3 High-Protein Sources You're Missing

STACK Expert Sara Haas breaks down the benefits of three often-overlooked protein sources.

Walk into any vitamin shop or grocery store, and you'll no doubt find a section dedicated to foods marketed as high protein sources of nutrition. There are protein shakes, protein powders and protein bars, just to name a few. They're all different and all of them claim to be "an amazing source of protein."

With so many options, it's no wonder you feel overwhelmed and completely confused. What are you to do?

Here's an answer you weren't expecting: Do your research!

Before you even venture down the "protein aisle," determine how much protein you really need. Protein requirements vary from person to person and depend on several factors, including gender and sport. If you're unsure of your protein needs, get help from reliable nutrition professionals and resources. For example, work with a registered sports dietitian, a certified nutrition expert who can help you obtain optimal nutritional status to excel at your sport. You can also reference the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website to learn more here and here.

RELATED: 10 Athlete-Approved High-Protein Cereals

Once you know your protein needs, take a look at what you're eating. You might be happy to hear that most athletes actually consume enough protein through their meals and snacks. That means they don't need to spend extra money on expensive powders and bars. That being said, because of hectic school, work or practice schedules, you may sometimes fall short of meeting your protein needs. In such cases, a simple food-based protein source may be all you need. That's where these three food-based high protein sources can help.

1. Non-Fat Dried Milk Powder

Non-fat dried milk powder is simply dehydrated milk that is typically fortified with vitamins A and D. It can be found in the baking section of most grocery stores, and since it costs as little as $8 for over 25 ounces, it's an economical choice. A 1/3-cup (23-gram) serving offers up 8 grams of protein and and only 80 calories—plus it provides 30% of your daily value for calcium. Add this to everything from your oatmeal and cereal to pureed soups and smoothies.

RELATED: 5 Protein-Packed Recovery Shakes

2. Hemp Seeds

Shelled hemp seeds are little nutrition powerhouses, providing 10 grams of protein per 3- tablespoon serving. Along with that protein comes an additional 13 grams of healthy, unsaturated fat and 3 grams of fiber. A one-pound bag from an online retailer is listed at around $10, making it another inexpensive, food-focused way of getting the nutrition you need. Due to its higher fat and fiber content, save this one for a post-workout boost. Hemp seeds taste great in smoothies or sprinkled over pasta dishes and salads, and they are a fun topping for yogurt and hot cereals. They can also be added to grain-based dishes and mixed into burgers (both meat and veggie).

3. Nutritional Yeast

It sounds a little far-fetched, but vegetarians and vegans swear by these umami-filled flakes as a source of protein and B vitamins, including vitamin B12. Nutritional yeast is a type of non-active yeast that's typically made from sugar cane and/or beet molasses. A popular name-brand variety lists a 1/4-cup (16-gram) serving as providing 8 grams of protein and only 60 calories. Because of its "cheesy" flavor profile, it works wonderfully in savory concoctions. It's commonly used as a topping for popcorn or as a substitute for grated Parmesan cheese. It can be added to casseroles or soups, mixed into bean dishes or added to meat or vegetable taco dishes.

RELATED: 8 High-Protein Breakfast Ideas

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock