Nutritious and Protein-Packed

I try to get to the gym at least three times a week.  If you go to the gym, too, and you have muscle-building goals in addition to fitness ... you need to be eating protein, and lots of it!  Out of protein ideas or unsure of what foods contain high levels of protein?  Read on:

Chicken

When I really want to start increasing my muscle mass, I buy a barbecued chicken and devour the whole thing.  If you want to reduce your carb intake, don't eat the stuffing or the skin, and don't have it on sandwiches.  It'll still be greasy and fatty but there is a heck of a lot of protein in it.  Usually contains less fat than steak.

ChickenCredit: http://www.zankouchicken.com/uploads/product_imagesorg/11_7_42_chicken.jpg

Steak

I eat my steaks rare to medium rare, so I often chuck a steak onto the grill for a couple of minutes each side and chow it down quicker than the speed of light.  Really good source of protein but generally has a bit more fat than chicken.  Good with vegetables on the side - although try to avoid sweet potato, pumpkin and potatoes as they have high carb levels.

SteakCredit: http://besthomechef.com.au/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/rare-steak.jpg

Cottage Cheese

It's pretty easy to scoff down a tub of cottage cheese.  It actually doesn't contain that much energy (for those of you watching your kj or cal intake) and it has a high protein content.  Very tasty and filling.

Cottage CheeseCredit: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archive/img/0306/cottagecheese1.jpg

Almonds

These are the lowest-fat nuts and also the most protein-rich.  Each almond is about 25 kilojoules or a bit over six calories.  Great, healthy snack and a wonderful alternative to a block of chocolate (as I am often drawn to).

AlmondsCredit: http://www.balancingnutrition.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/almonds.jpg

Protein Powder

If you want to build muscle, you absolutely must have a protein shake either before and after your workout, or after your workout (within 30 minutes).  Whey (milk-based) protein powder is the most common but you can get dairy-free alternatives.  This is a staple of your diet if you are regularly going to the gym.  I don't really like the taste of any protein powder (they usually tastes very sweet) but your tastebuds will adapt and after a while any shake just becomes part of your routine.  I mix mine with water - if you wanted you could use milk as that does contain some protein, but it also contains a level of fat and carbohydrates that I myself try to avoid.  However, it does depend on what diet you have formulated, according to your fitness goals.

Protein PowderCredit: http://www.bodytrim.com.au/SiteMedia/w3svc688/Uploads/Images/protein%20powder.jpg

Protein Bar - Store-bought

If I ever do get an uncontrollable urge to eat chocolate or lollies, I buy a protein bar from the shops.  These usually have chocolate on the outside, but at least have 16-30 grams of protein inside (depending on the brand).  I look for high-protein, low-carb bars and preferably sugar-free.  I know some people don't like artificial sweeteners, but you should still go for low-carb protein bars if you are trying to tone up.  Remember, 'toning up' is simply reducing your body's fat levels - you do this through reducing energy intake.

Protein BarCredit: http://www.nutritionwarehouse.com.au/upload/image/images.jpeg

Protein Bar - Home-made

If you're feeling lazy and don't want to leave the house, what you can do is this: a big scoop of chunky peanut butter, a big scoop of protein powder and a few tablespoons of water, stirred up in a bowl and heated on high in the microwave for 30-45 seconds = home-made protein bar.  It puffs up like a weird, alien-looking entity but the end result is something that you can put in a mould and put in the fridge ... and after a couple of hours it's a bonafide protein bar!

Peanut ButterCredit: http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archives/images/misc/cashewbutter.jpg

Eggs

Eggs are a great source of protein, and the yolks aren't that bad so don't be afraid to eat them (like a lot of people are - I personally hate seeing people chew around the yolk of a hard-boiled egg like a goat).  You can poach them in water with a splash of white vinegar - no oils or butters required.  Or, you can fry them which is a bit fattier.  You can also boil them and have them as a snack that way, once they cool down.  Scrambled eggs, omelette, bacon and egg sandwich even (although higher in carbs) - bottom line is ... eggs have a lot of protein so should be regularly consumed by gym-goers.  It usually isn't too much more expensive to purchase free-range or organic - try to do that, as if you've seen videos of caged hens' living environments you will probably be sick to your stomach.

Cracked Brown EggCredit: http://mypcos.info/1/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/cracked-brown-egg.jpg

Lamb, Avocado and Spinach Pizza

This requires a bit more effort and time, but the end result is well worth it.  Buy a thin-crust pizza base and spread avocado and tomato paste all over it.  Then, load it up with succulent pieces of lamb that you have pan-fried for a few minutes with onion, garlic, salt and pepper.  Add cherry tomatoes on top, some pumpkin if you like, and plenty of wilted spinach.  Top it up with mozarella and ricotta cheese (protein sources, too) and put in the oven.  If you pre-heated your oven to a sizzling hot temperature, the thin base means a) fewer carbs and b) within half an hour you should have a crusty, perfectly-cooked pizza that is a great revitaliser before or after a big gym workout.  N.B. There is a lot of energy in this meal, so be mindful of what else you are eating on the day that you have this.

Roast LambCredit: http://www.bryopin.com.au/images/Roast%20Lamb%20Whole.jpg

All of these protein-rich foods should be combined with plenty of vegetables like peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, zucchini and spinach.  Eating fruits like strawberries, blueberries, prunes and dates are great, healthy snacks in between meals.  Good luck with your fitness goals and remember that whether you are trying to tone up (eat fewer carbohydrates and reduce energy intake) or gain muscle (eat lots of protein and complex carbohydrates if you want to substantially build mass), your diet affects everything by at least 80%.  You are what you eat.