As I discussed in a recent post, my diet has been trending toward a higher protein intake than in years past. Rarely do I consume less than 100 grams of protein. Most days I’m considerably higher even eating only two meals. Those meals center around protein first and foremost with vegetables playing more of a supportive role.
After so many years of following a Primal diet, I feel wholly confident in my ability to eat intuitively. I trust my body to guide my food decisions from meal to meal, day to day, and week to week, so I don’t bother with tracking macros (the exact amounts of protein, carbs, and fat I eat each day). However, knowledge is power. You should have a sense of your protein and carb intake at least, even you’re getting even if you ballpark it.
Most folks don’t have a clue what they’re eating, though. Sure, they might read nutrition labels at the supermarket, but how many people know what 100-150 grams of protein look like in terms of actual food? Do you know how much protein is in a single chicken breast? How about a six-ounce steak? Three eggs, handful of nuts, or even vegetables?
How to Measure Protein Intake
Protein is measured by the gram weight of the protein itself, not the total volume of food you eat. This is a common point of confusion for people who are new to tracking their food. As you’ll see, four ounces of steak is different protein-wise than four ounces of chicken breast or salmon. To determine how much protein a given food contains, you’ll need an app like Cronometer (my current favorite) plus a food scale for precision. Measure all meat raw and make sure to select the correct entry (raw versus cooked) in your tracking app.
Even if you don’t want to weigh and measure all your food, consider tracking just your protein intake for a few days. See what you’re averaging. In my experience, almost everyone is eating less than they think, especially if they practice intermittent fasting. Once you have a decent sense of what it takes to hit your daily protein goal, it’s up to you whether you want to continue to track or not.
I’ll save you some time and provide protein data for a bunch of common foods below. All values came from Cronometer. You’ll notice right away that this list includes both animal- and plant-based sources of protein, including things like legumes and soy products that aren’t strictly Primal. Don’t take this to mean that I think animal and plant sources of protein are equivalent. There’s no question that animal-based proteins are superior in terms of bioavailability and amino acid profiles. However, our Primal community includes individuals who self-identify as plant-based, vegetarian, or even vegan. I want them to eat enough protein, too, from the best possible sources. I’ve thoroughly covered the question of plant-based diets vis a vis Primal Blueprint recommendations in the past. Scroll to the end of the post for further reading on the topic.
How Much Protein Is in Meat?
Values provided for raw meat by weight.
Ground beef, 85% lean (4 oz.): 21 grams
Ground turkey, 93% lean (4 oz.): 21 grams
Chicken breast, boneless (4 oz.): 26 grams
Chicken thighs, boneless (4 oz.): 23 grams
Turkey breast (4 oz.): 26 grams
Porkchop (4 oz.): 25 grams
Pork shoulder (4 oz.): 21 grams
Steak, New York strip (4 oz.): 25 grams
Steak, ribeye (4 oz.): 22 grams
Ham (4 oz.): 23 grams
Venison (4 oz.): 24 grams
Beef liver (4 oz.): 23 grams
Beef heart (4 oz.): 21 grams
Beef tongue (4 oz.): 20 grams
Protein in Seafood
Tuna, fresh (4 oz.): 28 grams
Salmon (4 oz.): 25 grams
Pollock (4 oz.): 22 grams
Trout (4 oz.): 23 grams
Oysters (4 oz.): 11 grams
Shrimp (4 oz.): 15 grams
Canned tuna (1 5-oz. can): 36 grams
Canned sardines (1 4.4-oz. can): 17 grams
Protein in Common Dairy Products
Cottage cheese, full-fat, plain (1 cup): 23 grams
Cottage cheese, fat-free, plain (1 cup): 22 grams
Greek yogurt, full-fat, plain (1 cup): 22 grams
Greek yogurt, fat-free, plain (1 cup): 25 grams
Whole milk (1 cup): 8 grams
Skim milk (1 cup): 8 grams
Heavy whipping cream (2 Tbsp.): 1 gram
Cheddar cheese (1 oz.): 7 grams
Swiss cheese (1 oz.): 8 grams
Cream cheese, full-fat (1 oz.): 2 grams
Are Eggs High in Protein?
Chicken egg (1 large): 6 grams
Duck egg (1): 9 grams
Quail egg (1): 1 gram
Plant-based Protein: Legumes and Soy
Tofu, firm (4 oz.): 14 grams
Tempeh (4 oz.): 23 grams
Natto (4 oz.): 22 grams
Lentils (1/2 cup cooked): 9 grams
Split peas (1/2 cup cooked): 8 grams
Black beans (1/2 cup cooked): 8 grams
Kidney beans (1/2 cup cooked): 8 grams
Pinto beans (1/2 cup cooked): 8 grams
Chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans (1/2 cup cooked): 7 grams
This is obviously not a complete list of every protein-containing you might eat. Protein powders, especially whey protein, are convenient and usually highly bioavailable sources of essential amino acids. I didn’t include them here because protein content varies by brand, but you can usually expect 20-30 grams per serving. I also avoided the bevy of fake meat alternatives. In part that’s because they also vary widely in protein offerings, but more to the point, many of them contain objectionable ingredients such that I can’t in good conscience list them here.
Finally, let me put in a plug for looking seriously at insects as an option. Unless you grew up in a culture that values insects as a food staple, you’re probably shaking your head right now, but insects win big points both for sustainability and nutrition!
Check out our recipe collection for tons of fantastic ideas for protein-centered meals.
A good rule of thumb is to aim for a minimum of 0.7 to 1 gram per pound of lean body mass for overall health. For building muscle, research suggests 0.8 g/lb (1.6 g/kg) of body weight is a good target.
How much protein is too much?
There’s not really an upper limit, though at some point you start to get diminishing returns. The myth that you shouldn’t consume more 30 grams of protein at a time because that’s all your body can assimilate is just that – a myth.
Is protein powder good for you?
While I generally recommend opting for whole foods first, protein powders can provide convenient options for meal replacements or snacks. Whey protein is the most bioavailable. Even though it is derived from dairy, many people who are lactose intolerant tolerate whey protein powders.
Best vegan protein sources?
It’s extremely difficult to be both vegan and Primal. Most vegan-friendly foods that contain non-negligible protein are borderline Primal at best. That said, legumes, nuts, and seeds of all kinds, plus teff, quinoa, amaranth, and vegan protein powders will be your best bets.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.