What is a Complete Amino Acid Profile on a Plant Based Diet?

The question often asked by exercise fans and newbie body builders is “what is a complete amino acid profile?” This is because the building of muscle and the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters both rely heavily on a supply of full spectrum amino acids on a continual basis.

There are 20 amino acids in all and they come in the three different categories of ‘Essential’, Conditionally Essential, and ‘Non Essential’, and here in this post I will be concentrating on amino acids specifically pertaining to a plant based diet.

Essential Amino Acids

There are 9 essential amino acids and they are called so because the body cannot produce them itself, therefore they must come from outside sources in the form of the food you eat or supplementation. They are:-

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Tryptophan
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Valine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine

Conditionally Essential Amino Acids

There are 6 of these, and they are readily produced by the body in most people, but the exception to this may be in circumstances such as sickness, extreme stress, and premature babies whose your bodies may struggle to make their own. They are:-

  • Arginine
  • Glycine
  • Glutamine
  • Cysteine
  • Tyrosine
  • Proline

Nonessential Amino Acids

There are 11 nonessential amino acids that your body is perfectly capable of producing itself from the other essential amino acids. You will notice some of them on the list above, and this is because the body cannot make some of the below ones under the circumstances of sickness or stress as described previously. These are:-

  • Alanine
  • Arginine
  • Aspartic Acid
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Asparagine
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamine
  • Glycine
  • Proline
  • Tyrosine
  • Serine

How do I Obtain Enough Amino Acids?

If you are eating a non plant based diet then you can obtain all the amino acids you need quite easily through meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products, as all animal products are already complete proteins that are highly absorbable by the body. However, too many animal proteins can be acidic and contribute to chronic inflammation, so it’s good to eat your animal proteins alongside lots of plant based foods to keep things on a more even keel, and to help keep a diverse gut microbiome.

What are Plant Based Proteins?

bowl of cooked chickpeas

Contrary to popular, belief there are an abundance of plant foods that contain good amounts of protein, though not all of them are ‘complete’ proteins which is why it can be harder on the plant based diet to achieve your needs. And it can be especially hard when you are doing lots of exercise, even more so muscle building – but it’s definitely NOT impossible.

Once you understand proper food combining it will be a breeze for you to obtain all the protein you need, that’s why it’s important if you are thinking of heading towards a plant based or vegan diet to learn how to put a nutritionally complete meal together.

High Protein Plant Foods

  • Soy
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Legumes
  • Beans and Pulses
  • Lentils
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Plant Based protein Powders

Lower (but still with considerable amounts) Protein Plant Foods

  • Wholegrains
  • Spelt
  • Amaranth
  • Pearl barley
  • Oats
  • Brown Rice
  • Corn
  • Freekeh
  • Rye
  • Brocolli
  • Asparagus
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Spinach

What is a Complete Amino Acid Profile on a Plant Based Diet?

Some plant foods are higher in certain amino acids than others; the trick is to know what to combine with what to obtain a ‘complete’ profile. For instance, you should mix legumes, beans, or lentils with wholegrains such as brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, barley, spelt, or freekah. OR wholegrains with nuts and seeds, OR vegetables, grains, nuts/seeds, OR corn and legumes.

Complete Amino Acid Profile Meal and Snack Examples:-

  1. Chickpea curry with wholegrain pilau rice and a side dish of steamed spinach
  2. Sourdough toast, with tahini, mashed avocado, grated carrot, and squeeze of lemon juice
  3. Hummus and rye crackers
  4. Oatcakes and sugar free nut butter
  5. Mixed bean chili with quinoa
  6. Tofu and vegetable stir-fry, with buckwheat/soba noodles or brown rice

Complete Plant Proteins

There are 3 plant proteins in nature that have a complete amino acid profile naturally, and these are buckwheat, soy, and quinoa. Now, I know I bang on about these a LOT on my blog, but this is for the simple fact that they are just such vital components to my diet, and should indeed be vital components to any healthy plant based or vegan diet.

Benefits of Quinoa

cooked red, white, and black quinoa

Quinoa (which is a seed not a grain) is especially great, as it not only contains a full spectrum of those vital amino acids, but it’s a superfood in its own right. Along with protein, it also contains a myriad of other healthy nutrients, such as omega 3 fatty acids, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, folate, copper, and also lots gut friendly fiber.

It is also low GI, so great for weight loss and diabetics; and it’s completely versatile so can be eaten as a substitute for rice or other grains; can be used as a side dish accompliment to any meal; can be eaten as a protein OR a carbohydrate as it has substantial amounts of both of these; can be eaten alone as a complete food in itself; is great in sweet deserts such as quinoa pudding, and also makes an awesome start to the day in the form of a tasty and wholesome quinoa breakfast bowl.

Why do I need Protein?

biceps, muscle building

Protein is something that everybody needs in amounts of roughly 1-2 grams per kilo of body weight, per day. You will find the amounts of protein in a food in this easy to understand list. Some people may require more than others, but this depends heavily on activity levels and other reasons, such as being diabetic or needing to lose weight.

If you are doing a lot of exercise, specifically muscle building, then you will need to be extra vigilant with protein and be sure you are getting full spectrum amino acids from either animal products (if you eat them), or plant foods. You may also require a protein supplement if you wish to build muscle, but don’t over do it – most meat eaters don’t actually need a protein supplement if they are exercising for under an hour, OR if they are not lifting heavy weights.

Protein and Weight Loss

toned abdominal muscles

A high protein diet can be your best friend on a weight loss diet for the simple fact that protein is filling, low GI (so helps you to burn belly fat), and it helps stop sugar and carb cravings. It will also keep your muscle mass up, as calorie restriction dieters notoriously lose muscle mass along with fat when cutting calories, which is a very bad thing because muscle mass keeps your metabolism stoked and your body in continual fat burning mode.

You can eat up to 2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight on a weight loss diet and not have any ill effects, providing at least half of this protein does in fact come from more alkaline plant foods, and not all meat and dairy. You will also feel and look better for upping your plant foods intake as a highly plant based diet will give you some of these other amazing benefits along with being great for the waistline. These include:-

  • Glowing skin – and I mean seriously glowing skin – people will comment!
  • Lower risk of diseases due to higher intake of antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
  • More energy and vitality.
  • Less risk of depression and anxiety due to higher intake of healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and antioxidants.
  • Better quality sleep.
  • Some may dispute this, but I am definitely the fittest I have ever been on a plant based diet and I put this down to quicker recovery time due to less inflammation.
  • Less hormonal disruptions, such as PMS.

Do I Need a Protein Powder Supplement?

girl doing bicep curls

Some people are all for protein supplements, some not so much; me, I’m a big fan, as being a pretty much 100% plant based eater AND an exercise lover I find they are the only way I can meet my daily quota to avoid losing muscle mass. This, of course, could vary from person to person, but my advice would be to cover all bases and use a protein supplement at least every other day if nothing else.

You will most definitely need extra protein if you are body building, doing lots of gym work, or wanting to cut fat and build muscle. Your body will need more due to the extra demand, but over time you will become more efficient at recycling protein so you may be able to cut down the fitter you get, contrary to popular belief.

Last but not least, as mentioned before, if you are wishing to lose weight then a good quality protein supplement can be a lifesaver as it will fill you up and help lower your blood sugar. Fluctuating blood sugar from eating too many refined carbohydrates can promote belly fat storage, so the more you can keep blood sugars on an even keel the slimmer you will be.

Protein Shakes

green smoothie

A protein shake can also make for a great snack; or even a meal replacement on a weight loss diet. There are some great protein powder brands doing all kinds of amazing things with amino acids these days, including adding green superfood powders, nutrients, enzymes, and even probiotics; and also making sure they are already full spectrum by blending specific types together. This can make them a meal in themselves, especially if you blend them with a banana, or an avocado – delicious!

Thanks for reading this post from zestforever. I hope you have learnt how to achieve your amino acid needs whatever your situation and current diet. I am happy to answer any further questions yo may have on this topic in the comments thread below, so feel free to fire away.

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Stefanie Taylor
Plant based eating is set to EXPLODE in 2019; not just for health reasons, but also to help keep our beautiful planet thriving. Having lived this healthful lifestyle for over 2 years, I can honestly say I feel pretty awesome for it and now feel the need to share the path to ultimate health with others.

That's why zestforever was born, to share my experiences, trials and errors, how I overcame them, and how to turn to this lifestyle in such a way that you will thrive too!

Good nutrition has helped me throughout my life, and in fact, got me through some pretty rough times. I have lived, breathed, studied, and tried and tested healthy foods, superfoods and diets for as long I can remember, but nothing has come close to giving me the health buzz that plant based eating has.

To expand my knowledge I have also studied and worked as a Sports Nutritional Advisor, and have also done courses in Nutritional Therapy and Clinical Weight Loss - all of which can tie in with the plant based diet. I am an avid exerciser and understand the plant based nutritional needs required for sports.

This website is not intended to treat or diagnose any medical diseases or illnesses. It's merely meant as a way of showing you how to boost your health through the eating of more nutritious plant foods in place of junk foods.

I am grateful for your support, and I hope that the tips and guides you find here will help to guide you on your own plant based journey.

12 thoughts on “What is a Complete Amino Acid Profile on a Plant Based Diet?”

  1. Great post! I have been rethinking how much protein I eat as well as the quality of it.

    I thought about getting some protein powder but so many of them contain casein as well as whey and I just cannot do casein. I also have limited access to products because of where I live.

    Have you tried the Nutvia Hemp protein powder? Do you know what kind of fiber they use in it?

    • Hi Irma, it’s always good to take care with the types of protein you eat, and to definitely mix it up as much as possible. I don’t know whether you are a plant based eater or you eat meat, but either way it’s best to go for organic produce to lower the risk of pesticides and other contaminants.

      When it come to protein powder supplements, my advice would be to go for plant based versions every time. They are just less acid forming and they do not contain casein, so you won’t have to worry in that department.

      The hemp protein you are speaking about is 90% soluble and 10% insoluble fiber; plus it is a ‘complete’ protein alone that also contains lots of nutrients and omega 3 fatty acids. You could, however, go for a plant based blend where you will get a mix of lots of different amino acids. Like I said before, it’s always good to mix it up.

  2. I couple years ago I started weight training. Now, I am starting again.
    I have been researching the importance of BCAA and protein so this article is right on point for me. Your page has most of the information that I am looking for. Thanks for sharing your articles!

    • Hi Melissa,
      Fantastic you are going to start weight training again. That means you will need to definitely be vigilant about protein intake. A good protein powder supplement will help you there, along with high protein foods.

  3. Hi Stefanie

    This is such an interesting post. We see a lot about vitamins and minerals but not much about amino acids and how to combine them. I eat a mainly plant based diet too and feel fantastic on it. There is always a little niggle going on in the back if my mind wondering if I am getting everything I need so it’s reassuring to read articles like this.
    Keep up the great work I’ll visit again x

    • Hi Deb, that’s awesome you’re a plant based eater too. So many people are now and that’s great! But I see time and time again people not understanding how to do it correctly and combine their foods properly, which is why I decided to write this post.

      I am glad you found it useful, and with you luck on your plant based journey.

  4. I find your blog encouraging as I was very successful eating a plant-based diet a few years ago. When life got busy, I slipped back into my old “default” mode. I often feel that I should cut out the meat again and eat more beans, but that’s such a struggle for me. Most of the time I prepare food just for myself and a whole can of beans is too much for me to eat by myself. I see by your list that I am probably getting plenty of protein from other foods I eat. I love the complete amino acid profile meal and snack examples. That will be a helpful resource for me. I’ll print it out and stick in on the fridge. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Theresa, yes, it is so easy to slip back into default mode as its a life long conditioned pattern that can be REALLY hard to break.

      It took me 3 attempts before things finally clicked into place for good for me, and I am at the point now where I can honestly say I don’t miss animal products at all.

      I think for you, as you have done it before, it will be much easier to get back into. You will find it easier because the world is my set up for plant based and vegan eaters these days. All supermarkets and most restaurant, even fast food chains, offer vegan options.

      Good Luck, and you will find some great resources on my website if you need any further help.

  5. Hi Stefanie

    I am mostly plant based and also an athlete. There were times when I did struggle to keep my muscle mass due to low daily protein. I have found your article very informative and there are not many websites explaining amino acids to plant based eaters. It contains great sum of information.

    Many thanks!

    • Hi Rebeka, that’s why I decided to write this post due to lack of information out there! The world is turning to the the plant based diet more and more, especially in the event of global warming ect so people really need to understand how to make this transformation healthily so they don’t miss out on vital nutrients and amino acids.

      I completely understand what you mean about losing muscle mass after going plant based and still doing lots of exercise as this exact same thing happened to me a couple of years ago and I wasn’t expecting it.

      I now understand that is was a mix of A. My body was not use to utilising plant proteins efficiently, but over time it has learnt to do so through lack of choice, and B. I had a lack of understanding about plant proteins and simply wasn’t getting enough to hit my requirements considering my exercise regime. I have now amended that through studying nutrition, and I also use full spectrum plant based amino acid protein powders on training days.

      There are some fantastic products available these days, please check out what I mean by that here. Best 13 Plant Based Protein Powders of 2019

  6. Yaasss! How lucky I was to just find this post as I scrolled through your site. You will see on another of your post, I just asked a question in my comments about amino’s. (Thank you, Universe!!) Thanks so much, Stephanie, for this info!

    • Hi Shellie, the universe is great indeed huh? Always sending us the right information at the right time!

      I m glad you have found the information you are looking for and I hope it helps you with your diet. I f you have any other questions then feel free to contact me. I have set my website up in such a way that it if you look through you should find all the answers you need on how to live a plant based lifestyle healthily and happily.

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