Protein is an essential part of any healthy diet, it helps build and maintain your muscles, organs, and cells. Proteins also play an important role in enzyme and hormone production. Simply put, protein is essential to keep your body working as it should.

If you are trying to lose weight or build lean muscle and are putting in regular, (often intense) workouts, protein is a must. Exercise, especially intense exercise, breaks down muscle fibers, to repair and rebuild those tissues your body needs protein. But not any old protein at any old time of day; you need the right type, amount, at the right time, and in the right way. Here is a little more about the makeup of proteins and a few common mistakes which may be standing between you and your diet/fitness goals:


Proteins: Complete and Incomplete

While all proteins you eat contribute to meeting your daily protein requirements, some proteins are better utilized by your body than others. Consuming complete protein in your diet is often beneficial, but it’s not entirely necessary. Figuring out how to get the right balance of proteins in your diet will help ensure you meet your body’s needs.

How They Differ

The main difference between complete and incomplete proteins is that complete proteins contain all essential amino acids your body requires daily, and incomplete proteins only contain some essential amino acids. Your body breaks down the proteins you eat into amino acids, which build and repair tissues in your body, help digest food, provide energy, and perform numerous other body functions. Essential amino acids are also necessary for proper growth in children. Because complete proteins contain all essential amino acids, they are often referred to as high-quality proteins and easily utilized by your body.


Sources of Complete Protein

Animal sources of protein are complete proteins, and some plant foods contain all essential amino acids. Sources of complete animal proteins include milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, poultry, fish, seafood and eggs. Soy protein is a plant-based source of high-quality, complete protein. Grains that contain all essential amino acids and are complete proteins include quinoa and amaranth, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


Sources of Incomplete Proteins

Except for the complete plant-based proteins previously mentioned, other plant proteins are incomplete because they provide some, but not all, essential amino acids. Incomplete proteins are found in most grains, nuts, seeds, nut butters, green peas, and legumes (such as lentils, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans and navy beans).


Pairing Incomplete Proteins

You don’t have to eat complete proteins to get the essential amino acids your body needs. If you consume all essential amino acids over the course of a day, your body can properly utilize those amino acids. However, you do have to plan your dietary intake if you’re eating mainly plant-based proteins. The University of Massachusetts notes that generally grains, nuts or seeds can be paired with legumes — such as black beans and lentils — to form complete proteins. Examples of such pairings include peanut butter on whole-grain bread, or brown rice with black beans.

Because the body doesn’t store amino acids, like it does with fat or carbohydrates, it needs a fresh supply of them every day to make new proteins. Complete and incomplete proteins play an equally important role in this process. The best way to get all the protein you need is to pick from wide and varied sources.


Food Protein (grams)

3 ounces tuna, salmon, haddock, or trout 21

3 ounces cooked turkey or chicken 19

6 ounces plain Greek yogurt 17

½ cup cottage cheese 14

½ cup cooked beans 8

1 cup of milk 8

1 cup cooked pasta 8

¼ cup or 1 ounce of nuts (all types) 7

1 egg 6

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database, 2015



‘Mistake’ 1: Not eating protein with every meal or snack.

Most women get most of their protein with their evening meal. If you are eating ‘light’ during the day, and eating a protein-packed meal for dinner, you aren’t doing your weight loss efforts any favors — to say nothing of your energy levels. Consuming protein throughout the day will help keep your blood sugar stable and keep you feeling satisfied. Aiming for 20-30 grams of protein per meal will prevent those dreaded energy dips and help stave off your mid-afternoon sprint for the vending machine.

Click on this link to calculate how much protein the USDA recommends for you


‘Mistake’ 2: Eating the same protein sources every single day.

As mentioned above, we need to eat a variety of proteins to ensure we are consuming all essential amino acids. If your primary source of protein is a bar or shake, you may want to reconsider. Hitting up the juice bar for a shake or smoothie after your workouts may seem like a good idea but they are often loaded with extra sugar. Same goes for most brands of protein bars. Your better bet is to eat whole foods, as close to their natural state as possible. Stick to nuts, seeds, hardboiled eggs, or a serving of Greek yogurt if you need something quick and easy. If you are using protein powder at home, make sure it is a high-quality powder using only quality ingredients. You get what you pay for.


‘Mistake’ 3 You aren’t consuming your post-workout protein with carbs

At the risk of sounding like a parrot……… now, you know that protein is an essential part of your workout recovery process. It helps your muscles recover from your workout, helping them become stronger. For this function to be as effective as possible your body needs a mix of protein and slow release carbohydrates rich in anti-oxidants, the carbohydrates play the important role of transporting the amino acids to the cells in your body, promoting muscle repair and growth.  Therefore, many people end of their sweat session with a protein/fruit/peanut butter etc. shake, it is an ideal mix of protein and carbs.


Don’t let these common, and easy to correct, mistakes stand in the way of your progress.


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About Zoë Dodds

Life, Health, and Fitness Coach

Zoë has a passion for helping and empowering women to the best version of themselves.

With 20 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, she delivers inspiration and wealth of knowledge to her clients, some of which she shares in her blog and weekly newsletters.

Originally from England, Zoë has lived in Seattle for 9 years with her husband, two grown-up children and a Labrador called Jordi.

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