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Protein - The relationship between type and quality

Protein - The relationship between type and quality

Pūmua types and quality By Dr Shehnaz Hussain

Note: This follows on from the previous two articles in the Protein series - "Protein - how much do you need?" and "Protein - Does it matter when you take it?"

Getting enough pūmua in your diet is a great first step, but it is as equally as important to make sure that you get your pūmua from a variety of high-quality dietary sources. Assessing pūmua quality can be very complex, but here is a simplified version of what to keep in mind.

There are 20-22 amino acids that make up the proteins of the human body1, of that 9 of those amino acids we humans need to obtain from our kai, as we cannot synthesize them ourselves. These are called ‘essential’ amino acids1. And therefore, it is very important that we get these amino acids from our diets. Luckily enough, there are plenty of food groups that contain all 9 essential amino acids which are called ‘complete’ proteins, which include; red meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, some dairy products, soy and quinoa2.

However, their amino acid content is not the only determinant of ‘protein quality’; we look at bioavailability as well. Bioavailability is the amount of pūmua that you ingest that actually gets absorbed into your bloodstream through your digestive system2. The complete proteins listed above are great, however some can be better absorbed and utilised by our bodies than others for muscle repair and growth.

Whey protein isolate has the highest bioavailability out of all proteins that have been researched3. The next highest bioavailable proteins (in order of highest to lowest bioavailability) are whole eggs, cow’s milks and cheeses, fish, beef and poultry. Plant-based proteins like soy have a relatively lower protein bioavailability3, meaning that even if you ingest 20g of plant protein, you may only be absorbing and utilizing 14g. Meanwhile, if you had 20g of whey protein isolate, you are likely absorbing and utilising all 20g.

If you do not consume meat or animal-based products, this does not mean it is impossible to get an adequate amount of good quality pūmua in your diet. This is where eating from a variety of protein sources is important. For example, beans on its own is an incomplete protein source, and so is rice. However, had together, beans and rice are a complete protein source having all 9 essential amino acids.

So the take home message is no matter what your diet, make sure to get your pūmua from a variety of sources, preferably those with a high bioavailability and those that are complete proteins. The Nothing Naughty range has many great supplements to help you reach your pūmua goals including their protein powders and protein bar range, which also come in plant-based versions too!

Written by Dr Shehnaz Hussain
@shehnazzy @shehnazzy_cooks


  1. Lopez MJ, Mohiuddin SS. Biochemistry, Essential Amino Acids. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2021. Accessed December 5, 2021.
  2. Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein – Which is Best? J Sports Sci Med. 2004;3(3):118-130. Accessed December 5, 2021.
  3. Sport and Exercise Nutrition | Wiley. Accessed December 7, 2021.
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