From our hair to our toenails, every cell in the human body contains some form of protein. Protein is needed to repair damage to these cells or replace them with new cells. We also need protein to make enzymes and hormones used even in the most basic body functions, like breathing. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Our bodies use amino acids broken down from digested food to synthesize countless new proteins to keep us alive. When we don’t get enough protein from food, the body pulls from less vital places, like arm and leg muscles, redistributing the protein where it’s needed more critically. 

Protein Needs for Runners

Muscle breakdown happens during long runs. Endurance runners have an increased need for protein more than the Dietary Reference Intakes (0.8 g/kg body weight). The current guideline from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is a range of 1.2 to 1.4 g/kg body weight. When runners take in enough calories to maintain weight, they usually consume adequate protein and shouldn’t need protein supplementation. Remember to grab that snack, protein drink or burger after the run as protein is required to refuel and repair muscles.

Foods High in Protein

Many of us think about meat, eggs, and dairy when considering protein. This may be because animal products are known for providing “complete” proteins. This means they contain all of the essential amino acids humans require.  Plant sources like legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains also offer protein and can give us the amino acids we need when we eat a variety of these foods. Some plant foods, like quinoa and soybeans, are nearly complete proteins, just like meat. In general, complete proteins can be created by combining legumes like beans with whole grains like brown rice throughout the day. 

Here are a few ideas for snacks high in protein to help you meet your daily needs. 

Edamame

Edamame, or soybeans, is a complete source of plant protein. These nutty-tasting beans can be found in the frozen section of most grocery stores, still in their pods or already shelled. ½ cup of edamame offers 7 grams of protein. 

In-shell, frozen edamame is easy to prepare. Just boil the pods for a few minutes, then sprinkle with your favorite low-sodium seasonings. Or for a crunchy snack, lightly drizzle shelled edamame with a little olive oil and roast the oven at 375 °F for 20-30  minutes.  

Roasted Lentils or Chickpeas

Roasted lentils and chickpeas are high in protein. ½ cup of cooked lentils provides over 8 grams of protein. The same amount of chickpeas offers 7 grams. 

With their growing popularity, roasted lentils can often be found prepackaged in grocery stores, but you can also make them easily at home. Simply mix 1.5 cups of cooked lentils with ½ teaspoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of your favorite savory seasonings. Spread them on a lined baking sheet and pop them in a 300°F oven for about 25 minutes, or until browned. 

The same instructions apply to making homemade roasted chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, with a couple of exceptions. You’ll want to start with canned garbanzo beans, drained, rinsed, and patted dry. And after adding oil and seasonings, roast chickpeas at 425°F for 20-30 minutes.

Canned beans are easy and convenient to use. Remember to rinse them to reduce the added salt. 

Smoothies

Everyone seems to have their own favorite smoothie flavor. If you make your preferred smoothie with the right ingredients, it can add a significant amount of protein to your day. 

Label reading is important when shopping for smoothie ingredients. For example, if you use a cup of soy beverage as your liquid base, you’ll add about 7 grams of protein to your shake. Compare that to some nut beverages, which only have 1 gram, while others are fortified with pea protein and would add up to 10 grams per cup. 

Including nut or seed butter can also increase nutritional value. Peanut and pumpkin seed butter have the highest protein content, each adding 8 grams in a two-tablespoon serving. For a lower calorie option, try powdered peanut butter, which offers about 6 grams of protein in a two-tablespoon serving. Consider adding tofu to the blender. Tofu adopts the flavor of surrounding ingredients so you won’t notice a difference in taste. Plus, ½ cup tofu raises the protein content by 10 grams!

Nuts and Seeds

If you’re in a hurry, nuts or seeds can make a great grab-and-go snack. You can find them in grocery stores, conveniently packaged in a wide variety of flavors including low-sodium choices. The protein content in nuts and seeds varies anywhere from 2-9 grams per one-ounce handful. Pumpkin seeds and peanuts will give you the highest amount of protein. 

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