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Complete Protein: What Does That Mean?

I got this question from a reader recently: What does "complete protein" mean?

Good question!

There are 20 known amino acids and every protein in your body is made up of a specific combination of these amino acids. Humans can make 11 of these amino acids but the rest need to be obtained from food. If a food contains all 9 of these amino acids (8 for adults, 9 for children) in the right amount, that food is considered to be a "complete protein".

Examples of foods that contain complete proteins include eggs, meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and soy. Foods like whole grains and legumes also contain protein but the protein is "incomplete", meaning it does not contain all 9 essential amino acids. While grains and legumes are highly nutritious foods, the protein they contain is not quite as high in quality as the protein in animal foods or soy foods.

Many high protein shakes and powders claim to contain complete protein. If they were made from eggs, dairy, or soy, then they are correct. 

Core Power high protein shake claims to have all 9 essential amino acids. So, the first thing I do is look at the ingredient list. In this case, the first ingredient is low-fat milk so yes, all 9 essential amino acids will be in this product. BUT, why drink an expensive commercially-made high protein drink when you can get the same quality of protein in a glass of milk?


These products are shelf-stable and can be taken anywhere. They give you nutrition when you don't have access to real food. This product has extra protein added to it so it's higher in protein than regular milk, but it's twice as expensive too and contains more sugar than regular milk.

My take on products like this is that they come in handy when real food is not available. But I prefer real food (and real milk) hands down to commercially-made products. Since I always make time to eat, I rarely ever have the need for a pre-made protein shake. But if you do miss a meal, there are plenty of products like this on the market that can tide you over until you can get the real stuff.

Got a nutrition question?  Please feel free to email me questions or visit us on Facebook or Instagram! Book a Discovery Call with me to discuss nutrition coaching.

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