Protein. We all need it, yet often it can be difficult to come by, especially when it comes to snacking on things that aren't obviously labeled 'protein bar'.  So what is protein, why do we need it, how do we get it, and most importantly, how do we snack on protein?

What is Protein?

Protein is one of the three macronutrients (also including carbohydrates and fat) that we need large amounts of to survive. When we eat protein, our body digests it and breaks it down, leaving behind amino acids which our bodies use to function. As our good old friend WebMD put it: protein is an important component of every cell and it is the building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. Especially if you exercise regularly, protein is necessary to help recover and build your muscles. Unlike carbohydrates and fat, our bodies do not actually store protein, so getting sufficient amounts of it daily is understatedly important. The amount you need varies depending on your body type and goals, the Dietary Reference Incline suggests we get .36 grams per pound (so .36 x your weight) of protein every day.

How do we get it?

You should aim to get protein primarily through your main meals. As a rule of thumb, the "balanced" meal tends to be 1/4 protein, 1/2 vegetables, and 1/4 some sort of starch. Of course, this totally depends on your own goals and dietary restrictions etc.., but it is just a rule of thumb. With that said, everyone still needs protein and especially in a dining hall, diverse options of protein (specifically non-meat sources) can be sparse. Below are 10 different snacks with high amounts of protein to help you get to your daily goal of grams of protein!

1. Almond Butter

almond butter, Trader Joe's, Nut butter
Julia Gilman

Almond butter is an amazing source of protein, fats, and various minerals you need on a daily basis. It is also super versatile and is amazing on rice cakes, with apples or other fruits, in yogurt, or good old toast. Honestly, I can't think of anything it doesn't go well with (hyperbole, but you get the point). My favorite kind is Trader Joe's raw crunchy almond butter (not pictured above). 

Grams of protein per serving: 7g 

Cost: $5.99 per jar

2. Pistachios

pistachio, nut, vegetable, oil, meat, salt
Christin Urso

In general, nuts are a great source of protein and healthy fats. I love pistachios I find them the most flavorful of all nuts, and they tend to be pretty filling per their serving size. Confession: as I currently write this article I have a handful right next to me. Nuts are also great because they are packed with healthy fats, so they will keep you full for longer.

Grams of protein per serving:   6g

Cost: $19.99 (for a 24 ounce bag)

3. Roasted Chickpeas 

As someone who doesn't eat a ton of meat, chickpeas are a great source of protein. I am a huge fan of these ranch flavored chickpeas as they are super flavorful. I've found these are a really great grab and go snack as you can throw some in a plastic bag and eat them on the go. If you're buying flavored chickpeas, just be wary of the ingredients that are flavoring it to make sure it doesn't offset the benefits of eating chickpeas in the first place. 

Grams of protein per serving: 6 grams

Cost: $5.99

4. Edamame

Edamame is like the Kanye of all protein snacks-- it just dominates all other snacks and it knows it. Edamame has among the most protein of all plants and honestly, everytime I look at the amount it has I'm shocked that a plant can have that much protein. Personally, I like to buy edamame in containers already shelled, but I know some people find eating edamame out of its pods to be 90% of the reason you even eat edamame in the first place, so whatever's your preference it's all the same bean.

Grams per serving: 17

Cost: Varies, but never too expensive

5. Yogurt

If you're in the mood for something a little sweeter, yogurt is a great choice. Greek yogurt or Icelandic skyr especially are packed with protein. Personally, I am a really big fan of Siggi's Dairy as their yogurt can have upwards of 15g of protein with little sugar. However, I try to avoid dairy for the most part (#lactoseintolerantlife) and there are also a lot of great coconut or almond milk based yogurts with a lot of protein. If you like flavored yogurt, try to opt for plain yogurt and add in real fruit or a low-sugar, whole-grain granola instead to lessen added sugars (you'd be surprised how the sugar count can spike up when flavored). 

Grams per serving: ~17 grams

Cost: Varies by brand, but around $1-4 (supermarkets can have great deals on yogurts so keep your eyes peeled!)

6. Chia Seed Pudding

Chia seeds are an amazing source of fiber, protein, and other more micronutrients that are great for you (ie; iron, omega-3, antioxidants, etc...). As a snack, this one requires a bit more planning, but if you make it ahead of time it's a great option. As a general rule of thumb, you do 2 tablespoons of chia seeds and a 1/2 cup of whatever base you want (milk, alternative milks, juice etc...). You can add protein powder, fruit, honey, and other ingredients to ~spice~ it up. Again, just be wary of the additives you make it with to keep sugar levels low. 

Grams per serving: 16.5 grams

Cost: Varies based on ingredients, but a bag of chia seeds ~$4

7. Nutritional Yeast

If you like cheese flavored foods, nutritional yeast is about to be your new best friend. The product's claim to fame is being a convenient powder that can be added to most foods (mostly savory though) for nutritional benefits such as proteins and the important 9 amino acids human bodies cannot produce. You can sprinkle this on popcorn, nuts, seeds, chips, or even toast like pictured above to get a cheesy flavor with lots of protein.

Grams per serving: 9 grams

Cost: ~$6 but obviously varies by brand and quantity 

8. Hummus

Hummus is ground up chickpeas, and as mentioned above, chickpeas are great sources of protein. The fun thing about hummus is that it comes in all sorts of flavors and variations-- if you say you don't like hummus it's probably because you just haven't found the right one yet. If you pair it with some veggies or whole grain chips, it's a super healthy snack that will hit a lot of the nutrients you need. They've also started making 'dessert' hummus that comes in different flavors too (insert my 1,003rd warning on ingredient lists though...)!

Grams per serving: 2 grams (editors note: hummus tends to have small serving sizes, but the amount of protein per serving size is still good!)

Cost: Ballpark $3-4, again varies 

9.  Powdered Peanut Butter

I'm a traditionalist, and as a huge peanut butter connoisseur I was pretty suspicious about trying a peanut butter imposter. I must say, it's pretty worth the hype. Powdered peanut butter is essentially made from pressing roasted peanuts and then graining it. By pressing the peanuts, most of the oil is removed making powdered peanut butter much lower in calories and fat. It's important to note that normal peanut butter is still healthy and fats are important and good for you. While definitely not a peanut butter substitute, powdered peanut butter is a great low cal option to pair with fruit, throw in smoothies or yogurts, or really just about anything you would think to put peanut butter on (minus toast-- nothing beats that melted peanut butter toast).

Grams per serving: 9

Cost: $4

10. Epic Jerky

I have never eaten Epic Jerky, but a friend of mine swears by it. They sell a variety of meats like lamb, bison, chicken, turkey, and even salmon (woo pescatarian-ism!) and all the meats are grass fed. They're basically healthy beef jerky, but if you're a meat lover I (or my friend more so) would recommend trying it! These are super easy snacks as they come prepackaged and you can bring them wherever you need to go. 

Grams per serving: 8-15 grams (depending on meat)

Cost: $8.99 for a pack of 4