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Why are Complete Proteins Important for Endurance Athletes?

PROTEINS IN THE BODY

Every athlete knows how important nutrients are for both their lifestyle and training program. Protein is a key nutrient that is called a macronutrient because your body needs it in large amounts. Other macronutrients include carbohydrates and fat

Chemically, proteins are made of the same atoms as carbohydrates and fats; carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, but what makes them different is that they contain nitrogen. 

Proteins play an important and HUGE role in your body! Proteins make up your muscles that contract and relax, allowing you to do daily activities and crush those training sessions. Further into it, proteins plays other important bodily functions, such as: 

Näak Nutrition Blog | Complete Proteins for Endurance Athletes

...  AND THE AMINO ACIDS

Proteins are made of amino acid links. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and because proteins are the only macronutrients with nitrogen, these nitrogen atoms give the name amino (i.e nitrogen containing). 

Näak Nutrition Blog | Complete Proteins for Endurance Athletes | Amino Acid Structure

Each amino acid has the same structure but differs by their fourth bond. This fourth bond is called the side chain or side group and it gives the identity of the amino acid. 

There are 20 amino acids that make up the proteins in your body. They can be grouped under three categories: 1) essential amino acids, 2) non-essential amino acids and 3) conditionally essential amino acids. Check out the table below to find out which ones are essential, non-essential or conditionally essential:

Näak Nutrition Blog | Complete Proteins for Endurance Athletes | Essential vs Non essential amino acid chart

Those amino acids that are essential are those that your body cannot produce and so, you will need to consume these amino acids from various sources. By doing so, you are giving your body all the necessary building blocks to build muscle, hormones, hair, etc! 

The non-essential amino acids are those that your body CAN produce but no doubt, you can find these amino acids in various food sources! While conditionally essential amino acids can be made by your body, your body’s demands for them are higher than what your body can produce during certain times, such as recovery, pregnancy or adolescent growth. 

COMPLETE VS INCOMPLETE PROTEINS

Every protein source, whether animal-based, plant-based or insect-based, can be either a complete or incomplete source. To be a complete protein, it must contain all the 9 essential amino acids, while incomplete proteins are missing one or two of them. 


Animal-based proteins (e.g whey) are complete proteins compared to plant-based proteins. However, this does not mean that there aren’t plant-based proteins that are complete; Soy and Pea protein are amazing sources of complete protein! Believe it or not, crickets are an insect-based complete protein as well! Both plant-based and insect-based proteins give you a full amino acid boost, while being environmentally conscious. This is because harvesting plants and insects require much less resources compared to farming animals.

Näak Nutrition Blog | Complete Proteins for Endurance Athletes

By no means you should neglect incomplete protein sources. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, you will need to combine a variety of plant-protein foods in your meals. This is to ensure you are consuming plant proteins that have a complementary amino acid profile. By combining whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts and vegetables in your meals, you can receive all the amino acids your body needs. Whichever lifestyle you choose to follow, a diverse diet is definitely important! 

WHY COMPLETE PROTEINS ARE IMPORTANT FOR ATHLETES

For athletes, the recommended amount of protein needed is 1.2-2.0g of protein/kg body weight per day, which is more than for less active adults (0.8g/kg of body weight per day). Luckily most adults and athletes meet their protein requirements from meals and sometimes protein or amino acid supplements. 

As mentioned, consuming a diverse diet gives you more confidence that you are receiving all the amino acids your body needs to build your proteins. Some athletes fulfill their protein requirements to maintain or build muscle mass. To build stronger muscles, you need to eat enough to fill your energy stores and protein to support your physical activity. 

Three of the essential amino acids are also considered branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Those three are Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine. BCAA supplementation has shown to increase resistance to fatigue and increase lipid oxidation during physical activity. This means you can push harder and stronger to crush those training sessions! The BCAAs provide more energy during taxing exercise sessions and so, they spare your other proteins from being broken down. 

Näak Nutrition Blog | Complete Proteins for Athletes

If you consume protein powder for an extra boost of complete, incomplete, conditionally complete AND those BCAAs, you can incorporate Naak ULTRA Recovery Protein Powder made from both plant-based and cricket-based proteins! On the other hand, if you’re curious to try cricket powder, you can find out how to incorporate it into your recovery meals here.

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