When we look at sources of protein for building muscle we need to realize the body can only use proteins that contain all of the amino acids. It’s true the body does produce some of the amino acids needed, but the others called the essential amino acids can only be found in the foods we eat.

If we take a look a closer look at what protein is made up from we see it’s made from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Protein also contains nitrogen, the one other element none of the other nutrients contain. This is the reason you could hear a person say they are in a positive nitrogen balance or a negative one.

  1. Positive – Is an anabolic state – Able to build muscle
  2. Negative – Catabolic one – Losing muscle

 Complete Proteins

What bodybuilders need or anyone seeking to increase their overall muscle mass is something the men in white suits call a complete protein.

A complete protein is a source of protein that provides all of the amino acids used to produce usable protein. Many of you may already be consuming a ton of these muscle packing proteins without even knowing it, some examples are eggs, fish, milk, meats and a few veggies: quango, soya beans to name a couple.

But even with complete proteins not all of the protein in the foods is usable, if you take a complete protein and break it down, your body may only be able to use 70% of that specific protein source, for eg: when we eat meats our bodies can only use 68% of the protein of the meat even though it’s a complete protein. But don’t worry this is still a relatively high amount.

If we compare eggs with meat, although eggs only contain 12% protein by weight, because of the way the protein amino acids are balanced the body can use 94% of the protein making eggs a superior quality protein.

“So there’s a big difference between how much protein a food contains and how much of that protein you can actually use to build muscle.” Says Bill Dobbins co-author of The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding

Bill continues to say, ” Eggs are such a good source of quality protein that they are used as a basic comparison in rating the protein quality of other foods given an arbitrary value of a “perfect” 100.

Unless you have trouble with cholesterol make sure to eat the whole of the egg, not just the whites. The egg yolk contains just as much protein as the whites.

Don’t Throw The Yolk!

Many bodybuilders throw the yolk away because they are cutting fat from their diets but by throwing the yolk you will be losing some much-needed quality protein try and find another area of your diet to lose the fat from.

Let’s take a closer look at the top sources of quality protein…

Eggs, Protein Rating 100 - Utilization 94%

Eggs boast all of the amino acids,  histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

The amino acid pattern present in the egg is very closely reflected by the needs of our own body and it’s this match that makes them very useful to us. Our bodies can use up nearly all of the protein present in the egg making them an excellent source, rather the best source of protein to be found naturally for bodybuilders. 

Fish, Protein Rating 70 - Utilization 81%

Fish and seafood are very good sources of protein and are typically low in fat. Salmon is a fatty fish but it’s packed full of the heart healthy good kinds of fat, the omega 3 oils. Always recommended for bodybuilders as the omega 3’s are great for joint stiffness and inflammation.

Lean Beef, Rating 69 - Utilization 70%

All meats including lean beef, are complete proteins, beef only contains about 20% usable protein by weight, so it’s not particularly concentrated  and it’s not as nutrient dense as fish, but with 23 grams of protein per 3oz serving, it still makes it to the top three of the best complete proteins for adding muscle.

Always go for organic beef if you can. Be warned if you don’t opt for grass-fed beef, it comes complete with high levels of antibiotics, pesticides, hormones, an unhealthy ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids, and the risk of E coli contamination — not to mention high levels of saturated fat” says nutribodyprotein

Poultry Rating 79 - Utilization 68

Lighter alternatives to beef, chicken and turkey shouldn’t be missed out from your diet, with much less saturated fat than red meat, chicken and turkey with their skins removed can have up to 27g of protein per 3oz. Again try to go organic. Chicken protein that isn’t organic is known to contain antibiotics- arsenic and a few other horribles.

Cows Milk Rating 60 Utilization?

I can’t find a tangible reason why bodybuilders shy away from cows milk for protein, milk is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and nutrients.

Milk has a unique protein profile, as it’s comprised of about 20% whey protein and 80% casein protein. Ok, casein protein has a lower protein rating but it’s much slower to digest than whey which will bring both of them in balance, also as casein is slower to digest it will keep you in an anabolic state for longer, up to three hours.

A few other foods high on the protein rating list

  • Brown rice 57
  • White rice 56
  • Soybeans 47 ( complete protein)
  • Buckwheat  (complete protein)
  • White whole grain wheat 44
  • Peanuts 43
  • Dry beans 34
  • White potato 34

As you can see foods such as rice, potatoes, and beans provide a lot less usable protein than eggs or fish. Its because food such as rice and beans lack the number of amino acids like an egg has that are required for a complete protein.

Combine Low-Quality Proteins

However many of these incomplete low-quality proteins can be combined together to obtain high-quality proteins. Combining protein is practised mostly by vegans and it’s known as the complementary action of proteins, you need to eat a variety of vegetable proteins in combination. There is no reason why the quality of protein cannot be as good as in a diet comprising meat, milk, fish, eggs or other foods that contain animal protein.

Although it sounds simple in practice, you do need to be very specific in your food choice to end up with a complete protein when combining incomplete proteins.