We’ve talked a bit about protein in past posts and if you are in any way into your fitness, there is no way you can avoid taking more notice of protein and how it should be incorporated into your regime.


Protein is one of three macro-nutrients and is the one the body uses as its building block. The other two macro-nutrients are fats and carbohydrates. Humans need protein to repair and grow tissue, digest and metabolize food, produce antibodies to fight infection, and to make the numerous enzymes and hormones that control all of our bodily functions.

But the body can only use protein after it is broken down into the various amino acids. (We will elaborate on those in an upcoming post) Then it is reassembled into strands of amino acids called peptides and polypeptides and sent throughout the body to do its work.

Our body needs 22 different amino acids to function properly. Of those, adults can produce 13 within the body. These are known as non-essential amino acids. The other 9, known as essential amino acids, the body cannot produce and we must obtain them from our food, namely protein from our food.

Put simply, complete proteins are proteins that contain all essential amino acids. Foods containing  all 9 essential amino acids are considered complete, while foods only containing some of the 9 are incomplete.

Complete Proteins Foods

Most complete protein sources are animal-based and include things like:

• Meat
• Fish
• Dairy products
• Eggs

While not as plentiful, there are a few plant sources that also provide complete proteins, such as quinoa, buckwheat, hemp and chia seeds, spirulina and soy.

Incomplete Protein Foods

The rest of the foods that are plant-based are incomplete because they either lack one or more essential amino acid or the amount they do contain is not sufficient to be labeled as complete. Popular incomplete protein foods within the vegan and some vegetarian circles include nuts and seeds, legumes, grains and vegetables. Just because they are incomplete doesn’t make them bad choices, it just means the food has to be supplemented or two foods combined to add in what is missing.

Complementary Protein

When combined with incomplete protein, these protein sources make the combination complete:
• Rice added to various beans or other legumes
• Almonds topped over a spinach salad
• Hummus spread on a whole-grain bread or cracker
• Whole-grain noodles combined with peanut sauce

The suggested combinations don’t necessarily have to be eaten together, but can be consumed throughout the same day. But since the body does not store essential amino acids, complete protein or incomplete/complementary protein in sufficient quantity must be eaten every day.complete proteins incomplete protein foods

How much is enough to be considered sufficient? As a general rule of thumb, 1/3 gram per pound of body weight. If on a resistance training regimen to build muscle or retain muscle while shredding fat, your requirement may be higher – as high as 1 gram per pound of body weight.

RELATED POST: How Much Protein Do You Need?

Protein is the macro-nutrient we can absolutely not live without. Be sure to get your recommended daily allowance of essential amino acid each and every day as our body does not store it and must make it. Without the raw material to work with, it can’t do its job and our health will suffer as a result.