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Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins: What’s the Difference?

Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins: What’s the Difference?

Protein is an essential part of your diet. But when it comes to including protein into your diet, it’s not just a matter of how much protein you include — it’s also important what kind of protein you include.

If you want to gain the benefits of a higher protein diet, it’s worth your time to explore the differences between complete and incomplete proteins. When you know the difference between these two types of protein, you can make more informed decisions about what you include in your diet.

Let’s learn more about what protein is, the difference between complete and incomplete proteins, and how you can utilize this knowledge to help you reach your fitness goals.

What Is Protein?

It’s likely that you’re familiar with protein on some level. But a deeper knowledge about this nutrient will help you understand how and why including more of it in your diet helps you in your fitness journey.

Protein is a macronutrient found almost everywhere in the human body. There are around 10,000 kinds of proteins that allow your body to function, with protein playing a role in all of the following:

For those of us who are fitness-minded, protein’s role in building up muscle tissue makes it a hugely important part of a diet that promotes peak performance.

Amino Acids: The Building Blocks of Protein

All 10,000 types of protein are made from amino acids, which are molecules that form the basis for all sorts of biological material. Amino acids are particularly important in the creation of proteins.

There are around over 20 different amino acids that combine in various ways to create the vast amount of proteins that make up the human body. Seeing how these amino acids are critical precursors to the creation of proteins, it’s important that we have a steady supply of them.

The body has two ways to get the amino acids it needs to build proteins: produce them on its own, or get them from the food we eat.

There are nine amino acids that the body can’t make on its own. These are called essential amino acids, as they are “essential” to our diet. The nine essential amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, histidine, lysine, phenylalanine, valine, tryptophan, methionine, and threonine.

The combinations of these amino acids create the proteins that are so critical to our body. 

What Are Complete Proteins?

The “completeness” of complete proteins refers to their particular amino acid profile.

When a protein contains all nine of the essential amino acids your body can’t make on its own, it is considered a “complete” protein. Including complete proteins as part of a well-balanced diet ensures that you’re supplying your body with all the components you need to sustain your body.

Complete proteins can be either animal or plant based, depending on the specific food.. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of foods that provide you with complete proteins:

Complete proteins are a one-stop-shop for your body's protein intake because they contain all of the different amino acids that you need from your diet.

Incomplete Proteins

Incomplete proteins, on the other hand, are protein sources that do not contain all the necessary amino acids your body needs. These kinds of proteins only have some or even none of the nine essential amino acids that are found in complete proteins.

Incomplete protein sources are often plant based. Common examples include:

The fascinating thing about incomplete proteins is that even though they don’t contain the full package of amino acids that complete proteins do, the right combination of certain incomplete proteins can in fact supply you with all the amino acids you need.

For example, rice and beans or peanut butter and bread together create a complete protein, even though each alone is an incomplete protein. These are known as complementary proteins.

So, while complete proteins are more often found in animal products, there are meat-free alternatives — like the Three Sisters — that can supply you with complete protein.

What Is the Difference Between Complete and Incomplete Proteins?

Basically, the difference between incomplete and complete proteins comes down to the quality of their nutritional content. Complete proteins contain everything you need in a protein, making them a more effective protein resource.

However, when consumed in a strategic way, incomplete proteins can still supply you with all the amino acids that your body can’t produce on its own.

Therefore, an effective diet would be one that supplies you with the full spectrum of amino acids your body needs.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

Seeing how important protein is to your body, getting enough protein in your diet ensures that you're supplying yourself with everything you need to operate at your best.

We all come in different shapes and sizes, which affects how much protein our bodies need. Individual needs will vary, and you can reach out to a dietitian for personalized advice. Generally, though, your recommended amount of protein is considered to be about 1-2g/kG of body weight.

Of course, if you’re pursuing a fitness regimen that requires a higher intake of protein, you should take in enough to make good on your goals. That means getting more of the complete proteins your body needs to optimize your workout and recovery.

The Benefits of Protein For Your Fitness

Supplying yourself with the complete proteins your body needs goes a long way for those of us on a journey towards improved fitness.

A high-protein diet may help you:

Consuming more protein has also been shown to promote weight loss. Folks who consumed more protein reported higher satiety levels, meaning that they didn’t feel as hungry after eating. This helped them prevent themselves from overeating.

Including more protein in your diet can be an effective way to propel you toward your fitness goals. If you’re searching for a way to include more protein in your diet, Gainful has a great selection of supplements that deliver on your protein needs.

Gainful’s Personalized Protein Powder is your complete protein package. We will make your blend with all nine essential amino acids, making it a one-stop resource for protein. 

Personalize Your Protein Sources

We believe fitness is a deeply personal experience.

You set yourself goals, and upon achieving them, you reveal your true potential. Gainful helps you achieve your fitness goals by supplying you with supplemental blends personalized to your lifestyles.

With Gainful, you can use blends that are just as personal to you as your fitness dreams. Take our quiz to get connected with your personalized blends today. 


Protein | Harvard School of Public Health

Do I Need to Worry About Eating “Complete” Proteins? | Cleveland Clinic

Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit | National Library of Medicine

The Role of Protein in Weight Loss and Maintenance | National Library of Medicine

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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