07 Sep Protein Power!
Every cell in our body utilizes protein. Its many uses are quite impressive! This essential macronutrient was even derived from the Greek word “protos” – meaning “first rank or position” – due to its significance to living organisms.
Muscle building, hormone balance, bone development, digestive and neurological functions all utilize protein in different ways. “Proteins are used every single day to keep the body going. Because they are used to develop, grow and maintain just about every part of our body – from our skin and hair to our digestive enzymes and immune system antibodies – they are constantly being broken down and must be replaced.”
Not only that, because it takes longer for our body to break down protein compared to carbohydrates, protein can even contribute to weight management.
What is Protein?
Protein is comprised of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms.
When digested, protein is broken down into long chains of molecules called amino acids. These long chains come in different sizes and shapes, and when joined together in various sequences, serve a multitude of functions in the body. There are 22 amino acids that are said to be required for the majority of critical bodily functions, and of these, 9 are “essential” (meaning it’s essential we ingest them via our diet because our body can’t create them on its own). The remaining 13 amino acids are “non-essential” because our body can create them, and therefore, it’s not “essential” that we obtain them from protein sources in our diet.
Sources of Protein
Protein can come from a variety of foods, including: meat, dairy, beans and grains. It even comes in supplement form (usually a powder), which is not only more convenient, but can also be easily combined with other vitamins and nutrients that are easily digestible.
Foods that have all 9 of the essential amino acids are considered “complete”. Through proper food combining, it’s still possible for those who avoid eating meat to eat a diet that includes all essential amino acids. For instance, beans won’t provide all the amino acids you need, but beans with rice will solve the problem. Also, you’re body is keen enough to extract what it needs as it’s ingested, so you don’t have to worry about getting all the nutrients to form a complete amino acid profile in the same meal.
Once digested and the amino acids enter your bloodstream, the food source that provided the aminos is irrelevant; all the amino acids end up in a “pool” in your body’s tissues and fluids. As needed, your body can tap into this pool to create the amino acid structure required to perform specific functions. In order to ensure a steady supply of aminos in this pool, it’s important to consume adequate protein every day.
How Much is Enough?
Just like other dietary needs, the amount of protein recommended for an individual varies based on a combination of factors. Since protein is critical to the maintenance of lean body mass (basically, everything in your body that isn’t fat), the suggested amount of protein you should eat every day depends, in part, on how much lean mass you have. Getting a body composition measurement done would be the most accurate way figure out this statistic. Then, determining your suggested amount is 0.5 – 1.0 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. It’s also important to consider one’s goals and activity level. More active people, and those trying to increase lean body mass (ex. Athletes or individuals trying to lose weight) might want to consider increasing their protein intake slightly to satisfy more demanding needs from their body (Disclaimer: While there isn’t an “upper limit” for protein. It’s best to ask a health care professional before making any drastic changes to your diet.)
What’s your go-to protein source, and how much do you usually eat?
-Health & Wellness Coach