Sardines: The Most Overlooked Protein Source

Never miss a glorious update - click here!

Everybody remembers their first apartment.

The one they get when they finally leave home.

Maybe it’s when you went off to college or got your first real job.

For me, it was when I spent a summer interning with a division one hockey team.

I rented an apartment in Massachusetts all by myself.

And when I got there, I realized… I didn’t really know how to meal prep.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I could cook the basics: pasta, vegetables, meats (I had a mini George Foreman grill, which I highly recommend).

My specialty is making platanos fritos which I refuse to say in English. A Latino boy has his culinary strengths, and mine is this Latin American staple.

I needed to learn how to cook, of course.

But in the meantime, while I rolled through The 4-Hour Chef, I needed some quick, protein-rich go-to meals. Obviously, I would be spending most of my day at the gym and needed something I could count on.

Something that requires little-to-no time to prepare.

That I could bring with me.

That was healthy and high in protein.

And that was inexpensive (those unpaid internships will really cut into your food budget). 

Fortunately, I had a chipotle three minutes away, but I couldn’t eat chipotle every time I needed food in a pinch.

After a full week, I knew I needed to figure something out.

I decided to do a very adult thing: go to a grocery store and buy all my food for the week at once.

What a concept. Honestly, I’m impressed with myself that I was able to think this far ahead into my life.

So I’m browsing through the canned food aisle (looking for black beans, classic Hispanic boy move) and then I catch my eye.

“Hot Sauce” a square container with rounded edges reads.

“Hmm, I like hot sauce,” I thought. Damn, I’m really living up to the Hispanic stereotype today.

Then I read the container “Sardines with hot sauce.”

Sardines? It sounds kind of gross, honestly. 

But for 89 cents a can, and with 22 grams of protein per can, I couldn’t go wrong. 

And, they were ready to eat. Major win.

The next day, I got back from the gym and ripped open that first can of sardines with hot sauce.

I poked my fork at them. Would I need to take out the bones? 

I was unimpressed with myself in how little I knew about sardines (and no, you don’t need to take out the bones).

Then, I took a bite… hot sauce and all. And, they were quite delicious. Within minutes, I had mucked down the whole can without ever putting it on a plate.

Good shit.

BUMBLE BEE Sardines in Hot Sauce

Soon, I went and bought cans on cans of sardines, and they’ve been a staple of my diet ever since.

An emergency protein source on the go or at home, sardines have many great benefits. Honestly, I can’t believe they’re not touted more. Well, un-touted no longer.

Here’s why you should include some sardines in your diet.

Sardines Are High In Protein

One can of sardines has over 20 grams of protein, and each can is just 3.5 ounces (100 grams). That’s slightly lower than steak (~25 grams of protein/per 100g) and chicken (27g of protein per 100g). 

Sardines Are High In Omega 3’s

But, unlike chicken and steak, sardines contain lots of omega-3 fatty acids. You’ve heard about omega 3’s for years. But, in case you need a quick refresher, omega-3 consumption help prevent many diseases (1, 2, 3), support heart health by lowering triglycerides (4, 5, 6) and raising HDL “good” cholesterol (7, 8, 9), and reduce inflammation (10, 11, 12).

It’s not only one of the healthiest, well-research substances on the planet, but your body can’t make them. So you need to get them through your diet (or supplementation).

Most fish oil supplements contain 300mg of omega-3’s per serving. But, a can of sardines has over 1400mg.. almost fives times as much as the typical fish oil supplement. 

Other Minerals in Sardines

Sardines are also high in both zinc and vitamin D, which, along with the healthy fats in it, give it a triple threat for increasing your testosterone, which as RFS readers you’ll know why that’s so important

And, unlike a lot of fish that have these same health benefits (like salmon and tuna when the fat is left in), sardines contain very little mercury, only 0.013 parts per million (19) since they’re so low on the food chain. Bigeye tuna has .689 ppm of mercury (that’s 53 times more) and albacore tuna with .350 ppm (over 26 times) (10).

So, it’s free of mercury worries unless you eat 53 cans a week.

Sardines also contain tons of other minerals from calcium to magnesium (which is hugely important).


Sardines also come ready to eat right out of the can. If you get them in water, you’ll have to filter out the water, but if you get the hot sauce or mustard ones, you can dig in. The cans are easy to flip onto bread and make a sandwich or plop onto a salad.


Also, sardines are a great bang for your buck — the deadlifts or protein sources. At 89 cents a can, that’s around 4 cents per gram of protein. You can’t beat that. You can buy 10 or 20 cans at a time, but set for a while, and always have protein sources on hand.

Are they gross? 

All right. Here’s the elephant in the room.

I wouldn’t eat them on a date, if that’s what you’re asking.

And if you just hate seafood, sardines probably aren’t for you.

But besides that, I’d say if you’re worried about the fishy taste then get the hot sauce ones. The hot sauce will overpower any fishy smell in the room.

If you want to air on the side of caution, only eat them at home and throw in a piece of gum after.

Ways to Eat Sardines

First off, sardines come in many options. You can get them in water, in mustard, in hot sauce. Don’t get the ones with oil because that’s soybean oil, which is heavily processed and just bad for you. I think they sell some boujee olive oil sardines but they’re like four times the price so if you really want great olive oil with your sardines just poor your own olive oil on it (I always keep a bottle of Kasandrinos olive oil around — which you can get with 50% off with our RFS discount code).

In terms of how to prepare sardines, you could definitely get fancy. I don’t. If you’re going to eat fancy, get a salmon. 

Sardines are for quick snacks and lunches in a pinch, and so, I eat them as such. If you’re looking for fancy, there’s this great search engine called Google you could try looking on. 

Method #1: Straight out of the can 

Not as good for the plain sardines in water, but the ones in hot sauce are pretty tasty on the own, in my opinion. 

Method #2: Sandwich 

Because of the size of the can, you can just open them up and flip them onto a piece of bread. If you get the mustard ones, you’ve already got the mustard you need.

Method #3: On a salad

Plain sardines go great as a protein source for your salad and are perfect when you don’t want to grill up chicken to throw on your salads.

Method #4: With beans (because I’m a Hispanic fuckboy)

1 can of black beans and some sardines in hot sauce is such a go-to quick meal for me. All in all it takes pretty much no prep and is ready in five minutes and is a very hearty meal with protein, carbs, and fat.

So yeah. Sardines. The most underrated overlooked protein source. And, they’re one of the healthiest foods on the planet. So if you haven’t given them a fair shot, I highly recommend you swing through the canned food aisle on your next trip to the grocery store.

About the Author

David William Rosales is a writer and strength coach. He's the head trainer and editor at Roman Fitness Systems. In addition to helping run RFS, he's also the head editor for, the official website of the Strength and Conditioning Association of Professional Hockey. You can also check out his Instagram, he's pretty easy on the eyes.

Leave a Comment