There has been much of talk of protein, how essential it is and what uses does it carry for the body. In this week’s blog, i’ll try and explain as clearly as possible what protein is, why we need it, how much of it we need and diminish some common protein myths that are out there. So grab a cuppa, take 10 minutes from your day, sit back, relax and enjoy!
What is protein?
Think of protein as strings of sausages. Long strings – some many thousands. Each sausage represents one of 15 similar small molecules called amino acids. The order of amino acids in the chain is programmed by DNA. “Amino” means that they contain nitrogen, but they also contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. In order to do their jobs, proteins curl up into characteristic shapes, and many of them need to incorporate minerals or vitamins in order to function. Some proteins are solid, some are flexible in cell membranes, others are mobile in solutions .
Muscles, skin, bones, and other parts of the human body contain significant amounts of protein, including enzymes, hormones and antibodies. Proteins also work as neurotransmitters. Haemoglobin, a carrier of oxygen in the blood, is a protein. Protein is made up of amino acids, and amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are around 20 amino acids.
These 20 amino acids can be arranged in millions of different ways to create millions of different proteins, and each protein has a specific function in the body. The structures differ according to the sequence in which the amino acids combine .
Are there different types of protein?
Yes! They can be classified as two main types, the protein you eat and the protein your body makes. Let us discuss these further:
Protein that is eaten :
Maybe you never thought about it, but not all food proteins are the same. The sequence of amino acids that creates the white of an egg is much different from the arrangement of amino acids that creates the protein in a glass of milk.
When you eat foods that provide protein, it should make sense that different foods contain different proteins (and usually more than one), even though they’re all made up of amino acids.
For example, when you eat milk or yogurt, you’re eating proteins called casein and whey. When you eat meat, fish or poultry, you would be eating proteins called collagen and myosin, among others. Beans have proteins called legumins, and eggs contain a number of different proteins, including one called avidin and one called ovalbumin.
Each of these proteins is unique because each is made up of a unique sequence of amino acids. Once the proteins are digested and absorbed, their amino acids can then be used as building blocks for the proteins in your body.
Protein that your body makes :
As protein foods travel through the digestive tract, they’re ultimately broken back down into their individual amino acids which are absorbed into the bloodstream. Your body can then use these building blocks to manufacture some 50,000 different body proteins, each of which has a specific structure and function based upon its arrangement of amino acids.
As long as your body has all the necessary raw materials in the form of the amino acid building blocks, it can manufacture these important body proteins—from the enzymes that speed up chemical reactions in the body, to hormones that act as chemical messengers. Other proteins support your immune function, or transport nutrients in your body. And, of course, you have proteins that provide structure to your bones, skin, hair, nails and muscles, too.
Once the amino acids enter your bloodstream, there’s no way to tell whether they were derived from a bowl of lentils or a steak. They all end up as an amino acid “pool” in your body’s tissues and fluids—a pool that can be tapped into as needed. To ensure a steady supply, it’s important to consume adequate protein every day.
Why does the body need protein?
Like carbohydrates and fat, protein is a “macronutrient,” meaning that you need relatively large amounts of it to stay healthy. (Vitamins and minerals, which you only need in small quantities, are called “micronutrients.”) Unlike carbohydrates and fat, your body does not store protein, so it has no reservoir to draw from when you’re running low. Protein bars and shakes are a great way to supplement your diet to ensure you’re getting the right amount of protein .
Studies show that eating a high-protein diet has a number of health benefits. Not only does it help you maintain and lose weight, but it also works to stabilise your blood sugar levels, improve your ability to learn and concentrate, reduce brain fog, boost your energy levels, support your muscles and bones and support the absorption of important nutrients. Many people make the mistake of trying diets that involve calorie counting and deprivation. On a high-protein diet, you will feel completely satiated after eating, and you won’t have to deal with the blood sugar highs and lows that lead to cravings and moodiness. You’ll be surprised to see how many foods you can eat on a high-protein diet. Even people on a vegetarian or vegan diet, who sometimes turn to processed foods for energy, have enough high-protein foods to choose from .
How much protein do I need?
Wondering exactly how much protein you should be consuming each day? The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), which is the minimum amount you need to be healthy, is 0.8 grams per kilogram (0.36 grams per pound) of body weight per day. If you’re very active, that means getting at least 35 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise four or five days a week, including resistance training two or more times a week. Consider eating 1.2 to 2 grams of dietary protein per kilogram (or about 0.5 to 0.9 grams per pound) of bodyweight each day .
Optimal protein works out to be about 15% to 25% of your daily calories, still below the level recommended by many popular high-protein diets. Over a day, that could look like 20-30 grams per meal and 12 to 15 grams per snack, for a total of 90 to 105 grams daily .
For those of us that are trying to lose weight, having a high protein/low carb diet may be beneficial. Protein, due to its amino acid chains, takes longer to break down in the stomach. This means we remain fuller for longer. So having a protein shake after a workout, as a snack or as a meal will help you feel fuller for longer as well as getting the amino acids your body needs for almost all of its metabolic functions.
The common protein myths :
Here’s a list of food sources and how much protein they contain :
There are many other foods which contain high protein contents, the above list should be a good start for you as a point of guidance. So there you have it! Eat protein with every meal, in moderation and work out how much you need for your body. You do not need meat to get protein into your body and you shouldn’t just rely on protein powders to get protein into your diet. For those of you that workout regularly, you need more protein than those that don’t. Lastly, as with everything I suggest, don’t go overboard and ensure you are sensible with the choices you make.
If you feel you could benefit from guidance on protein intake or require nutritional support and how to live a balanced lifestyle please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website by going to www.urbanplatehealth.com