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Understanding Protein and Its Importance
The word “Protein” comes from the Greek word “Protos” which means “Of primary importance”. Protein is the main building block of the human body, if you were to compare your body to a building, protein would be the raw material. Like fats and carbohydrates, proteins are made up of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. The actual difference between protein and the other two macro-nutrients is the presence of nitrogen. Scientists use nitrogen tests to compare the use of protein in the body by comparing the amount of nitrogen consumed with the amount excreted through urine, feces, and sweat.
Your body is a very complex machine that constantly changes, evolves and adapts to the circumstances you go through. In fact, physicists have proven that your body changes or replaces 98% of its atoms within 1 year, which means that in molecular terms, you are not the same person you were a year ago, you may feel like you are not you did has changed, but your cells, tissues, and organs are made up of entirely new atoms.
Protein plays a crucial role in these processes, as it is what your body uses to replace damaged or dead cells within it. Where does all that protein come from? The answer is from the food you eat, hence the saying “You are what you eat”, and that is no exaggeration either.
The smallest units of proteins are called amino acids; they are the “bricks” that make up protein blocks.
Proteins are made up of many amino acids linked together. There are 20 essential amino acids necessary for the growth of the human body. From these 20 basic amino acids, tens of thousands of different protein building blocks can be formed. Just as bricks are used to create various building structures (walls, roads, chimneys, furnaces, etc.), amino acids are used to create proteins designed for various purposes within the human body.
Amino acids can be divided into essential and non-essential amino acids. The human body is able to produce 11 of the 20 amino acids; these are called “Non-essential”. The remaining 9 amino acids are called “Essential” because the body must be provided with them through food.
The list of “essential” and “non-essential” amino acids includes:
Essential amino acids (irreplaceable):
Non-essential (unusable) amino acids:
When you eat food, the body uses the amino acids contained in the food to produce the proteins needed for various metabolic processes, when one or more non-essential amino acids are missing, however, the body must produce them within the liver.
To prevent the body from breaking down its own proteins, you must provide it with foods that contain all 20 amino acids. These food sources are called “Complete Proteins”. Most of these proteins come from animal sources, such as meat, milk and eggs.
Vegetables, legumes, and grains are considered “Incomplete Proteins” because they lack or are more deficient in amino acids. For example, beans are very high in protein, but they lack the essential amino acid Methionine. One way to overcome this is by combining “Incomplete Protein” sources with each other to create a “Complete Protein” source. Rice and beans are a prime example of this.
Protein cannot be stored for later use, unlike carbohydrates. This makes consuming at least one complete protein source with each meal of the utmost importance to avoid a negative nitrogen balance, or breakdown of muscle tissue.
As with the other two macronutrients, there are better sources of protein than others. A basic guideline to follow is to make your protein source as lean as possible.
o Chicken breast
o Chicken breasts
o Lean cuts of red meat
o Low-fat/fat-free dairy products such as milk, yogurt or cheese
o Fish and other seafood.
All of these sources will provide you with all the essential amino acids required by your body without the saturated fat associated with other animal protein sources.
In terms of combining “Incomplete Proteins” to make “Complete Proteins”, there are some simple guidelines to follow:
o Combine legumes with grains
o Combine nuts with grains or legumes
o Combine any animal protein with any incomplete protein
The question of how much protein an individual who wants to gain muscle should take in is a matter of great debate. There are those who believe that a high protein/low carb diet of over 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is the way to go, others argue instead that much less protein is needed and that 50-60 grams per day is all a healthy adult needs.
However, in order to increase muscle mass, the most widely accepted guideline for active men is to get at least 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight.
A better approach to calculating total protein intake is to use macronutrient ratios. This means that you determine your total daily calorie needs and divide the calories that come from the three main macronutrients into percentages.
So for example, a 190 pound male needs 3000 calories to maintain his weight, he wants to add muscle mass so he eats an extra 500 calories, this brings the total to 3500 calories per day. Of those 3,500 calories, 30% will come from protein, 50% from carbohydrates, and 20% from healthy fats.
Protein and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram and fat contains 9 calories per gram. So if we do the math, we come up with:
3500×0.3=1050 – 1050 calories from protein
3500×0.5=1750 – 1750 calories from carbohydrates
3500×0.2=700 – 700 calories from healthy fats
1050+1750+700=3500 – Total 3500 calories per day
If you want to know how many grams of each macronutrient you need per day, simply divide the total calories of protein, or carbohydrates by 4, or fat by 9.
1050/4=265.5 – 265.5 grams of protein
1750/4=435.5 – 435.5 grams of carbohydrates
700/0=77.7 – 77.7 grams of fat
Using these simple formulas, we not only know how many calories he needs from each macronutrient, but also how many grams.
To summarize the article, I would like to outline the following points:
o Proteins are the essential building materials used to rebuild all tissues in the human body.
o The protein building blocks needed for human growth consist of 20 amino acids, which can be arranged in tens of thousands of ways to create the proteins needed in the body.
o Animal protein sources are a prime example of “Complete Proteins” which contain all 20 amino acids.
o Vegetables, legumes, and nuts are all “incomplete proteins” because they lack one or more essential amino acids.
o It is essential to provide the body with adequate sources of protein in order to avoid a negative nitrogen balance and muscle tissue breakdown.
o The most widely accepted guideline for recommended daily protein intake is 1 gram per 1 pound of body weight in men.
I hope that by reading this article you will gain a basic understanding of what protein is and why it plays such an important role in your body.
With that in mind, remember to always train hard, eat plenty, and rest to grow!
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