Nutrition Basics: What Protein Is and Why It’s Important

If you are trying to get fitter and healthier, your nutrition program should be one of the main priorities, alongside regular physical activity of course. The food you eat daily plays numerous important roles with various processes and functions in your body, yet many people simply don’t prioritize their nutrition. With all the online blogs, magazine articles, radio and television advertisements, it can be confusing and frustrating deciphering between what’s factual and what is not. This article will feed you the need-to-know facts on protein so you can optimize your nutrition and attain your health and fitness goals more efficiently.

What is Protein?

Proteins are large molecules that our cells need to function properly. They are made up of smaller chemicals called amino acids. The structure and function of our bodies depend on proteins, and the regulation of the body’s cells, tissues and organs cannot exist without them. Humans need 20 different amino acids to produce all the proteins in our bodies. We can synthesize 10 of the amino acids, but the other 10 either cannot be made or are not made in sufficient quantity to be of any use. The 10 “essential” amino acids which must be obtained from food are: threonine, lysine, methionine, arginine, valine, phenylalanine, leucine, tryptophan, isoleucine and histidine. The 10 “non-essential” amino acids we can make are: glycine, alanine, serine, cysteine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, asparagine, glutamine, tyrosine and proline. Since protein is a macronutrient, you need relatively large amounts of it to stay healthy (whereas; vitamins and minerals are micronutrients, which you only need in small quantities). Unlike carbohydrates and fats, the body does not store protein, so it has no reservoir to draw from when you’re running low. For this reason, eating protein regularly is of paramount importance.

The Importance of Protein for Maximizing Muscle Growth and Weight Loss

For anyone that’s even remotely active, protein is one of the most important macronutrients. Exercise causes muscles to demand more protein than under sedentary conditions because when you exercise, you are effectively tearing and breaking down muscle fibres. This structural damage to the tissues gives the body a reason to rebuild the tissues stronger and bigger so that they can handle the continuing challenges. Without protein, the body cannot perform this function and therefore you must supply it through nutrition if you want to recover, maintain and build muscle properly. Not only is protein necessary for muscle growth, it can aid in weight loss as well. An increase in muscle mass will increase your basal metabolic rate (BMR – the number of calories your body burns at rest). This, in turn, causes your body to burn more calories (mainly from fat) which aids in overall weight loss. Additionally, protein may aid in weight loss because people with higher protein intake feel more full after meals and therefore won’t consume as many calories overall. There is substantial evidence suggesting that protein activates satiety hormone release (cholecystokinin and ghrelin) and therefore is strongly associated with fullness ratings. Research indicates that one of the primary factors involved with the satiating effects of protein is the thermic effect of feeding (the amount of energy your body must expend to digest and assimilate food). Protein ranks the highest in the thermic effect of feeding, meaning it requires more energy (thus, burns more calories) to digest and absorb protein than it would for carbohydrates or fats.

How Much Protein Should Be Consumed?

While people generally understand that consuming adequate protein is incredibly important to maintaining lean muscle mass and supporting muscle growth, eating the right amount of protein can be the tricky part. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. The RDA is the amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements. It’s the MINIMUM amount you need to keep from getting sick—not the specific amount you are supposed to eat every day. The exact amount that’s right for you is dependent on many factors: your goals, genetics, age, sex and current nutrition program. For most people, aiming to hit double the RDA for protein should be sufficient. For example, a 150lb. individual should aim to consume approximately 110 grams of protein per day.

150 lb / 2.2 = 68.18 kg

68.18 kg x 1.6 g = 109.09 g

Nutrition programs with increased protein have been shown to improve adult health when it comes to the treatment or prevention of obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis heart disease, and muscle wasting. However, many people fear that the overconsumption of protein may lead to kidney disease, cancer, osteoporosis and kidney stones. This is only true for individuals who already have kidney issues or for those who have poor nutrition in general (i.e. too much red meat or processed meat, not enough water, or not enough plant-based foods). During the past decade, a growing body of research reveals that dietary protein intakes well above the RDA are beneficial in maintaining muscle strength and maintaining a lean, fat-burning physique despite aging. However, research is still undecided on what exactly happens when you consume massive quantities of protein. While we do biochemically possess the pathways needed to convert protein to fat, the chances of that happening are irrelevant given what is known about the extreme measures that need to be surpassed for any applicable fat gain from protein to take place. Indeed, consuming a higher protein intake does not amount to more body fat. Rather, excess protein actually contributes to gains in lean body mass. But before you start consuming massive quantities of protein, it is important to know that your muscles can only utilize a certain amount of protein at once. Only about the first 30 grams (approximately 4 ounces) of dietary protein consumed in a meal produce muscle. Make sure you space it out over the day’s meals and snacks, rather than loading up at dinner like many North Americans do. Spacing it out will provide the best metabolic environment to promote healthy aging and maintenance of muscle size and strength. If you consume more than 30 grams in one sitting, don’t stress. As mentioned earlier, higher protein intake does not lead to more body fat.

Not All Protein Is Created Equal

As stated earlier, there are two types of protein: complete proteins (which contain all the essential amino acids) and incomplete proteins (which only have some of the essential amino acids). Complete proteins are most commonly found in animal sources. Incomplete proteins are primarily found in plant sources. Getting enough protein to build muscle is often easier if you consume animal sources, however, you can absolutely meet your protein needs as a vegetarian or vegan. In fact, newer research is supporting the consumption of plant-based proteins over meat proteins. And it’s no surprise, plant-based proteins have more fiber, vitamins and minerals in comparison to meat-based proteins. If you are consuming mostly plant-based proteins, there is no need to consciously combine different foods at each meal (e.g. beans and rice) if you’re eating a variety of foods from day-to-day since your body maintains a pool of amino acids that it uses to complement dietary proteins.

COMPLETE PROTEINS INCOMPLETE PROTEINS
Meat Beans
Seafood Legumes
Dairy Products (Milk, Yogurt, Whey) Nuts
Eggs Seeds
Quinoa, Buckwheat, Amaranth Vegetables
Chia & Hemp Seeds Fruit
Spirulina Grains

**It is advised that individuals avoid heavily processed meats and dairy products as they often contain added fat, salt, sugar, preservatives, chemical flavouring and colouring.

Evidently, research suggests high protein intake with the correct kinds of protein will allow you to function at its best. Although the exact amount of protein needed as well as when to consume protein throughout the day is not resolved, a balanced nutrition program will meet all your protein needs. More to follow for next week’s blog post on CARBOHYDRATES! If you enjoyed reading this blog post, comment below with an asterisk (*) so I know how many people are reading these blog posts!

REFERENCES:

  • Bergeron, Stephen. (2012, December 24). Are You Eating Enough Protein To Build Muscle? BuiltLean. Retrieved January 24, 2017 from http://www.builtlean.com/2012/12/24/protein-build-muscle/
  • Elsevier Health Sciences. (2016, March 3). Increased protein consumption linked to feelings of fullness: Detailed meta-analysis indicates that people with higher protein intake feel more full after meals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 24, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160303083809.htm
  • Hale, Jamie. (2016, June 20). Protein Facts You Better Know! The Facts, The Myths, and The Real Science. T-Nation. Retrieved January 25, 2017 from https://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/protein-facts-you-better-know
  • Pendick, Daniel. (2015, June 18). How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day? Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved January 24, 2017 from http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-much-protein-do-you-need-every-day-201506188096
  • University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. (2009, October 27). Moderate Amounts Of Protein Per Meal Found Best For Building Muscle. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 26, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091026125543.htm
  • N.A. (2016). What is the Role of Protein for Exercise? DotFit. Retrieved January 25, 2017 from http://www.dotfit.com/content-5767.html
By | 2017-01-26T17:16:21+00:00 January 26th, 2017|Uncategorized|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Margie January 30, 2017 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    Good info. Thanks.

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