Protein: Part II: The Brief Basics Simplified

Protein! Protein! Protein! It seems that this macronutrient is on everyone’s mind lately. But why? What makes protein so special? I’ll explain the basics on the subject!

Why?

Protein is a macromolecule that is more complex than the other macronutrients as it plays a vital role in the human body. Basically almost every cell in our body has some sort of protein compound present; hair, skin, nails, muscle, bone and other body tissues. “Proteins are responsible for building and repairing body tissue and structures. Protein is also involved in the synthesis of hormones, enzymes and other regulatory peptides. Proteins are also known to be used as energy if calories or carbohydrate stores are not sufficient” (Clark, 421).

Proteins are made up of 20 amino acids that bind together to form peptide bonds. The body uses these amino acids to build thousands of different proteins that are utilized in the body. 

It is important that a person consumes the daily recommended amount of protein in their diet. We need this protein because our body is constantly breaking down tissues to replace it with new tissue. The way these tissues or proteins can be replaced is if we consume enough protein. Our body will then break them down into amino acids to be used to replace the lost tissue or structures.

But how much should I be consuming?

If you are only interested in a general range of how much protein you should be consuming, click here. If you would like to know a more precise range, a person should consume about 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram (2.2lbs) of body weight per day.  If you are an active person (active recreational athlete, fitness enthusiast), your recommendation is about 1 gram of protein for every kilogram (2.2). If you are an endurance athlete you need a little more; about 1.4 grams per kilogram per day. Body builders have a larger range at about 1-2 grams of protein per kilogram of weight depending on their exercise regimen.

The equation is easy. Convert your weight in pounds to kilograms. (Your weight (lbs) divided by 2.2) Then take the kilogram measurement and multiply by 0.8 and it will equal roughly how much protein you need to consume daily.

Here is an example for the average person: If this person weighs 115 pounds, you would divide 115 by 2.2 = 52.27. This equals the weight conversion from pounds to kilograms. Then I multiply 52.27 by 0.8 = 41.81. This person would need at least 41.8 grams of protein per day and should equate to 15-30 percent of a person’s total caloric intake.

Where should I get my protein from?

A person’s first choice to consume protein should be from nutrient dense foods. There are two types of protein sources: Complete Proteins and Incomplete Proteins.

Complete proteins are foods that contain all the essential amino acids. These foods include:  meats, poultry, eggs, fish, milk and cheese.

Incomplete proteins are low in one or more of the essential amino acids and include: grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit.

Three categories of Amino Acids include: Essential (red outline), Conditionally Non-Essential (yellow outline) and Non-Essential Groupings (green outline).

Three categories of Amino Acids include: Essential (red outline), Conditionally Non-Essential (yellow outline) and Non-Essential Groupings (green outline).

What about protein supplementation?

Supplementation has its benefits and drawbacks. Benefits include: cost effectiveness and convenience while one of its drawbacks include overconsumption. Check out a more in-depth explanation of protein supplementation in my earlier post: Protein Supplementation: Is it Right for You: The Brief Basics.

Can too much protein be harmful?

Yes, too much of anything can be harmful! Overconsumption of protein can lead to the development of an overproduction of urea in the body, which puts more strain on the kidneys to eliminate waste. For every gram of protein over tissue maintenance, 1-1.5 mg or calcium is excreted, which can lead to a calcium deficiency in the body. (Clark, 426). Also, protein metabolism relies on water and requires 7 times the amount water than carbohydrate and fat. This in turn can deplete glycogen stores, which inhibits performance and causes dehydration. This can negatively impact energy and athletic performance as well overall healthy functioning such as eventual hunger, slower metabolism, and weight rebound (Clark, 427). If a person’s diet lacks the necessary amount of carbohydrates (protein sparing) and fats than the body relies on protein for energy. Using this macromolecule for energy will inhibit the protein to be able to repair muscle and body tissue. 

Conclusion:

This is only the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to protein, it’s role in the body, the benefits, the drawbacks and information. Just remember before you think about any type of diet modifications, make sure you consult your physician and commit yourself to researching from reliable sources! You are worth it!

References:

Clark, M.A., Lucett, S.C., Corn, R.J. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2008, 421-428.

Harvard School of Public Health Website http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/

Medline Plus: National Institute of Health Website http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002467.htm

Center for Disease Control Website http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/protein.html

https://fnic.nal.usda.gov/food-composition/individual-macronutrients-phytonutrients-vitamins-minerals/macronutrients

Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids: Institute of Medicine: The National Academies, Washington, D.C. 2005, 590-591.

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