Chlorella And Spirulina Protein Power: What Is A Complete Protein Anyway?

what is a complete protein

Article at a glance:

  • Some protein foods may be better than others because of their amino acid composition.
  • Chlorella and spirulina are not only high in protein, they’re also considered complete proteins.
  • While essential amino acids are not naturally present in the human body, they have significant roles to play in many body functions.


Spirulina and chlorella are two of the most widely consumed microalgae supplements because of their superfood status. In addition to being abundant in micronutrients, both these algae foods are also amazing protein sources.

Not only do they have a very high protein content, but they’re also great examples of complete protein foods. But what is a complete protein? Keep reading to find out what makes spirulina and chlorella complete protein foods!


Protein and Amino Acids


Proteins promote growth and overall health. Various types of proteins are found throughout the body and play important roles in maintaining muscle mass, keeping the skin and hair healthy, repairing tissues, and producing blood cells.

Getting enough protein from the food you eat is important. But to better understand a complete protein, we have to discuss amino acids first. In general, protein is composed of several amino acids, which explains why they’re called the building blocks of protein.

Twenty types of amino acids comprise protein, divided into two main groups: essential and non-essential amino acids.


Non-Essential Amino Acids


The non-essential amino acids are composed of:

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

Don’t let the “non-essential” label confuse you because these amino acids have significant roles in various body functions. For instance, cysteine is crucial in producing collagen, so it’s vital in maintaining skin health and elasticity.

Another good example is tyrosine. It’s essential in producing brain chemicals like epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine that impact mental health.

Why are they called non-essential? That’s because these amino acids are already being produced in the body. In keeping a healthy diet, ensuring that you’re getting essential amino acids from nutritious foods becomes more of a priority.


Essential Amino Acids


Essential amino acids are substances that aren’t naturally produced in the body. So when it comes to diet, they are considered “essential” because the only way to get them is by consuming foods that contain them.

The nine essential amino acids include:

  1. Histidine is a precursor for hormones that affect the immune system and brain functions.
  2. Isoleucine is crucial in producing hemoglobin and helps transport oxygen into red blood cells.
  3. Leucine, along with valine and isoleucine, is one of the three branched-chain amino acids. It is important in maintaining healthy musculoskeletal functions.
  4. Lysine is essential to form carnitine, which converts fatty acids into energy. There are also claims that lysine may promote calcium absorption and collagen production.
  5. Methionine is a precursor for nutrients like carnitine and cysteine. Research also indicates that it plays a role in fat metabolism and eliminating heavy metals from the body.
  6. Phenylalanine is needed to synthesize melanin and is also a precursor for tyrosine. It’s also important in producing neurotransmitters that affect mood stability and brain functions.
  7. Threonine is involved in synthesizing other amino acids (glycine and serine) and breaking down fats in the liver.
  8. Tryptophan is a vital amino acid for infant growth. It’s also important in producing the hormones melatonin and serotonin, which regulate sleep, mood, appetite, and pain response.
  9. Valine promotes muscle growth and tissue repair, improving energy and endurance levels.


Complete Protein vs. Incomplete Protein


Most plant- and animal-derived foods have protein, but their impact on human health isn’t the same. That’s mainly because of their amino acid composition. Hence, we have complete incomplete protein sources.

So, what is a complete protein? Food becomes a complete protein source when it has all nine essential amino acids. These essential amino acids have many functions that affect the immune system, brain functions, energy production, metabolism, muscle growth, and tissue repair. Because the human body doesn’t make them, ensuring you get these nutrients from a healthy diet becomes extremely important.

On the other hand, incomplete proteins can still be great protein sources. In many cases, they contain several essential amino acids, but not all of them. Incomplete protein foods are not necessarily less healthy. While they lack some essential amino acids, they still provide vital nutrients to keep the body healthy and functioning.


Is Chlorella a Complete Protein?


Is Chlorella a Complete Protein?


Chlorella is a green algae with an impressive nutritional profile. It is many people’s top choice of dietary supplement because chlorella is chock-full of vitamins and minerals and has a very high chlorophyll content.

How much protein does chlorella have? The algae superfood is composed of up to 60% protein, making it an excellent source of protein for those maintaining a vegan and vegetarian diet. On top of that, chlorella is a complete protein.

According to the definition of a complete protein, chlorella is considered one because its protein composition includes all nine essential amino acids.

There are several ways to take chlorella as a dietary supplement. It is widely sold as a tablet, capsule, and powder supplement, making it easier to consume a complete protein food.

Chlorella supplements can also be a great source of B vitamins, C, E, iron, potassium, and calcium. Along with a rich chlorophyll content, chlorella contains carotenoids, including lutein.

Green algae have also exhibited numerous health benefits in various studies. There’s growing evidence that chlorella may help manage cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.

However, it’s important to note that the specific nutritional composition of chlorella products may differ depending on the brand and how the supplements are processed. It helps you read the label of your chosen chlorella product and consider chlorella consumption as a supplementary approach to a healthier diet and lifestyle.


Is Spirulina a Complete Protein?


Is Spirulina a Complete Protein?


How much protein does spirulina have? Spirulina’s protein content is around the same as chlorella’s. However, several studies found that protein can make up to 70% of spirulina’s composition in some samples. With that figure, it’s unsurprising that spirulina is known as one of the best vegan protein sources.

That’s not all. Spirulina is a complete protein, as it contains all nine essential amino acids plus several non-essential amino acids.

Research indicates that leucine is spirulina’s most abundant essential amino acid, followed by valine and isoleucine. Spirulina also has non-essential amino acids, including cysteine, histidine, proline, tyrosine, glycine, serine, arginine, alanine, aspartic, and glutamic acid.

This protein and amino acid profile makes spirulina a fantastic complete protein supplement, as it can be a rich source of nutrients essential for overall health improvement. Spirulina is also a source of B vitamins, bioflavonoids, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and carotenoids like beta-carotene.

While it doesn’t have as much chlorophyll as chlorella, spirulina is rich in phycocyanin. The blue pigment is widely studied for its immense antioxidant potential.

Studies found that phycocyanin has several antioxidant effects that may improve serum catalase activity, which helps counteract harmful free radicals that cause oxidative stress. It may also stimulate immune system functions and is found to have antiviral potential in other studies.


Best Sources of Complete Protein


There was a time when many of us thought that the best sources of protein, especially complete proteins, were animal-derived foods. That’s understandable since animal proteins from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products have all essential amino acids.

However, avoiding animal protein if you’re on a vegan or vegetarian diet doesn’t mean you have to miss out on complete protein foods. Many plant-based proteins can also provide these essential nutrients.

Apart from chlorella and spirulina, here are plant-based foods with complete proteins:

  • Quinoa
  • Soy products like tofu, edamame, and tempeh
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Buckwheat
  • Amaranth
  • Nutritional yeast


Frequently Asked Questions


How much protein and essential amino acids do I need daily?


For adults, 0.8 grams per kg of body weight is the recommended daily protein intake.

Meanwhile, the estimated requirements for essential amino acids for adults are:

  • Histidine — 8-12 g/kg
  • Isoleucine — 10 g/kg
  • Leucine — 14 g/kg
  • Lysine — 12 g/kg
  • Methionine — 13 g/kg
  • Phenylalanine — 14 g/kg
  • Threonine — 7 g/kg
  • Tryptophan — 3.5 g/kg
  • Valine — 10 g/kg


What meals have all 9 essential amino acids?


You can also get all essential amino acids by combining protein-rich foods that aren’t necessarily considered complete protein. Some meals that may improve your protein intake or essential amino acid consumption are pita and hummus, rice and beans, nut butter with whole grain bread, whole grains, nuts, and Ezekiel bread.

If you’re concerned about not eating enough protein and essential amino acids, it’s also a good idea to consult a registered dietitian.


Are protein shakes a complete protein?


Not all protein powders are readily available as complete protein sources. However, you can make protein shakes into complete powder foods by adding supplements like chlorella or spirulina powder.


Protein Boost From Chlorella and Spirulina


Thanks to evolving food science, we know that not all protein foods are equal. Some may be better than others because of their essential amino acid content, which makes them complete protein foods.

Spirulina and chlorella are known as nutrition powerhouses, which is why they are some of the popular superfoods out there. Spirulina and chlorella are great complete protein options, providing all the essential amino acids and many of the non-essential amino acids, whether you consume animal proteins or are on a plant-based diet.

Thankfully, high-quality chlorella and spirulina supplements have become more accessible. Along with maintaining a healthy diet and active lifestyle, adding these superfoods to your routine may lead to enormous changes that will make you a healthier version of yourself.




Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

John Riedl

Simply put that’s why I’ve gone down the health journey of research and creating health brands.

Our gallery
Scroll to Top