Incomplete vs. Complete Proteins: Everything You Should Know

incomplete vs complete proteins

Following a well-balanced diet is essential for overall health. It supports a strong immune system, improves mental health and wellbeing and reduces the risk of chronic illnesses and conditions.

Generally, good nutrition is made up of foods that come from the five food groups – fruits and vegetables, protein, whole grains and dairy products. While each food group plays its own role in the overall health of people, protein is often regarded as the most important one due to the various benefits it offers. From helping you build muscles and bones to repairing cells and tissues, protein is essential for your general health development.

But, in order to understand the importance of protein in your diet, you should first distinguish between incomplete and complete protein. In this post, we outline the main differences between the two protein categories and how they play in your nutrition.

Presence of essential amino acids

To understand the main difference between complete and incomplete protein, you first need to get to know amino acids. These amino acids are the molecular building blocks that combine to form every gram of protein you eat. When you consume protein-rich foods, your body breaks those proteins back down into amino acids, thus helping build muscles, transport nutrients, prevent illness and carry out other important functions.

Out of the approximately 20 amino acids, nine are essential, meaning the body can’t make them. Foods that contain all of them are called complete proteins, whereas those that do not contain enough of one or more essential amino acids are called incomplete proteins.

Where both proteins come from

Due to the different number of amino acids present in complete and incomplete proteins, both types also differ in terms of their source.

For instance, animal products such as chicken, eggs, dairy and fish tend to be complete proteins because they are made up of all nine essential amino acids. However, if you are a vegetarian or vegan, it doesn’t mean that your options for complete proteins are limited as they are plant-based foods such as quinoa, buckwheat and soy that are also complete.

As for incomplete proteins, they only come from plant-based sources. These include nuts and seeds, whole grains, vegetables and legumes in the form of lentils, peas and beans.

Health benefits

Another difference between complete and incomplete proteins is in the health benefits they offer.

For example, complete proteins offer the most benefits for the overall health of people due to the presence of all essential amino acids. These amino acids are at the core of many vital processes including muscle development and repair, tissue growth, energy production, immune function and nutrient absorption.

A deficiency of these amino acids, as is the case with incomplete protein, can negatively affect your body, including your nervous, reproductive, immune and digestive systems. That’s why many people often take essential amino acid supplements to meet the daily requirements of protein and enhance their health.

How much protein should you eat every day?

Each person’s daily protein requirements are extremely individualized and vary based on several factors including their age, gender and activity levels. But, generally, you should be aiming for 0.36 grams of protein per pound of your body weight daily. This means you need to space out your proteins wisely and include some form of it in every meal and snack.

If you do a lot of exercising or intense training, you may need to consume more protein than average. You can do this by taking protein and amino acid supplements or introducing protein powders and shakes into your diet to meet your daily protein intake. Just remember not to overdo these so you can avoid the harmful effects that may come from them.

Final thoughts

There is no question that protein is one of the key macronutrients people need each day. The human body needs protein to keep it functioning efficiently and perform vital processes that support overall health.

However, in order to meet your daily protein requirements, you need to know what kind of protein you are including in your diet. Proteins can be complete or incomplete and offer various health benefits that the human body needs to function properly.

For more information, refer to our post and learn about the two types of protein and the role they play in our diet and health.  

Nicole Middleton
Nicole calls herself a typical millennial girl and thrives on her share of social media, celebrity gossip, and all things viral content. She’s a big fan of pop music and plays the guitar as a hobby.