First, let’s start with the clever science-y thing your body does with amino acids. It’s pretty amazing. Amino acids are the building blocks of a well-balanced diet—literally, as they are the building blocks of protein that support the body’s overall functions.
Amino acids were once believed to be exclusively found in animal products (meat, dairy, etc.), but we now know that the building blocks of protein are abundant in plants. Our bodies produce most of the 20 essential amino acids we need naturally but, amazing as the human body is, we can’t do everything on our own.
There are 9 essential amino acids we still need to receive through our diet to add to the existing amino acids in our body which then – ta-da! – create a complete protein.
It’s basically a case of “You Complete Me”.
To get at the protein within food, the body needs to break it down along with the amino acids to form the protein.
Animal proteins are very similar to the protein found in the human body and contain all essential amino acids. Though more compatible with humans, animal proteins are usually high in sodium and saturated fat and so carry health risks over time.
Vegetable or plant proteins on the other hand are low in calories and fats and pack a punch when it comes to vitamins and minerals, but they are lower in essential amino acids. It takes selective eating, and more of it, to get all you need if you are on a plant-based diet.
However, you don’t need to get all those 9 essential amino acids in a single meal or even single day for them to create complete protein during digestion. They can hang around in your body up to three days until they get introduced to other essential aminos, have a party, and make complete protein.