Proteins 101: The super abridged version

 

moomoo partsMeat, eggs, soy. These are the common day to day food we eat that contains the proteins we need. But what really are proteins? Why do we need them and how much do we need? Let’s find out today!

What are Proteins

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Known as the lego of our bodies, proteins are the building blocks that essentially help to ensure the structure of our body, whether on the internal or the external. While many of us sees proteins as the recovery macronutrient, proteins functions varies vastly within the body. Some of the functions includes

  • Functioning as enzymes and hormones
  • Transporting of substance in and out of our cells
  • Communicating between cells
  • Muscle movement
  • Growth and maintenance of body structures
  • Antibodies
  • pH regulation
  • Fluid balance

How proteins are made in the body

Proteins in the body are built by amino acids. Within the human body, we need 20 amino acids to build the human body, 8 of which cannot be produced by the body and therefore is required to be consumed by our everyday food.

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How digestion of proteins work in our body

Unlike carbohydrates and fats, proteins do not have a storage area. Instead, they are either synthesized or broken down in the amino acid pool located throughout the blood and body fluids. This means that over time, ingested protein that are used for various purposes will be kept in the body while unused proteins will be released from the body in the form of our pee or poop…. uh. opps.

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Where are proteins found in food? 

Sources of proteins with a complete amino acid profile for our body are mainly found in milk, egg, meat, poultry and fish. As you can see, many of these products are mainly meat and dairy products, which thus can be an issue for the vegetarian and vegan community.

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Fortunately, sources of plant proteins are available, with soy being the best in quality. Vegetarian and vegans are able to find complete protein sources by mixing incomplete protein sources (such as grains, nuts and seeds) together to get their essential protein needs. However, due to the absorption level of these proteins, it is generally advised for vegetarians and vegans to consume more proteins.

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Wait. Protein absorption? You mean the type matters?! 

In short, yes. Due to the absorption rate between the food and your body, the type of protein you choose to use matters. In general, animal and dairy products are better.

Okay so how does protein act in the body? 

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As shown in the obviously not professionally drawn illustration (not to scale), every time you consume protein, your body will have an increase in protein synthesis [purple area]. This allows activities requiring protein to use the digested protein for their own activities. However, protein activities start to slow down after some time, usually about 3 hours. At this point, synthesis rate will reduce [red area]. This is where feeding your body with protein will bring up the synthesis rate again. That said, if you do not have the time nor ability to have a feed every 3 hours, fret not. According to research, total amount of required protein consume in the body is more important than the timing of when you consume protein.

Okay, that’s good news. So how much protein do I need? 

At this point, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein stands at 0.8g/kg body weight per day. However, these recommendations are for sedentary individuals who are not exercising.

Activity Level protein/ kg (body weight)/day
Sedentary 0.8
Recreational exerciser 1.0-1.4
Resistance-trained (maintenance) 1.2-1.4
Resistance-trained (gain muscle mass) 1.4-1.8
Endurance-trained 1.2-1.4
Intermittent, high intensity training 1.2-1.8
Weight-restricted sports 1.4-2.0
Table 1: Recommended Protein intakes.

Table 1 shows the recommended protein intake according to your exercise activity level. As of 2017, the International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand recommends a daily intake of 1.4-2.0g/kg body weight per day of dietary protein for training athletes.

Is there such a thing as too much protein for the body to handle? 

No… just… no. Well if you have kidney issues, then yes but if you’re super healthy… no. Ugh. i mean. No.

Kidding. There has been some huge concerns about how consuming high dosage of protein (whether dietary or supplement) to be dangerous especially to the kidney, but so far, research has found these concerns to be untrue. To put into perspective, one research study was performed where subjects were tasked to consume a high protein diet for a whole year (Oh, the dream!)  and no harmful effects were found.

 

Andddd that’s what you need to know about protein. Do let me know if you have more questions and I’ll do my best to answer them as accurately as possible!

References

Antonio, J., Kalman, D., Stout, J., Greenwood, M., Willoughby, D., & Haff, G. (2014). Essentials of sports nutrition and supplements. [NY]: Humana Press.

Berardi, J., & Andrews, R. (2014). The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition (2nd ed.).

Jäger, R., M. Kerksick, C., I. Campbell, B., J.Cribb, P., D. Wells, S., & M. Skwiat, T. et al. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition14(20). http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s112970-017-0177-8

MacLaren, D., & Morton, J. (2012). Biochemistry for sport and exercise metabolism. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

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