There aren't many things that almost all diets agree on.
Depending on who you ask, the answer is always different:
Low carb. Low fat. Low carb and HIGH fat. Small, frequent meals. Long fasts. Calorie counting versus just eating whole foods.
There are as many nutritional philosophies as there are nutritional philosophers. Everyone's got their own style.
BUT... you don't see many people advocating for low protein diets (with a few medical exceptions). Protein is just too important for your body.
So if you care about your nutrition (especially if you're lifting weights) you probably make a point to hit a certain protein number every day.
Below, I'll show you exactly how to get 50, 100, 150, and 200 grams of protein... in one meal!
How much protein can you digest per meal?
Before we get into the actual high protein meal examples, let's talk briefly about a common, let's call it an 'idea,' that's been floating around for a number of years.
Many people believe and propagate the idea that your body can only absorb a limited amount of protein (usually 30-40g) from one meal, or in a small window of time.
This, in turn, means you shouldn't load up with super high protein meals, but rather you should constantly eat small amounts of protein throughout the day to ensure none of it is wasted.
For the most part, this has been shown to be untrue by most recent studies.
(Here's an excellent deep dive on the topic of protein absorption and the ceiling myth.)
Suffice it to say, there's not really a practical limit on how much protein you can have in a single meal. WITHIN REASON. (I'm not really sure what would happen if you sat down and ate 17 chicken breasts... you might explode.)
As long as your protein goal for the day is reasonable, the timing of when you eat it really isn't all that important.
The core principles of a high protein meal
OK, let's talk practically for a second.
If you're trying to get most or all of your daily protein in one meal, there are a few factors you should consider.
Obviously, you're going to need some serious sources of protein in the meal. But you should also be aware of the protein to calorie ratio of those protein sources.
(Unless you simply don't care about your total calories for the day... in which case this article is moot, just keep eating meat until you can't anymore!)
Outside of whey protein and other protein isolates, the leanest sources of protein around are:
- Cod (63g per 290 calories)
- Clams (48g per 275 calories)
- Tofu (48g per 280 calories)
- Lean beef (36g per 199 calories)
- Chicken (33g per 298 calories)
These are the numbers compiled by Means Health, but you'll sometimes find conflicting reports. (For example, FatSecret says boneless, skinless chicken breast has almost twice as much protein per calorie as MensHealth... Suffice it to say, it's going to be a lot either way. A lot will vary based on how the meat is prepared, cooked, flavored, etc.)
The higher you go in protein in a single dish, the more you'll have to restrict carbs and fat to keep the calories somewhat reasonable. If each individual macronutrient skyrockets separately, the calorie count of the meal will go through the roof.
(The reason the sources above have so much protein per calorie is because they have very little fat content.)
Now obviously, you aren't going to want to sit down and ONLY eat meat as your high protein meal. You'll want to supplement with some side dishes that also provide protein, and you don't want to completely ignore carbs and fat.
Some other great high-protein ingredients you might want to include:
- Peanut butter
- Greek Yogurt
A quick note before we dive into my actual high protein meal examples... It is REALLY hard to figure out exact calorie and protein counts for various servings of food with any accuracy. Every calorie counting site has different values and/or assumes different things about the preparation of the food.
The below values are my best estimates based on the information available and should only be used as rough guidelines.
OK, let's go!
Sample meal with 50g of protein: Chicken burrito bowl
50g is easy. So let's get this one out of the way.
2 chicken breasts, or about 7oz total, ought to cover it and then some, while leaving you plenty of calories to spare for carbs and fat to keep yourself full and energized.
I'd go with a simple burrito bowl:
- 7oz baked or grilled, boneless skinless chicken breast = Around 40-60g of protein and 275-325 calories
- 1 cup of brown rice = 200 calories
- Half cup corn = 50 calories
- Half cup beans = 50-100 calories and 7g of protein
- Sprinkle of cheese = 100 calories and 6g of protein
- Salsa = To taste
This is a simple, delicious 700-800 calorie meal with well over 50g of protein, and that's without trying that hard. (I didn't even include any protein from the rice and corn.)
Let's move on to something more challenging.
Sample meal with 100g of protein: Cheeseburgers!
Even hitting 100g isn't that complicated while keeping calories in check.
If it were me, I'd simply add about 3-4 ounces of extra lean chicken breast to the burrito bowl above, and maybe some extra beans to round things out.
But let's try an example with a different protein source for variety.
To get 100g of protein in one meal, try making cheeseburgers out of 93/7 lean ground beef:
- 2 1/3lb ground beef patties = 66g of protein and 473 calories
- 2 slices of American cheese = 11g of protein and 270 calories
- 2 whole wheat buns = 12g of protein and 260 calories
- 2oz side spinach salad with drizzle of generic dressing = 11g protein and 150 calories
Hey, that's a big meal at just over 1000 calories, but it's a damn good and enjoyable one and should easily get you to 100g of protein.
You could easily modify this to bring the calories down, either by cutting one of the burger buns, some of the cheese, or both. You'd sacrifice a little protein this way but this is still a super high protein bomb for a single meal.
Sample meal with 150g of protein: Tofu peanut bowl
OK, in order to hit 150g of protein in one meal we're going to have to start breaking out the big guns.
No, not a protein shake.
Yes, it might not be for everyone, but tofu is jam packed with protein and pretty low on calories, making it a perfect option for hitting these huge targets. It's also vegetarian, which may be a plus for some people.
To get 150g of protein in one sitting, try a peanut tofu bowl (modified from recipe source):
- 28oz tofu = 128g of protein and 880 calories
- 1 cup chickpeas = 15g of protein and 270 calories
- 1/4 cup peanut butter = 16g of protein and 400 calories
- Olive oil
- Soy sauce & other sauces/ingredients for the peanut sauce
- Check out the full recipe linked above for the big picture
God, that's a lot of tofu. And that's a lot of calories. But you're the one who wanted 150g of protein in one meal! (And this easily surpasses that... I'd peg it at around 1500 calories and 160g of protein.)
I'll note that I'm trying to give you lots of options, and interesting options at that. If you wanted to just sit down and eat 1000 calories of plain tofu, you could easily hit 150g of protein with far fewer calories. (Same with any of the lean protein sources listed at the top of this article.)
But if you can spare a ton of calories and want a really enjoyable meal while you hit your target, try these.
Sample meal with 200g of protein: Cod with quinoa and broccoli
This is an extremely lofty goal if you care at all about keeping your calories in our stratosphere somewhere.
We're going to need to put the big guns away and break out something even bigger. The nuclear warhead of protein bombs:
I would keep this really simple and just load up on almost entirely nothing but lean protein, in this case, fish. Keep the fat and carb calories to an absolute minimum (this meal is already going to be hard enough to finish).
To get 200g of protein in one sitting, try a ton of grilled cod with a little bit of quinoa and veggies:
- 6 x 6oz cod fillets = 180g of protein and 840 calories
- 2 cups cooked quinoa = 16g of protein and 440 calories
- 2 cups cooked broccoli = 5g of protein and 60 calories
That is a LOT of dang fish, and this is going to cost you a fortune to eat like this, but it'll get the job done with 200g of protein and only 1340 calories.
You could accomplish the same thing for slightly cheaper, and only a few more calories, by eating about 25+ ounces of boneless, skinless chicken breast, grilled or baked.
Do you really need that much protein?
Not that long ago, it was commonly accepted that anyone lifting weights in the gym needed 200g of protein, or more, every single day.
(Regardless of bodyweight.)
It's an idea that spread from bodybuilding culture and quickly manifested itself in regular gym goers guzzling high-powered protein shakes before and after workouts, and all through the day, in order to hit these hefty numbers.
Fortunately, this idea is quickly becoming outdated. Modern research shows that around 1g per pound of bodyweight is plenty, and even less is probably fine. There's just not much of a benefit to going too far above that, and it'll cost you valuable carbs and fat that your body needs.
So unless you're very large and using intermittent fasting (or one meal a day), you probably don't need to eat 150-200g of protein in a single meal.
The ideas above could be helpful to you, but they probably aren't necessary. Just try to get solid servings of lean protein with each meal, and don't skimp out on the other macronutrients that keep your body operating at a high level.
To sum up what we've talked about above:
- Protein absorption limits are mostly a myth... Just eat what you need when you need it.
- The best sources of lean protein are cod, chicken, very lean beef, and tofu.
- You can supplement these with other high protein foods like cheese, beans, spinach, and yogurt.
- You probably need less protein than you think, though, even to build muscle.
- .8-1.0g per pound of bodyweight should be perfectly fine
I hope this guide has helped! And good luck on your diet journey, wherever it may lead you.