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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 real difference between protein and the other two macronutrients 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 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 you throw at it. In fact, physicists have proven that your body changes or replaces 98% of its atoms in 1 year, that means molecularly speaking you’re not the same person you were a year ago, you might feel you haven’t changed, but your cells, tissues and organs are made up of entirely new atoms.
Protein plays a crucial role in these processes because it’s what your body uses to replace damaged or dead cells in it. Where do all these proteins come from? The answer comes from the food you eat, hence the saying “You are what you eat”, and that’s no exaggeration either.
The smallest protein units are called amino acids; these are the “bricks” that make up the protein blocks.
Proteins are made up of several 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 blocks can be formed. Just as bricks are used to create different building structures (walls, roads, chimneys, ovens, etc.), amino acids are used to create proteins designed for different purposes in the human body.
Amino acids can be broken down into essential and non-essential amino acids. The human body is able to manufacture 11 of the 20 amino acids; these are called “non-essential”. The remaining 9 amino acids are called “Essential” because the body needs to be supplied by food.
The list of “essential” and “non-essential” amino acids includes:
Essential amino acids (essential):
Non-essential amino acids (Dispensable):
When you eat food, the body uses the amino acids that the food contains in order to manufacture the proteins necessary for its various metabolic processes, when one or more of the non-essential amino acids is lacking, however, the body must manufacture them in the liver. .
To prevent the body from breaking down its own proteins, you need to provide it with foods that contain all 20 amino acids. These food sources are called “Complete Proteins”. Most of this protein comes from animal sources, such as meat, milk, and eggs.
Vegetables, legumes and grains are considered “incomplete protein” because they lack or contain more amino acids. For example, beans are very high in protein, but lack the essential amino acid methionine. One way to overcome this is to combine “incomplete protein” sources with each other to create a “complete protein” source. Rice and Beans is a great example.
Proteins cannot be stored for later use, unlike carbohydrates. This makes consuming at least one complete source of protein with every meal of utmost importance to avoid negative nitrogen balance or breakdown of muscle tissue.
Just like 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 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 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.
When it comes to combining “incomplete proteins” to create “complete proteins”, there are a few simple rules to follow:
o Combine legumes with cereals
o Combine nuts with grains or legumes
o Combine any animal protein with any incomplete protein
The question of how much protein a person wishing to gain muscle should take is a matter of great debate. There are those who believe that a high protein/low carb diet with more than 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight is the way to go, others instead argue that much less protein is needed and that 50-60 grams per day is all a healthy adult human needs.
However, in order to gain muscle mass, the most widely accepted guideline for active men is to consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
A better approach to calculating total protein intake is to use macronutrient ratios. This means that you determine your total daily caloric needs and divide the calories from the three major macronutrients into percentages.
So, for example, a 190 pound man needs 3000 calories to maintain his weight, he wants to add muscle mass so he eats an additional 500 calories, bringing the total to 3500 calories per day. Of those 3,500 calories, 30% will come from protein, 50% from carbs, and 20% from healthy fats.
Proteins and carbohydrates both contain 4 calories per gram and fats contain 9 calories per gram. So, if we do the math, we arrive at:
3500×0.3=1050 – 1050 calories from protein
3500×0.5=1750 – 1750 calories from carbs
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 macronutrient you need per day, just divide the total calories from protein or carbs by 4 or fat by 9.
1050/4=265.5 – 265.5 grams of protein
1750/4=435.5 – 435.5 grams of carbs
700/0=77.7 – 77.7 grams of fat
Using these simple formulas, we not only know the amount of calories it needs for each macronutrient, but also the amount of grams.
To summarize the article, I would like to highlight the following points:
o Proteins are the essential building materials used to rebuild all tissues in the human body.
o The building blocks of proteins necessary for human growth are made up of 20 amino acids, which can be arranged in tens of thousands of ways to make the proteins needed in the body.
o Animal protein sources are a great example of “complete proteins” that 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 sources of protein in order to avoid a negative nitrogen balance and the breakdown of muscle tissue.
o The most widely accepted guideline for recommended daily protein intake is 1 gram per 1 pound of body weight for men.
I hope by reading this article you will gain the basic knowledge 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 big, and rest to grow!
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