ARTICLE AT A GLANCE
Not all proteins are created equal. While all are made up of amino acids, nine of those acids are essential and must be consumed through your diet. Your body can make the other nonessential ones. Food proteins that contain all nine essential amino acids are known as complete proteins, and nearly all of them come from unprocessed animal products like beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.
Plant proteins such as beans, nuts, soy, and proteins isolated from peas and rice are incomplete. They must be combined to create complete proteins and provide all essential amino acids. That’s why foods like beans and rice are so often eaten together.
However, the fact that animal proteins are more complete than plant-based ones is only part of why they’re essential. Animal proteins also contain plenty of heme iron, zinc, and B vitamins, including B12. According to the National Institutes of Health, as much as 15% of the population might be deficient in B12, making animal proteins even more important to their diets.
What Happens When Your Diet Lacks Quality Proteins?
Because proteins vary so greatly between foods, it’s common to become deficient even when you think you’re getting enough. Complete proteins are critical for building muscle and strength. If your diet doesn’t include enough of them, you’ll find yourself growing weaker and your fitness goals slipping further out of reach.
For example, weight training damages your muscle tissue, and your body needs protein to repair and rebuild it. A low-protein diet inhibits your ability to recover from demanding training sessions just as much as it diminishes your goals of losing weight. Without enough protein, the weight you lose will start coming from muscle mass instead of fat.
As a result, you’ll feel weaker and lethargic. Frankly, you’ll want to quit. And you’ll feel the effects outside the gym, too: Proteins are vital for your general health and wellness in several ways. Keratin, collagen, and elastin are protective structural proteins that support everything from healthier nails and hair to stronger connective tissues. Most enzymes are also proteins, especially those responsible for cell respiration.
Protein also plays a vital role in brain health and your immune system. First off, the proteins you eat contribute to neurotransmitter production. Eating high-protein foods provides your body with the amino acid tyrosine, which causes the brain to produce epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters make you feel energized and alert and can improve your mood. Without enough tyrosine from protein to stimulate your brain, you might feel weak, sluggish, and foggy.
Finally, protein is also vital for a healthy immune system. Your immune system relies on proteins to fight infections: Your body uses the amino acids in the protein you eat to make immunoglobulin, otherwise known as antibodies. Antibodies fight off bacteria, viruses, and toxins, and if your diet doesn’t contain enough protein to create those antibodies, you might become more susceptible to illness.
From personal experience and working with clients, I’ve seen the tangible benefits of a high-protein diet. It’s given me better and more consistent energy levels as well as a much sharper focus during training. Whatever your fitness goals are, you’re fighting a losing battle without adequate protein.
How Can You Benefit From Complete Proteins?
In addition to being of better quality, animal-based proteins also usually have a higher bioavailability. That means your body can use a higher percentage of the proteins efficiently. And because animal proteins are more satiating, they’ll keep you feeling full for longer.
Studies show the higher protein digestibility corrected amino acid scores of animal proteins make them vital to muscle metabolism. One study notes that “proteins found in milk, whey, egg, casein, and beef have the highest score (1.0), while scores for plant-based proteins are as follows: soy (0.91), pea (0.67), oat (0.57) and whole wheat (0.45).”
This makes animal proteins especially important if you’re dieting to lose fat. When you’re satiated, you’re less likely to break your diet. With plenty of complete proteins, you can more efficiently build muscle and burn fat.
To give your body enough proteins and amino acids, your diet should consist of plenty of high-quality animal products and a variety of vegetables. For example, meals like shredded turkey with roasted potatoes or chicken with rice, peas, and tomatoes have both sources of protein. Add wild-caught fish and grass-fed beef to your menu, and the omega-3 fatty acids will also boost your cardiovascular health.
For many people, ensuring every meal is nutritious can take more time than they have. If you want to improve the quality of your meals but aren’t sure where to start, consider having a healthy meal delivery service prepare them for you! Learn about our full menu of gourmet chef-prepared meals by contacting Metabolic Meals today.
Tony Soaib has worked as a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach since 2007. Since then, he’s worked with a wide range of clients including athletes from MLB, MiLB, NFL, Nippon Professional Baseball, United Soccer League, and NCAA, as well as Military Special Forces personnel, and executive clients. You can contact him @tonysoaib on Instagram.