What are the best proteins for building muscle?

April 21, 2012

Q: What are the best proteins for building muscle while staying lean and losing body fat? I ask this question because there is so much information out there that it can sometimes be confusing for the average person to figure out what proteins will give the best results.

A: The one thing that we can all benefit from is replacing existing fat with tight lean tissue. To do this we must feed our bodies the necessary ingredients to build, repair and promote muscle growth. Trust me, a salad with tofu won’t accomplish this goal, so if you’re really serious about getting in shape, you’re going to have to include certain muscle-building proteins in your diet on a daily basis. Here are five great choices.

Fish is what I like to call a two-for-one special because it contains two key components needed to build muscle and burn fat: protein and omega-3 fats. Fish such as tuna, tilapia and salmon contain high amounts of protein as well as important amino acids needed for the growth and repair of muscles, making them excellent choices for those of us who spend ample time at the gym. Although most fish are considered good sources of omega-3 fats, salmon, herring and anchovies contain higher amounts and are great for building muscle, increasing metabolism and reducing heart disease.

Beef has often been misunderstood and considered unhealthy because most people eat the worst cuts containing large amounts of saturated fats that cause high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other forms of heart disease. But what few people realize is that if you choose wisely, you can have your steak and eat it too. That’s right, cuts such as flank steak, top round and sirloin can provide a whopping 25 grams of high-quality, muscle building protein per 4 oz. serving as well as vitamin B12 for cell repair, brain function and blood health. Just be sure to trim all visible fat for best results.

One normal-sized egg contains six grams of high-quality protein as well as nine essential amino acids, making it an excellent choice for muscle repair and growth and earning it the reputation of one of the greatest protein sources on earth. It’s also one of the few foods that contain naturally occurring vitamin D and has been linked to the prevention of breast cancer in women. I prefer to either eat egg whites only or to allow one yolk per serving to reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Whey protein
A byproduct of making cheese from milk, whey protein was once dismissed as useless and dumped on dirt roads to keep the dust down, until someone had the bright idea to test its nutritional makeup. Much to their surprise, 100 percent whey protein was an excellent source of protein, an abundant source of amino acids as well as being low in cholesterol, sugar, sodium and carbs, making it a great value and a popular meal replacement for athletes, bodybuilders and fitness-minded people. Whey protein is particularly valuable as a pre- and post-workout meal because of its ability to be quickly absorbed by the body and enter the bloodstream; it can most commonly be found in powders and premade shakes.

Casein protein
Casein is also a derivative of milk, but it differs from whey protein because of its unique ability to sit in the stomach and slowly release a steady stream of amino acids throughout the body, lasting up to seven hours after you ingest it. This means that it is a slow-digesting, muscle-sparing protein that can be used to slow muscle breakdown and spare lean tissue. Since the average person sleeps approximately eight hours a night, casein can be an excellent meal before you go to sleep to ensure that your body preserves the muscle that you work so hard for during the day. To add casein to your diet, you can simply drink a glass of milk, but an 8 oz. serving will only have approximately 6 grams, so it makes much more sense to buy a casein supplement that will contain roughly 20 grams per serving.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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