How to Choose a Protein Supplement: Complete or Incomplete Protein?

Trying to decide how to choose a protein supplement? Considering adding protein supplements to your diet is not easy as the options of supplement companies alone can be overwhelming. Many athletes opt to receive their vitamins, minerals and all of their macronutrients from food — which is completely understandable.

But if you decide to supplement, it can be hard to know what to use. There are multiple forms of proteins on the market and deciding which is right for you takes some thought on your personal dietary needs as well as your performance and weight loss and weight gain goals. After completing a Tactical Fitness Report podcast with a former Navy SEAL friend of mine, I realized that there is a lot to learn about the varieties and wide benefits of different types of proteins.

Whether you get them through your food or through supplementation is up to you.

My advice is to do your research and see what other purposes a particular brand of protein is being used for. If you see the medical profession, professional and Olympic athletes using a supplement, there is very likely a reason why. Usually effectiveness and purity (no banned performance enhancing drug substances) are the main two reasons, as the medical community is science based evidence and high-level sports have to play by a certain set of standards of ethics rules.

There are many types of protein supplements. But if you look closely you will see a difference on the back of the product. You will either see nutrition facts or supplement facts. There is a difference. To have the nutrition facts label the product can be considered a food. One is not necessarily better than the other as any multi-vitamin will have supplement facts on the label. See more about some protein products that are considered food.

How to Choose Protein: Complete and Incomplete Protein

Do not think that “complete” is the perfect protein and “incomplete” protein is inferior. You would think that the term “incomplete” protein would mean an inferior product when actually a perfect protein is defined as having all the essential amino acids that the human body needs and cannot create itself.

There are foods like eggs, milk, cheese, fish, and there are some plants like quinoa that contain all essential amino acids and many protein supplements strive to meet that “standard” of being complete. But to be honest, the terms “incomplete” and “complete” are misleading as many incomplete proteins may only be missing one of the nine essential amino acids, but rich in other essential and non-essential amino acids. For instance, collagen is missing tryptophan, which can be replaced by drinking some milk and eating a turkey leg. Collagen is also rich in the other eight essential amino acids as well as several non-essential (meaning that the body can produce naturally given the right ingredients).


Here are some complete proteins:

Whey protein — milk based (most common on the market)

Casein protein — milk based (slower digestion)

Egg protein — This is a great choice for people with dairy allergies

Incomplete Proteins

Collagen protein — Collagen contains 19 of the 20 amino acids and high in hydroxyproline, glycine, and proline. The levels of these three are important as they are what makes the benefits of collagen different from the other types of protein. These include wound care, recovery, joint health, and gut health. However, collagen has long been considered an incomplete protein because it lacks tryptophan, one of the nine essential amino acids.

Plant-based proteins — There is a wide variety of different plant-based proteins that many vegetarians prefer such as brown rice, hemp, pea, flax, quinoa, and many other plants yield quality protein sources.

What are amino acids?

There are 20 amino acids. Nine of them are considered essential, but only eight are needed for adults: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. The additional essential amino acid for infants is histidine.

The remaining amino acids are considered “nonessential amino acids” as the body can produce these: arginine, alanine, asparagine, aspartate, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, ornithine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.

Collagen Production in the Body

The body can naturally make collagen, but it requires a process within the body. This process naturally decreases its ability as we age. The process requires food rich in protein (amino acids) from food like chicken fish, beans, eggs, dairy, but also requires antioxidants like vitamin C as well as zinc and copper.

You can find these in foods such as fruits and vegetables like oranges, berries, tomatoes, red and green peppers, broccoli and greens. So, if you want a good mix of the above proteins and amino acids, you can opt to eat real food.

However, the usefulness in supplemental form is the speed of absorption into the body to bring many of the benefits along faster — which is useful for physical performance recovery and wound care.

One of the reasons why the medical profession has found the Frog Fuel and ProT Gold blend so useful is it is speed of absorption into the digestive tract. Also, it is actually fortified with the missing amino acid making it a complete protein of all 20 essential and non-essential amino acids.

Studies related to Collagen

24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Despite the study’s size and limitations, the results suggest that athletes consuming collagen hydrolysate can reduce parameters (such as pain) that have a negative impact on athletic performance.

Ingestion of bioactive collagen hydrolysates enhanced pressure ulcer healing – This study demonstrated that the oral ingestion of CH-b, which contains higher concentrations of the free-form bioactive peptides Pro-Hyp and Hyp-Gly, resulted in significantly greater improvements in the PUSH score, PSST score, and wound area compared with the ingestion of a placebo.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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