Protein isn’t the be-all and end-all nutrient it’s made out to be.
Yes, protein has many health benefits. Like supporting healthy growth and development, immune function, building muscle, and weight management, to name a few. But ask your typical athlete, bodybuilder, or dietitian who lives and dies by their protein intake, and they’ll tell you that you NEED at least 150 to 200 grams of animal-based protein daily to “make gains.” While protein intake is undeniably important for building muscle mass, a better option for your long-term health is to get your protein from plant-based sources (and not overconsume it). You just need to know the best plant protein sources and how to combine them to form complete proteins.
Regardless of your health and fitness goals, learning this skill will help you get all the protein you need while adding healthy years to your life (and reducing your carbon footprint).
Let’s talk amino acids.
Flashback to high school biology class:
Amino acids are the “building blocks” of protein. When you eat food containing protein, hydrochloric acid and enzymes in your stomach break down the protein into amino acids for digestion. Amino acids then move on to your small intestine, where they’re further broken down before being transported through your blood and absorbed.
There are 20 amino acids in total. Your body produces 11 of them in sufficient quantities. The other nine are “essential,” meaning you must obtain them through diet. Ideally, from food first and supplements second. Among the essential amino acids (EAAs) are the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) — leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These guys receive plenty of attention in the fitness world for their muscle growth and recovery benefits.
And it’s these essential amino acids that determine whether or not a protein source is “complete.”
What are complete proteins?
Name any plant-based food and I bet you it has protein.
Every whole food contains all nine EAAs. This includes avocado, broccoli, kiwi, berries, asparagus, artichokes, and the like. However, most don’t have all nine…