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What are the cheapest protein sources?

by Harry 7 minutes read

Last updated: 05 Jul, 2023

Whether you're looking to bulk, cut or simply switch things up from that cookbook you always use, finding the cheapest, high quality protein source can be a tough task. With countless protein options to choose from and varying levels of protein per gram, myself and many others often struggle to decide what's the best and cheapest one to go for.

Today, we're going to do some investigating, and find out what the most affordable sources of protein are, but first we'll take a look at the basic steps we'll take to narrow things down.

What is protein?

Proteins are molecules that help with the structure, function, and regulation of cells, tissues, and organs. They are made up of smaller units called amino acids, which are linked together to form long chains. There are 20 different types of amino acids that can be arranged in different ways to create many different proteins.

How is protein used?

When we digest proteins from food, they are broken down into amino acids, which our bodies absorb. These amino acids are then used to build new proteins that are used for different processes in our body.

Proteins have many roles in our body, including:

  • Structural Support: Some proteins like collagen and keratin help provide support to tissues such as our skin, hair, and nails.

  • Enzymes: Proteins act as catalysts, speeding up chemical reactions in our body.

  • Hormones: Certain proteins, like insulin and growth hormones, act as chemical messengers, regulating various processes in our body.

  • Transport and Storage: Proteins like haemoglobin help transport oxygen in our blood, while others store essential molecules or carry lipids.

  • Immune Function: Proteins called antibodies play a crucial role in our immune system by recognizing and neutralising harmful substances like bacteria and viruses.

  • Muscle Contraction: Proteins called actin and myosin are responsible for muscle movement and contraction.

  • Cell Signalling: Proteins on the surface of our cells transmit signals, allowing cells to communicate and respond to the environment.

Overall, proteins are vital for our growth, development, and overall health. They are involved in numerous biological functions and are essential for our well-being.

So, now you know the basics of protein, it's time to decide which proteins are worth investigating. This is where the bioavailability and digestibility of protein comes into play.

Protein Bioavailability and Digestibility

It is a common misconception that all proteins are created equal. Depending on the type of protein, the efficiency and way in which our body uses the protein can vary. This is referred to as protein bioavailability.

Protein bioavailability is measured as a biological value on a 0 – 100% scale. This is one of the key ways to measure the value of a protein.

Another way to measure the value of a protein is with the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) This is measured on a scale of 0 – 1.00 and compares the digestibility of all other proteins to an egg, which is widely believed to be the most bioavailable source of protein.

Top Protein Sources by Bioavailability and Digestibility

These are the top 6 protein sources ranked by their combined bioavailability and digestibility scores:

Protein chart 1024x639 1

Cheapest Sources of Protein

Now that we've gone through all the basics and measurements of protein sources that are key to deciding what to choose, let's break down our top picks for cheap protein sources.

Quorn Mince

Quorn mince is not only very high in protein, but also surprisingly cheap! It may not be as good in terms of digestibility, as most plant-based protein sources aren't, but it's tasty and a great substitute for non meat-eaters.

Currently, 350g of frozen Quorn mince will set you back £3.25.

  • Amount of protein for £1: 22g

  • Cost per gram of protein: 4.5p

Whey Protein Powder

It may not be the cheapest protein source out there, but with a digestibility score of 99%, a protein efficiency ratio higher than chicken and beef and all the essential amino acids, the price difference is negligible if you value convenience over cost.

That being said, whey still ranks fairly high on most lists, considering you can get around 1kg of the world's most popular protein powder for around £40. Each serving of whey typically contains around 20 grams of protein.

With such a high amount of protein in each scoop, the cost of protein per gram is actually pretty good.

  • Amount of protein for £1: 23g

  • Cost per gram of protein: 4.3p

Beef Mince

With a high protein digestibility score and efficiency ratio, beef mince is a great option if you're looking for cheap ways to reach your protein goals. Not to mention the huge range of recipes you can try out with beef mine.

You can currently get 500g of 5% Fat Beef Mince from Tesco for £3.50. As one of the most protein rich foods you can buy, a 500g pack contains just over 100g of protein.

  • Amount of protein for £1: 28g

  • Cost per gram of protein: 3.5p

Chicken Breast

Chicken has always been the go-to for anyone on a high-protein diet looking to build muscle, thanks to a perfect PDCAAS score of 1 and the wide variety of dishes you can prepare. But just how much are you paying for protein when you buy chicken?

At Tesco you will currently pay £2.29 for a 300g packet that contains 72g of protein.

  • Amount of protein for £1: 31g

  • Cost per gram of protein: 3.2p


Peanuts and peanut butter are widely known as high protein foods, jam-packed with protein content.

A 300g bag of peanuts at your local grocery store will cost around £2. The whole bag will hold around 77.4g of protein.

  • Amount of protein for £1: 38.7g

  • Cost per gram of protein: 2.5p

Black Beans

Beans and legumes of all kinds are fairly high in protein, while also being low in price.

A 400g can of black beans costs £0.65 and contains 30g of protein! This price-point makes black beans the number 1 cheap protein food on our list!

  • Amount of protein for £1: 46g

  • Cost per gram of protein: 2.2p

So there you have it, the cheapest protein sources you can get your hands on! Of course, all the prices are subject to change, but most of these foods will stay at the lowest end of the price range for protein-packed foods.

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