Understanding Protein and Its Importance
The word “Protein” comes from the Greek work “Protos” which means “Of prime 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 composed 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 utilization of proteins in the body by comparing the amount of nitrogen consumed to the amount excreted through urine, feces, and sweat.
Your body is a very complex machine that is constantly changing, evolving, and adapting to the circumstances that you put it through. As a matter of fact, physicist have proven that your body changes or replaces 98% of its atoms within 1 year, that means that molecularly speaking, you are not the same person that you were a year ago, you might feel like you haven’t changed, but your cells, tissues, and organs are made up out 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 that you eat, hence the saying “You are what you eat”, and that is no overstatement either.
The smallest protein units are called Amino acids; they are the “bricks” that make up the protein blocks.
Proteins are made up of multiple amino acids linked together. There are 20 essential amino acids required for the human body to grow. From these 20 basic amino acids, tens of thousands of different protein blocks can be formed. Just like bricks are used to create different building structures (walls, roads, chimneys, ovens, etc.), amino acids are used to create proteins designed for different purposes within the human body.
Amino acids can be broken down to essential and non-essential amino acids. The human body is able to manufacture 11 out of the 20 amino acids; these are called “Non essential”. The remaining 9 amino acids are called “Essential” as the body needs to be provided with them through food.
The list of “Essential” and “Non Essential” amino acids include:
Essential (Indispensable) amino acids:
Non essential (Dispensable) amino acids:
When you eat food, the body utilizes the amino acids that the food contains in order to manufacture the proteins required for its different metabolic processes, when one or more of the non-essential amino acids are missing however, the body has to manufacture them within the liver.
To avoid the body breaking down its own protein, you need to 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 are missing or more amino acids. For example, Beans are very high in protein, but they are missing the essential amino acid Methionine. One way to overcome this is by combining “Incomplete Protein” sources with one another to make one “Complete Protein” source. Rice and Beans is a prime example of this.
Protein cannot be stored for later use, unlike carbohydrates. This makes the consumption of at least one complete protein source with each meal of the utmost importance to avoid a negative nitrogen balance, or the breakdown of muscle tissue.
Just like with the other two macro nutrients, there are better sources of protein than others. A basic guideline to follow is to make your source of protein as lean as possible.
o Chicken Breasts
o Turkey Breasts
o Lean cuts of red meat
o Low-fat/Non-fat Dairy products such as Milk, Yogurt, or Cheese
o Fish, and other sea food.
All of these sources will provide you with all the essential amino acids required by your body without the saturated fats associated with other animal protein sources.
As far as 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 should an individual wanting to gain muscle should take, is a matter of great debate. There are those who believe that a high protein/low carbohydrate diet with upwards of 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight is the way to go, others argue instead that much less protein is needed, and that 50-60 grams a day is all that a healthy human adult needs.
For the purpose of muscle mass gain however, the most widely accepted guideline for active males is to at least take in 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
A better approach to calculating total protein intake is to use macro nutrient ratios. This means that you determine your total daily caloric needs, and split the calories coming from the three main macro nutrients 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 500 extra calories, this bring the total to 3500 calories a day. Out of those 3500 calories 30% will be coming from proteins, 50% from carbohydrates, and 20% from healthy fats.
Proteins, and Carbohydrates both 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 proteins
3500×0.5=1750 – 1750 calories from carbohydrates
3500×0.2=700 – 700 calories from healthy fats
1050+1750+700=3500 – Grand total of 3500 calories per day
If you want to know how many grams of each macro nutrient you need per day, just divide the total calories of proteins, or carbohydrates by 4 or the fats 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 fats
By using these simple formulas not only do we know the amount of calories he needs from each macro nutrient, but also the amount of grams.
To summarize the article, I would like to outline the following points:
o Proteins are the essential building materials used to rebuild all of the tissues in the human body.
o Protein building blocks necessary for human growth are made out of 20 amino acids, which can be arranged in tens of thousands of ways in order to make the necessary proteins 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 crucial to provide the body with complete protein sources in order to avoid a negative nitrogen balance, and muscle tissue break down.
o The most widely accepted guideline for daily recommended protein intake is 1 gram per 1 pound of bodyweight in males.
It is my hope that from reading this article you attain the basic knowledge of what protein is, and why it plays such an important role in your body.
With this in mind, remember to always train heavy, eat big, and rest to grow!
Written by: Yoshihiro Tanaka