We all know protein is excellent for helping muscles grow, and stuff like grilled chicken and powdered shakes are great ways to get it. But just like you’ve gotta change up your workout routines to keep things fresh and continue your progress, it helps to switch up your protein sources to satisfy your palate and maintain your gains.
Toward that end, we’ve spent the past several weeks sampling a bunch of unlikely protein sources, from coffee to pasta to yogurt and everything in between. The major evaluating factors were convenience and flavor, because the best nutrients in the world are worthless if they aren’t easy to access and flavorful.
Now check out some of our favorites below, and get your protein on…
1. YQ by Yoplait: Yogurt has always been a respectable source of protein, but YQ really maxes out the bang for your buck. The plain flavor offers an impressive 17 grams of protein and just 1 gram of sugar per 5.3 oz. serving. And if you want something a bit sweeter, YQ offers eight delicious flavors packing 15 grams of protein and 9 grams of sugar, which is still a lot less than you get with most other yogurts. We tried all eight flavors and loved them, with Strawberry and Coconut leading the pack. Pro tip: Throw them in the freezer for a bit before eating and they almost taste like ice cream.
2. Ancient Harvest POW! Pasta: That’s right, pasta. Often viewed as the endurance athlete’s best friend and the six-pack’s worst enemy, pasta can legit help you muscle up when made of different ingredients. Ancient Grains constructs their clean, vegan elbows, penne, rotini, spaghetti, linguini and shells out of black beans, lentils and quinoa, and believe it or not, they’re pretty damn good! Our favorites are the Mac & Cheese varieties, offering 16 grams of protein, but the Red Lentil Rotini is quite tasty too—and comes strong with 25 grams of protein per 3.5-oz serving. That’s twice the protein you’ll find in traditional rotini, sports fans.
3. STōK Protein Cold Brew Coffee: So cold brew is all the rage, but we certainly had our doubts when we heard about protein coffee. You can’t just sneak it into everything, can you? Apparently you can, as this beverage delivers 16 grams of protein—the same amount in two eggs and slice of bacon, in case you hadn’t guessed—while boasting a pretty convincing cold-brew flavor. Maybe that’s because STōK steeps their cold brew for 10 hours before adding a shot of espresso, so every serving leaves your muscles feeling fueled and your body feeling energized. Beats a mocha frappuccino any day of the week.
4. High Brew Creamy Cappuccino + Protein: While we’re talking cold brew, we would be remiss not to mention another contender in the category. Next time you’ve got a hankering for an energy kick from a slim metal can, ditch the Red Bull and get with the High Brew. You’ll come to life with 130-150 milligrams of naturally occurring caffeine plus a body-rocking 12 grams of protein. And trust us, this smooth beverage is way more refreshing than the stuff that claims to give you wings while tasting suspiciously like carbonated Sweet Tarts.
5. ParmCrisps Trios: We know, we know, when you think of protein, cheese is hardly the first thing that comes to mind. But notwithstanding cottage, Parmesan is one of the most protein-packed cheeses out there. And when these crisps team up with dried fruit, crunch nuts and seeds, you’re looking at a pretty damn health and satisfying vegetarian snack. While the Mediterranean variety is our favorite, all three versions deliver 13 grams of protein, which is nothing to cheese at, er, sneeze at.
6. Super Snack Time Pizza in a Bag: Craving pizza but don’t wanna get weighed down by all that cheese, sauce and dough? Meet your unlikely solution, a line of pepperoni jerky from Super Snack Time, a brand inspired by Epic Meal Time star Harley Morenstein. We thought it sounded crazy too, but all three flavors—Pepperoni, Supreme and Buffalo—are addictive thanks to real ingredients like tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese, garlic, oregano, basil and red pepper flakes. They’re also keto- and paleo-friendly, pack a solid 8-10 grams of protein per bag and scratch an itch very few relatively healthy snacks can.
7. Fairlife Core Power High Protein Milk Shakes: Standard protein shakes, equal parts clumpy and funky-tasting, are one thing. But Fairlife’s new dairy-based shakes are another. First, they’re some of the smoothest, tastiest shakes we’ve ever tried, especially the chocolate and coffee flavors. Second, they’re legit: lactose-free and packing 26 grams of protein, thanks to the muscle-friendly whey and casein protein’s found in cow’s milk. Oh and if you want even more bang for your buck, the Core Power Elite line packs a whopping 42 grams of protein. That’s enough to follow up even the most intense gym workouts.
8. REBBL Protein Shakes: Looking to spice things up a bit? REBBL’s Vanilla Spice and Dark Chocolate flavors promise an energy boost from exotic herb extracts including Maca root (a.k.a. Peruvian ginseng), Reishi (Asia’s “Divine Mushroom of Immortality”) and Ashwagandha, which is popular in India’s Ayurveda medicine. The flavors may not be quite as familiar as in some of these other products, but they can still hit the spot while bestowing energy, vitality and stamina alongside 16 grams of protein. REBBL also offers Cold Brew and Banana Nut varieties with 12 grams of protein.
9. EPIC Performance Bars: The EPIC brand operates on four major principles: that humans should eat simply like we did in the hunter/gatherer days, that our animal-based meals should come from free-roaming and free-eating beasts, that land should be managed sustainably and that food should taste great. We can’t argue with any of those, nor can we take issue with the flavor of their dense and satisfying energy bars, which feature natural, non-GMO ingredients, no added sugar and 12 grams of protein from cage-free egg whites. Peanut Butter Chocolate is our favorite, but try them all and find yours.
10. EPIC Meat Bars: Granted, when it comes to protein sources, real, actual meat isn’t exactly surprising. But the way EPIC does it merits a mention. This stuff is like the classiest, healthiest jerky you can imagine, composed of high-quality animals, fruits and nuts while remaining low in sugar and free of gluten, grain, soy and dairy. Available in 11 flavors, including Lamb Currant Mint and Smoked Maple Bacon (as well as those pictured above), this mouth-watering stuff is the ultimate on-the-go meat snack, delivering as much as 15 grams of protein in a single bar. No, you’re not hunting it down as an Early Man might, but you’ll certainly feel as strong as one after a few bites.
Lead photo: iStock/Getty Images Plus/MRBIG_PHOTOGRAPHY