Not all proteins are created equal. That's the first thing you need to know before you start adding protein to your diet. 

In a world filled with protein-infused cereal and high-protein bread, what you see on the label might not provide as much benefit as you want. 

Confused? Don't be. Understanding how to identify high-quality protein can make all the difference and ensure that simple diet choices will help you achieve your goals. 

What is a High-Quality Protein?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and it's these substances that make protein valuable. High-quality proteins are determined by the amino acid structure and how easily your body is able to break down those amino acids and put them to work. 

Once you eat protein, the amino acids are separated into an "amino acid pool." A high-quality protein -- also known as a complete protein -- is anything that has all of the essential amino acids (EAAs). 

The essential amino acids (EAAs) are important because you must get them from your diet, and once they are present in the amino acid pool, then your body can put the amino acids to work as needed. Otherwise, the amino acids sit unused and eventually go to waste.

Once all of the essential amino acids are present, that's when your nutrition goes to work for you. 

Need help building muscle? Your body will funnel the amino acids (especially leucine) and help fuel your body. Want to improve the quality of your skin? More amino acids (glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline) get to work. 

High-Quality Protein Sources

Because of the way amino acids work, it's important to include protein in as many meals as possible (but don't sweat it if you miss a meal). Your amino acid pool is always refreshing throughout the course of the day (approximately every 4-6 hours), so the more you consistently supply your body with what it needs, the greater it's ability to break down those amino acids into the usable components you need to build muscle, tame your hunger, support fat loss, and build healthier hair, skin, and nails.

If you created a grocery list of high-quality protein sources, it would look something like this:

  • Dairy products: milk, whey powders, cheese, and cottage cheese, yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Seafood and fish
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Bison
  • Pork
  • Pea Protein
  • Soybeans
  • Blended vegan meals (beans and rice)

If you consume a lot of plant-based protein or are exclusively plant-based, you may need to eat more protein to ensure you are getting all of the essential amino acids. (Or, you can supplement with a complete plant-based protein, like Ladder Plant Protein.)

Determining how protein you need really depends on the size of your body. A good goal is eating 1 gram per pound of your goal bodyweight. So, for a 180-pound male, the goal would be 180 grams of protein per day. You don't need this much (research shows about .7 grams per pound of goal weight is a good lower range).

Another way to think of it would be aiming for approximately 20-30 grams of protein per meal, which is the equivalent of a palm-sized chicken breast, a piece of red meat, or a filet of fish, about 3 eggs, 1 cup of Greek yogurt, or 1.5 cups of quinoa.