The amount of protein you need each day depends on your gender and your activity level. Although basic dietary guidelines recommend 46 grams each day for women and 56 grams each day for men, if you're active you may need more than that. According to sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, active adults need 0.4 to 0.6 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day, and adults trying to build lean muscle mass need 0.6 to 0.9 gram per pound each day. Choose protein-rich foods from animal and vegetarian sources to meet your daily needs.
Meat and Poultry
Meat and poultry are top sources of complete protein -- protein that contains all the essential amino acids your body needs to repair, maintain and build new muscle mass. Turkey breast offers 30 grams of protein per 3.5-ounce portion; pork loin provides 25 grams per 3.5 ounces; and lean beef offers 36 grams in the same size serving. When choosing poultry and beef as a protein source, select the leanest varieties to avoid consuming excess saturated fat.
Fish and Seafood
Fish and seafood are also rich sources of complete protein, and they provide essential fatty acids that are crucial for brain function and heart health. Fatty fish including tuna and salmon are the top sources of protein among fish and seafood, with 26 grams of protein per 3.5-ounce serving. Fatty fish are also the richest sources of essential fatty acids known as omega-3s. Choose fresh fish instead of deep-fried fish to control your intake of saturated fats.
Don't Forget Dairy ... and Eggs
Some types of dairy are abundant in protein; however, it's a good idea to choose low- and nonfat varieties to avoid getting excess saturated fat. Nonfat mozzarella cheese tops the list with 32 grams per 3.5 ounces. But you should stick to a healthy serving size for cheese, which is about 1 ounce. Eggs are also a rich source of muscle-building protein; 3.5 ounces provide 13 grams, while one large egg provides 6 grams.
If you eschew animal products, there are plenty of vegetarian protein sources to choose from. Soy is abundant in the nutrient. You'll get 17 grams of protein from eating 3.5 ounces of mature soy beans. If you eat a standard serving of 1 cup, that's almost 30 grams. Other top vegetarian protein sources are nuts and seeds. An ounce of pumpkin seeds or almonds provides 9 grams of protein.