Lots of different protein sources is the key to building muscle healthily, says research

Chicken, steak, fish or veg? All of them in a balanced diet is the best way to build muscle while keeping your heart healthy

Steak, fish, chicken, pork
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What's the healthiest way to eat protein to build muscle? Some people eschew all meat because it reputedly causes inflammation, eating vegetarian or vegan alternatives instead. Others practice the Hollywood diet approach of Chris Hemsworth, Hugh Jackman and co, sticking to a careful diet of chicken breast, broccoli and brown rice day after day.

Neither of these approaches are the right ones to take, according to recent research. Science has found that if you want to build muscle and stay generally healthy, it's better to get your protein from a wide variety of sources. Meat, fish, vegetables, our best protein powder for weight loss... if your diet allows for it, obtaining protein from lots of different places has been found to be beneficial for good heart health. 

This information comes from the American Heart Association, which cites a study of more than 12,000 Chinese adults. The participants were an average age of 41 years, and 47% of them were men. 

When studying the sample across the years, a correlation was found between causes of heart disease such as high blood pressure and hypertension, and the type of protein people eat on a regular basis. 

Vitamin D foods: salmon and brown rice

(Image credit: Unsplash / Travis Yewell)

If the subjects ate healthy sources of protein from plants, seafood, low-fat dairy products, and lean cuts of meat, they were more likely to have a lower blood pressure count than those who get their protein from just one source, or ate a large amount of more processed meats.

The researchers found "eating protein from a greater variety of sources was associated with a lower risk of developing high blood pressure. This suggests that consuming a balanced diet with a moderate amount of protein from diverse food sources may help prevent new-onset hypertension."

The researchers went on to add those who ate mostly plant-based proteins, with some deviations, saw the biggest benefit to their hearts, which flies in the face of many people who say vegetarians and vegans don't get enough protein by ditching animal products. So if you're looking for healthy muscles in a heart-friendly fashion, best look at a diverse list of protein sources, including, but not limited to the following: 

  • Lean steak
  • Chicken or turkey, preferably skinless
  • Fish, such as salmon or tuna
  • Tofu or other soy products
  • Legumes such as beans or peas
  • Lentils
  • Oats
  • Supplements, such as our best protein powder for women

Of course, another way to lower your blood pressure is by simply stretching. Research published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health has found eight weeks of regular stretching is superior to eight weeks of brisk walking for reducing blood pressure in people with high or even normal levels. 

Not sure where to start? Our guide to the best stretching exercises can get you going with a simple routine for beginners, and our best foam roller list can help with mobility work. 

Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.