in fiber so they digest slowly and keep blood sugar from elevating too rapidly. When combined with whole grains (aka, crackers for dipping), chickpeas become a complete protein source.

When to Eat It


Since hummus has a fairly high fiber content (from the chickpeas), it’s not a good snack option for pre- or post-workout, since the fiber will leave you feeling full and will slow digestion.

Serve It Up


To make your own, simply blend (in a food processor or blender) one can (19 ounces) chickpeas, 1–2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 cloves garlic and any seasonings you like (e.g., cayenne powder, paprika, lemon pepper). Serve with fresh veggies, whole-grain crackers or whole-wheat pita bread.


Protein Powerhouse: Lentils


Lentils

Why We Love ’Em


Lentils don’t exactly scream muscle building, but they can give an average snack a pretty serious protein boost. In fact, 1 cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein, 40 grams of carbs, just less than 1 gram of fat and 230 calories. Lentils are also a good source of slow-burning complex carbohydrates.

These legumes shouldn’t be eaten raw — you’ll find both dried and canned versions readily available in grocery stores. Depending on the variety (the most common types are green, brown, black or red), dried lentils need to be soaked and then cooked for 15–45 minutes. In each serving, you’ll also get a healthy dose of dietary fiber, folate, vitamin B-1, and other important minerals for muscle growth and energy such as iron, copper, phosphorus and potassium.

When to Eat ’Em


Again here, because of the high fiber content, you’re wise to avoid lentils right before or right after your workout. At any other time of day, lentils are a top-quality snack choice to keep your body energized and your muscles stocked up with amino acids.

Serve ’Em Up


Lentils can easily be added to any soup or salad, or you can puree them to make lentil patties. You can store dried uncooked lentils in an airtight container for up to 12 months. Just make sure you put the container in a dark, cool and dry place. Once cooked, lentils can be stored in the fridge for approximately three days.


Protein Powerhouse: Pumpkin Seeds


Pumpkin-Seeds

Why We Love ’Em


Don’t let the size and shape of these little, flat seeds fool you. The U.S. Department of Agriculture ranked pumpkin seeds at the very top of their “High-Protein Nuts and Seeds” list, above almonds, peanuts, cashews and pistachios. Just 1 ounce of pumpkin seeds yields over 9 grams of protein, which, by ounce, is comparable to the protein content of extra-lean ground beef or ribeye steak, but with less fat.

When to Eat ’Em


Grab a handful to have as part of your morning, afternoon or evening snack. Slot them into your daily meal plan whenever you want something that’s also low in carbohydrates.

Serve ’Em Up


Roasted seeds without salt are the best way to go. You can eat them on their own; toss some into your yogurt, cottage cheese or oatmeal; or sprinkle the seeds overtop a fresh salad or onto steamed vegetables.


Protein Powerhouse: Smoked Salmon


Smoked-Salmon


Why We Love It


Your cupboards are most likely already lined with tons of canned salmon and tuna, so smoked salmon is a great way to refresh your diet a bit without straying too far from your standard fish fare. And, by snacking on smoked instead of canned salmon, you’re eliminating all the sodium and other preservatives that get packed into canned versions. Typically found in vacuum-sealed packages, smoked salmon is a convenient, ready-to-eat snack (it just needs to be thawed if you buy the frozen varieties) that’s loaded with protein and healthy fats. A 7-ounce serving contains 239 calories, 37.5 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat and 0 grams of carbohydrates.

When to Eat It


Snack on smoked salmon mid-morning, mid-afternoon or in the evening — the wide spectrum of nutrients it contains, including omega-3 fatty acids and key micronutrients such as selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamins B-3, B-6 and B-12, will be of benefit to your body at almost any time of day.

Serve It Up


Just open up a package (make sure to keep refrigerated) and peel away slices. Make an open-faced sandwich with bread such as sourdough or pumpernickel, serve on whole-grain crackers, or use as filling in a high-fiber wrap.