College can be stressful and take time away from getting those muscle gains. However, protein is an absolute necessity to improve both your academic grades and physique.

What Is Protein? 

Protein makes up the hair, nails, organs, and body tissues in all of us. Its consumption has been proven to improve physical and emotional health and cognitive function. Neurotransmitters, made of proteins, are the brain's chemical messengers that transmit signals across synapses. This means that protein is essential for your neurotransmitters to be able to build connections in your brain and the rest of the body.

How Protein Carries You

Serotonin is an important type of neurotransmitter that is responsible for regulating activity in different regions of the brain. It has been argued from recent research to be able to improve memory and perception in the frontal cortex, regulates mood in the hippocampus, and control hunger signals in the hypothalamus, and more. 

Protein is known for its muscle-building and maintenance effects. In fact, those with higher-protein diets have a higher resting metabolic rate. But despite how amazing protein may be, it is important not to consume an excessive amount of protein.

When sustaining on a diet composed of strictly only proteins, the body may resort to gluconeogenesis. This process is assumed to be harmful by catabolizing proteins from lean muscle mass and fat to produce and stabilize glucose levels. Research has challenged this fear by concluding that increased dietary intake is not detrimental to muscle gains.

#SpoonTip: Make sure to have a balanced diet that includes all food groups! Healthy carbs are not your enemy.

Chicken Breast Is Not Your Only Healthy Protein

We all need protein to be in prime condition, and frequenting the bakery and pizza parlor across the street is not going to cut it. While it's not necessary to center your diet around proteins, knowing that there are a variety of high-protein foods can simplify a balanced diet and the process for muscle gains. Here are the top ranked affordable sources of protein for your college student budget.

1. Yogurt

sweet, milk, cream, chocolate
Taylor Treadway

Chances are we've all either heard of or had Greek yogurt, but Icelandic Skyr yogurt is a specific type that offers a greater amount of protein per serving. This thoroughly-strained, thick yogurt is a great base for a healthy and refreshing breakfast or snack.

Serving Size: $1.49 / 8 ounces

Protein Per Serving: 22 grams

2. Cottage Cheese

rice, cereal, milk, cottage cheese, dairy product, dairy, curd
Lora Maghen

Cottage cheese is a low-calorie food packed with protein. It can be served with fruit and granola as a substitute for yogurt and eaten as a side to your lunch or dinner. Try blending cottage cheese into your fruit smoothie for a creamy kick of protein.

Cost Per Serving: $0.72 / 1/2 cup

Protein Per Serving: 16 grams

3. Fish

salmon, seafood, fish, salmon fillet, Protein
Jocelyn Hsu

Like all seafood, fish is a low-fat source of protein. Whether it be a slightly pricey cut of salmon or an affordable can of tuna, fish is a nutritious addition to any diet. The heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in fish may reduce inflammations.

Cost Per Serving: varies

Protein Per Serving: 17 grams / 3 ounces of salmon

4. Eggs

egg, egg yolk, fried egg, omelet, chicken, yolk
Msu Spoon

Eggs are a classic choice of protein. Scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, sunny-side-up—the number of ways to make eggs is practically endless. Add egg whites for more volume to your eggs without overloading on the saturated fats. Don't want to pull out a pan? Make it in a microwave.

Cost Per Serving: $0.24 / 1 egg

Protein Per Serving: 6 grams

5. Nut Butters

peanut butter, peanut, butter, chocolate
Jocelyn Hsu

If you are blessed with not having a peanut allergy, nut butters are the way to go. They are versatile and can enhance any of your meals from yogurts, smoothies, cereal, toast, sandwiches, desserts, to smoothies and sauces. With such affordability and versatility, it's not a wonder that nut butters are popular among those seeking muscle gains!

Cost Per Serving: $0.14 / 2 tablespoons

Protein Per Serving: 7 grams

6. Oats

porridge, rice, oatmeal, sweet, milk
Christin Urso

Oatmeal is a great slow-digesting carbohydrate that doesn't cause your blood glucose to spike. It contains fiber and a good amount of protein for a carbohydrate. Customize your oatmeal for extra protein or variety.

Cost Per Serving: $0.24 / 1/4 cup, dry 

Protein Per Serving: 5 grams

7. Sprouted Wheat-Berry Bread

toast, bread, wheat, sandwich, rye
Jocelyn Hsu

Bread doesn't have to be completely cut out of your diet when incorporating proteins. Sprouted wheat-berry bread is technically flourless and retains all of the nutrients that are removed in white bread. Its hearty texture is also a great way to change up your bread game and keep your hunger in control.

Cost Per Serving: $0.17 1 slice

Protein Per Serving:  5 grams

8. Lentils

legume, vegetable, pea, lentil
Christin Urso

Increasing protein does not equate to reducing vegetable intake. Like any legume, lentils can be prepared in many different ways. This power food keeps you satiated and has a surprising 19 grams of fiber per serving!

Cost Per Serving: $0.32 / 1/4 cup, uncooked

Protein Per Serving: 11 grams

9. Tofu

dairy product, cheese, milk, candy, tofu
Lauren Kaplan

Tofu is arguably the awesome form of soy beans. With so many different textures ranging from silken to extra firm, tofu adds a great element to entrées and stir-fries. Not a fan of the tofu flavor? Try blending tofu into desserts as a thickener and creamer.

Cost Per Serving: $0.58 / 3 ounces

Protein Per Serving: 9 grams

Ain't Nothing Going to Stop You Now

Now that you know how affordable protein is, there's nothing that can stop you from having protein literally carry you through your exams with flying colors. And work towards that strong physique of course.