Protein 101

Protein 101

Ever wonder if plant protein is just as healthy as animal protein? Or how many grams you actually need in a day?

Read on as I break down these answers and more to help you get the protein part of your diet dialed in.

The Basics

Simply put, protein is a nutrient — one of the three macronutrients to be exact (the other two are carbs and fat).

You can think of proteins as the building blocks of the body.

Not only do they make up your muscles, but they’re also key components in all of your body tissues including your bones, hair, nails, skin, and even your organs.

You’ve probably heard that eating plenty of protein helps with building lean muscle mass (which is true). But protein also helps with a variety of other health benefits like balancing your hormones, aiding in digestion, and stabilizing blood sugar throughout the day.

While there are many different foods that contain this macronutrient, not all proteins are created equal.

There are two main factors that separate the good from the not-as-good sources: nutrients & amino acid profile.

Nutrients are simply the vitamins and minerals in that protein source. Of course, the more fresh and natural the food is, the higher that food will be in nutrients.

The “amino acid profile” of a protein means which types of amino acids that protein is made up of. And no, not all proteins are made up of the same ones.

Why Amino Acids Matter

Just as proteins are like the building blocks of the body, amino acids (AAs) are the building blocks of proteins.

I like to think of AAs like letters in the alphabet. There are 26 letters that combine in different ways to form all types of words — some long, some short, and not every word contains all 26 letters.

Similarly, different proteins contain different combinations of the 20 AAs. And some types of AAs are more helpful to your body than others.

Essential AAs — These MUST come from the food you eat, as your body cannot produce them on its own.

Nonessential AAs – Your body can make this type from the essential ones. That means as long as you’re getting plenty of essential AAs in your diet, no need to worry about these.

The Good vs. The Not-As-Good Sources

As you can probably guess by now, the best sources of protein are those that contain ALL nine of the essential AAs. These are called complete proteins.

And as long as you’re getting fresh, unprocessed sources (i.e. with no preservatives, sweeteners or artificial flavors) these foods will also be very nutrient-dense, making them the highest quality proteins you can eat:

  • Grass-fed meats
  • Free-range poultry
  • Eggs & egg whites
  • Wild-caught Fish
  • Organic dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese)
  • Quinoa

Yes, you read that right. Quinoa is one of the rare complete proteins that is not sourced from animals.

Most other grains, beans, and vegetables, however, are lacking in one or more of the essential AAs, making them incomplete proteins. This means they’re not an ideal primary protein source.
If you are vegan or vegetarian, try to mix up the foods in your diet as much as you can to get the largest variety of amino acids possible. For example, combining rice and beans makes a complete protein, although the total protein content per calorie is still far lower than that of foods from animal sources.

How Much To Eat

There are a lot of different opinions on how much protein your body really needs. It’s certainly going to vary from person to person depending on things like your age, activity level, and body composition goals.

However, as a really simple rule of thumb:
Eat approximately 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. (If you’re overweight with more than about 20 pounds to lose, use your goal bodyweight.)

For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you would start with eating about 150 grams of protein per day.

As with anything when it comes to nutrition, experiment with different amounts and foods to find what makes YOU feel your best.


Consistently eating the right amount of protein each day should be your first focus. Once you’ve got that down, start working on timing.

Unlike fat and carbohydrates, your body can’t actually store protein. It’s best to eat small servings throughout the day so you have a steady supply of amino acids.

Eating protein at each of your meals and snacks will also help you feel full, maintain energy, and keep your metabolism going strong.

Start Evolving

Now in the comments below, tell us one complete protein source you’re going to try adding to your diet OR your favorite “go-to” complete protein.

To your evolution,



Start getting more out of every WOD with my