Complete vs Incomplete Protein
Protein is an essential macronutrient that we rely on for survival.
It's made of amino acids which are kinda like legos and when they're all connected together, they become a protein.
The quality of a protein depends on what's referred to as the amino acid profile which describes the types and amounts of amino acids that a protein is made up of.
Protein is classified into two groups.
Complete & Incomplete
There are approximately 20 known amino acids. The body can produce many on its own, but there are 9 of them - histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine - that we have to consume through our diet. These are referred to as essential amino acids.
Complete proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids.
Incomplete proteins do not.
It's important to prioritize consuming complete proteins in your diet because you could eat loads of incomplete proteins, and still end up deficient, which can cause sickness and even death over a long enough time horizon.
The problem is, nutrition labels on food don't show the amino acid profile, just the grams of protein per serving so you can think you're getting plenty of protein while actually being deficient in certain amino acids.
Fortunately, there are easy ways to know you're getting complete proteins.
The Best Protein Sources
The best sources of protein are animal products including meats such as fish, poultry, beef, and eggs as well as dairy products such as milk & cheese.
That's because all animal proteins are complete, in other words, they contain all 9 essential amino acids.
It's always best to consume mainly whole fresh foods but it can be helpful and convenient to get a portion of your daily protein via supplementation. To help people hit their daily protein requirements, we created a brand new form of protein supplement called ProLoco, our protein-powered hydration drink mix.
You can also get protein from plants but it can become more complicated because plant proteins are generally lacking in 1 or more essential amino acids. Pea protein is a complete protein and you've probably commonly heard that rice and beans when combined, form a complete protein.
If you're unwilling to consume animal proteins, it's very important to do your research and make sure you're eating the right protein sources to ensure you have enough of the 9 essential amino acids.
Many people have mixed feelings about eating animal products and we get it.
We plan to address our stance on animal proteins in a different article soon but we do suggest that you buy meats and dairy products from places where the animals live free-range and the beef is grass-fed/finished because...1) it supports a more dignified life for the animal 2) they have a much better micro-nutrient profile (more vitamins & minerals) making them much healthier for your body 3) animals raised this way increase biodiversity and actually strengthen topsoil which in turn, captures carbon helping reduce emissions 4) supports sustainable regenerative farming efforts.
Should You Never Eat Incomplete Proteins?
Just because a protein is incomplete doesn't make it useless.
Your body will still use the amino acids found in incomplete proteins and different types of proteins considered incomplete can actually have numerous health benefits.
Collagen, for example, has been found to help hydrate the skin & hair, lubricate joints and bones, and strengthen muscles and guess what, it's an incomplete protein!
The important thing is to look at your diet holistically and make sure that you eat plenty of complete protein sources so that you're consuming all 9 essential amino acids daily.
How Much Protein Should You Be Eating?
To avoid disease you're going to need about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight, however, we are interested in living a healthy abundant life, not just scraping by so for us, that's not going to cut it.
According to a 2018 study from the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, a healthy active lifestyle individual can optimally absorb 0.25 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight across four meals.
To break that down, if you weigh 100 lbs and you ate 3 meals and 1 snack, you would want to shoot for around 25 grams of protein each time for a total of 100 grams of protein daily.
On a daily basis, this equates to an intake of 1 gram per pound of body weight, which you'll notice is much higher than the recommended daily allowance.
Fair warning, if you're not used to eating much protein, it's going to feel like a lot and you're going to feel FULL! If you're an active lifestyle individual with no extreme needs, you can lower your intake to 0.7 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight and then move up from there depending on how you feel but we don't suggest going lower than that.
There are exceptions and differences...
In general, men require more protein than women. Elderly people also have greater protein requirements. One study noted that elderly people should consume more protein to help prevent age-related muscle breakdown such as sarcopenia.
Athletes also need more protein to counteract muscle breakdown and aid in recovery. Many athletes consume well over the 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight benchmark.
The Big "Why": The Reasons to Make a Change
Now that you have an idea of the best sources of protein and the amount you should be eating, you need a "Why" or a reason to change your usual habits and start consuming more protein.
Here are a few of the benefits you'll see as you make a habit of eating 0.7 - 1 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
1. Strength & Endurance
To summit a mountain, surf that break, or even chase your kids around for an afternoon, you need strength and endurance. Getting adequate protein, especially in conjunction with regular strength training will provide that.
2. A Leaner Body
By eating the amount of protein mentioned above, you're going to cut out junk foods almost automatically because you're going to be full. You'll also benefit from what's called the Thermo effect of food. Protein requires a lot of energy to digest which means you'll naturally burn through more calories resulting in a lower body fat percentage. In other words, you're going to look really good.
People over 40 have a decreased ability to process protein so, protein needs increase. Building a habit of getting plenty of protein, no matter if you're 18 or 60, will increase longevity so you can keep doing the activities you love.
4. Faster Recovery
An active life puts stress on the body, especially the muscles. Consuming plenty of protein will help feed those sore muscles and help you get back out and at it again, faster.
Built for THE CHASE
Our slogan, Chase the Swell, is about being ready to chase adventure. Life is short and it's important to live it abundantly. There are a lot of amazing experiences to be had in wild places with the people we love, and we don't want anyone to be sidelined by poor health and miss out.
When you prioritize protein from healthy sources in your diet, you're going to have the energy and strength to chase adventure.
At HydroSwell, we like to say our products are "Built for the Chase" because they were created to support you in your journey to build those daily healthy habits AND support you while you're out chasing that next unforgettable experience.
To learn more, check out ProLoco our protein-powered hydration drink mix!