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These 10 Types Of Meat Have The Most Protein: Healthy, Sustainable Ways To Eat Them

Adam Meyer
Author: Expert reviewer:
May 28, 2023
Adam Meyer
Certified holistic nutritionist
By Adam Meyer
Certified holistic nutritionist
Adam Meyer is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and plant-based athlete
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, M.S., RD
Expert review by
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, M.S., RD
Registered Dietitian
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, MS, RD is a registered dietitian, chef, and writer with a love of science and passion for helping people create life-long healthy habits. She has a bachelor’s degree in Communication and Media Studies from Fordham University, a Grand Diplôme in Culinary Arts from the French Culinary Institute, and master's degree in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from New York University.
May 28, 2023
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Whether your goal is muscle growth, weight management, or boosting overall health, eating high-quality animal protein can help you achieve it. But which meat reigns supreme in terms of protein content?

Read on to learn 10 kinds of meat that pack the most protein, plus how to source meat that's better for your health and the planet.

Meat protein at a glance

So, what kind of meat delivers the most protein per serving? Melissa Prest, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells mindbodygreen, "To get the most protein per gram, go for cuts like tenderloin, chop, roast, and steak for both pork and beef. Stick with leaner options as cuts with more fat tend to have less protein per gram."

When it comes to high-protein meats, chicken breast is one of the best options. It boasts a high protein-per-gram ratio1, making it a good choice for athletes, bodybuilders, and people who want a leaner protein source. It's also low in fat, cholesterol, and calories2

Beef also stands out for its protein content. Lean cuts of red meat, such as sirloin or tenderloin, are rich in protein3, and they provide critical nutrients like iron and vitamin B124. When choosing beef, opt for lean cuts and moderate portion sizes to maximize your protein intake and manage your saturated fat consumption.


Chicken breast and lean beef stand out as meat products that pack the most protein per serving.

How to find high-quality protein

All meat is considered a complete source of protein due to its essential amino acid profile. Animal protein contains all nine essential amino acids your body needs.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein5, and each one plays a specific role in the body. One key amino acid is leucine, a nutrient that kicks off muscle protein synthesis (MPS)6 and muscle growth. Leading amino acid researcher Don Layman, Ph.D., suggests consuming around 2 to 3 grams of leucine per meal in order to support muscle growth and repair, which is pretty easy to do with animal proteins but can be more challenging with plant proteins alone.

"On top of containing all the amino acids, the amino acids in meat are highly bioavailable—meaning they're easily absorbed and utilized by the body," says David Church, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. "This makes meat an efficient source of protein for meeting the body's needs. Further, they are generally a good source of B12 and iron."

Of course, to be considered high-quality, meat has to be responsibly raised. Factory-farmed meat is bad for animals, bad for the environment, and ultimately, bad for your health. Throughout our animal protein power ranking, we'll call out ways to make your meat consumption a bit easier on the planet.


Lean cuts of chicken breast and beef, along with other high-protein meats like fish, are complete proteins that contain all the amino acids your body needs to engage muscle growth. Most notably, they have plenty of leucine, an essential trigger of muscle protein synthesis.

10 meats with the most protein

These 10 types of meat pack the most complete protein per serving—and deliver essential nutrients, including vitamins, and minerals in the process:


Turkey breast

Turkey breast is protein-rich meat that's lean and low in fat, packing a protein punch of 27 grams per 3-ounce portion7. It also contains essential amino acids, vitamins B6 and B12, and minerals like zinc.

Be cautious when choosing processed turkey products, such as deli meats, since they may contain additives like sodium or preservatives that can negatively affect your heart health8.

To include more turkey in your diet, give our Garlic & Sage Turkey Breast With Green Beans recipe a go.

Sustainable sourcing tip

Look for turkey breast labeled organic, free-range, or pasture-raised, as these indicate better animal welfare and environmentally friendly practices. Supporting local farmers or seeking out turkey from smaller, independent producers can also help you source sustainably.


Bison meat is a lean alternative to beef and offers high protein content, with a 3-ounce-serving packing 22 grams9 of complete protein. Plus, bison is low in fat and a good source of iron and vitamin B12. Bison is typically grass-fed10 and may contain more omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally raised beef.

Sustainable sourcing tip

Go with grass-fed, free-range, or pasture-based bison when you can. These practices promote natural grazing and minimize the use of hormones and antibiotics. You can also purchase bison cuts that are underutilized and often go to waste, such as organ meats, to reduce your impact.

Chicken breast

Chicken breast is a protein powerhouse, containing 26 grams of protein per 4-ounce serving11. According to one study2, this meat offers a lean and versatile option with low-fat content. It's also a good source of essential vitamins and minerals, such as niacin and selenium. Next time you're craving something spicy, try these Turmeric-Ginger Chicken Fajitas.

Sustainable sourcing tip

Seek out products raised in free-range or pasture-based environments, where the birds can access outdoor areas and engage in natural behaviors. Opt for certified organic chicken or products raised without antibiotics or hormones.


Venison, derived from deer meat, is another protein-rich option. It contains 23 grams of protein per 100 grams12, is low in fat, is a good source of iron and vitamin B12, and may offer a more gamey flavor. However, venison's nutritional profile may vary depending on the diet and habitat due to the wild nature of deer.

Sustainable sourcing tip

Look for venison sourced from wild populations or sustainably managed hunting practices to help ensure natural ecosystem preservation. Consider supporting local hunters or specialty meat providers who adhere to ethical and responsible hunting practices.

Pork tenderloin

Pork tenderloin is another protein-rich meat that's low in fat. It contains 23 grams of protein per 4-ounce serving13 as well as vitamins and minerals like thiamine, riboflavin, and selenium. Note that certain cuts of pork, such as bacon or processed meats, though, can be high in sodium and saturated fat14. Even though they're high in protein, it's best to consume these in moderation.

Sustainable sourcing tip

Opt for pork labeled as organic or raised without antibiotics or growth hormones. Pasture-raised or free-range pigs can roam and have a more natural diet.


Fish is not only a great source of protein (salmon provides 16.8 grams per 3-ounce serving15) but it's also packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart and brain health16. Smaller fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines (part of the SMASH family) also contain essential nutrients like vitamin D and selenium. While larger fish offer health benefits and plenty of protein, you'll want to be mindful of their mercury levels17 and consume them in moderation. Try our Scandinavian Gravlax (Cured Salmon) recipe for a protein-rich meal.

Sustainable sourcing tip

Finding sustainable seafood can be tricky, but look for fish certified by reputable organizations such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). These certifications work to ensure the fish are at least sourced from well-managed fisheries or sustainable aquaculture operations.

Chicken drumsticks

Chicken drumsticks, although slightly higher in fat than chicken breast, are still a good source of protein, with 20 grams per 4-ounce serving18. Plus, they contain essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals like iron and zinc. If you want a high-protein breakfast, check out our Keto Chicken & Waffles recipe.

Sustainable sourcing tip

Go a step beyond the basics and look for chicken that's packaged in eco-friendly materials when you can. Buying straight from local producers usually helps with this.

Lean beef

Lean beef delivers 19 grams of high-quality protein per 4-ounce serving4. Lean cuts of beef, such as sirloin or tenderloin, are excellent protein sources and can provide essential nutrients19 like iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. While beef does contain fat, opting for lean cuts and trimming visible fat can help reduce overall fat intake if it's something you're concerned about. Remember: Moderation is key, and excessive red meat consumption may have potential health implications, such as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease20.

Sustainable sourcing tip

Choose grass-fed or pasture-raised beef as these practices are generally more environmentally friendly and promote animal welfare. Purchasing beef from local farmers or participating in community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs can also support sustainable food systems and reduce carbon emissions from long-haul transportation. Look for farms that use regenerative ranching practices that reinvigorate soil health when possible.


Lamb is protein-rich meat that delivers 19 grams of quality protein per 4-ounce serving21 of ground meat. It has a distinct flavor and is a good source of essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. However, lamb may be high in fat22, so consider choosing lean cuts and trimming excess fat to help reduce saturated fat intake.

Sustainable sourcing tip

Choosing locally raised lamb or exploring farmers markets can reduce the carbon footprint associated with long-distance transportation.

Chicken thighs

While chicken thighs are slightly higher in fat than chicken breast, they're still a good source of protein at 16 grams per 4-ounce serving23. They also provide essential nutrients like iron and vitamin B12. Like chicken breasts, removing the skin and excess fat before cooking can help reduce the overall fat content. Try these Tomato & Horseradish Braised Chicken Thighs for a healthy protein-dense meal.

Sustainable sourcing tip

In addition to the practices detailed above for sustainably sourcing chicken, consider choosing locally sourced chicken or supporting small-scale farmers to reduce the environmental impact of large-scale poultry operations.

How to eat meat heathily

When incorporating meat into a healthy diet, portion control is key. The American Heart Association recommends sticking to around 5.5 ounces of meat daily24 (equivalent to about two chicken breasts, or one and a half beef burgers) for the sake of your cardiovascular health.

Be sure to pair your animal protein with nutritious whole foods like colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. For example, enjoying a piece of grilled chicken with roasted vegetables and quinoa creates a well-balanced plate packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

"While animal protein sources can be included in a healthy diet, we tend to overemphasize the role that meat plays in our diets in the U.S.," says Jen Bruning, R.D., a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Try reimagining your favorite meals with meat as a side or flavor enhancer, using 2 to 4 ounces versus eating a large 12-ounce steak."

Sticking to smaller portions will also help you save money so you can buy more sustainable cuts, like those grown using regenerative practices. "Regenerative grass-fed meat can restore ecosystems, improving soils while sucking carbon from the atmosphere and increasing water storage in soils. It also increases biodiversity of the soil, which is critical for human survival and can be employed on lands unsuitable for other agriculture," functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman, M.D., previously shared with mindbodygreen.


Eating meat in moderation and pairing it with other protein-rich vegetables, grains, and legumes can ensure you're still hitting your protein needs while maximizing your nutrition and minimizing the environmental impact of your diet.


Does chicken or beef have more protein?

Chicken breast generally has more protein than beef per serving. That's why it's a popular choice for individuals looking to increase their protein intake due to its high protein content and relatively low-fat content.

What is the best meat protein for muscle growth?

Lean meats like chicken breast, turkey breast, and lean cuts of beef are excellent sources of high-quality protein. In addition, these meats provide all the essential amino acids required for muscle growth and repair, making them suitable options for supporting muscle development.

What meat has the most protein per ounce?

Lean cuts of meat tend to have slightly higher protein content than fattier cuts. However, it's important to note that the specific protein content can vary depending on the cut of meat and preparation method.

The takeaway

So there you have it: The rundown of which meats are highest in protein. Chicken breast and lean cuts of beef are top choices, offering high protein-per-gram ratios. Turkey breast, bison, venison, pork tenderloin, fish, chicken drumsticks, lean beef, lamb, and chicken thigh are also solid high-protein options. To include meat as part of a healthy diet, practice portion control; pair it with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes; and source your meat (and all your food!) sustainably.

Adam Meyer author page.
Adam Meyer
Certified holistic nutritionist

Adam Meyer is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and 100 percent plant-based athlete. He graduated from the NutraPhoria School of Holistic Nutrition in 2019 and has since founded Pillars Nutrition. His work has been featured on EatingWell, Eat This Not That!, The Beet, Verywell Fit, The Healthy, Livestrong, Alive, Best Life and others.

Adam lives in British Columbia, Canada, with his wife, two kids and an Australian shepherd. That's where you can find him running mountain trails, working out in his home gym, or writing in a coffee shop.