Protein – One of the Building Blocks of Nutrition
The heart of good nutrition is based on the three categories of food known as macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Each one is necessary for a healthy diet and everyone should have some of these macronutrients in the right amount on a daily basis. As one of the macronutrients, protein plays an important role in both good nutrition and good health.
What Protein Does for You
Each and every cell in your body utilizes protein in some manner. It not only builds up your muscle mass, but creates connective tissues, as well. It is an important component in your cell membranes and gives strength to your bone matrix. Without it, your body would be unable to maintain proper fluid levels or the pH balance in your blood. Blood that is too acidic will cause minerals to be leeched from your bones to correct the balance. Protein is a primary factor in the production of many hormones and enzymes, such as the ones that regulate sleep, digestion, and ovulation. Protein is also a powerful part of your immune system, because antibodies are proteins.
How Your Body Uses Proteins
Proteins are all formed from substances known as amino acids. There are 20 of them in number. On its own, the human body can create 11 of these, but the other nine must be provided through food sources or by protein supplements. This has to be a daily replenishment, as amino acids can not be stored in your body. Digestion converts the proteins into their base amino acids and amino acid chains, which are then used by your body to create different amino acids.
Amino acids, in turn, are composed of simple compounds of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur. Amino acids link together in chains known as peptides. One of these chains can carry more than 500 amino acids.
How Much Protein Does Your Body Need?
Protein is between 25% and 35% of the average person's daily calorie count. The upper limit, 35%, should be the maximum, according to the American Heart Association. A diet that allows 30% of daily calories in protein is recommended for those who are trying to lose weight, because protein acts as an appetite suppressant. This is high enough to help people avoid feeling too hungry, but not enough to be excessive.
Someone who exercises regularly will need more protein than someone who is more prone to sitting a great deal. A person who very rarely exercises will only need about 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day. But even someone who works out regularly and intensely, like a bodybuilder, will only need about 1.75 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight to keep healthy and maintain muscle development.
The first step to find out how much protein any given individual will need on a daily basis is to find out how many calories will be required each day. Once that's figured out, the total calories can be divided into the correct manner. The other macronutrients are involved, too. Although there have been numerous diets that categorized fats and carbohydrates as dangerous, complex carbohydrates are just as important as protein, as are good fats (monounsaturated fats, such as those found in nuts, olive oil and nut oils).
Are There Other Protein Sources Aside from Meat?
Protein does not have to come from meat, or even from other animal sources. Most plants have some protein content, although not nearly as much as meat or animal-based products. Vegetarians should be able to get adequate amounts of protein without going to excess. Plant-based proteins are considered incomplete, however, because they do not have all the amino acids that the body can not manufacture on its own, which means they must be eaten in proper combinations.
A vegan diet tends to have between 10% and 12% of its calories per day from protein, where the average diet has between 14% and 18% protein.
The Role of Protein in the Life of the Athlete
Protein is a necessity in everyone's life, whether they are athletic or not. Someone who is truly athletic, however, will need more protein than most. It does not matter if the training is for strength or endurance, the amount of protein per kilogram of body weight will increase. Athletes need that extra protein to become strong and maintain their health, but they should never neglect the other nutrients – they are just as important. Just before a workout, something small but healthy should be consumed to give muscles the strength they need to perform at their best. Because protein does not oxidize, it can not be assimilated by the body fast enough to meet the needs of intense exercise.
Resistance training, especially an intense session, will increase the rate of protein synthesis and break down, which can last up to 24 hours after the workout is done. The body needs another source of protein, or it will begin to replenish its protein from the muscle mass already present.
Increased use of protein can increase the risk of dehydration, so drink plenty of fluids before and after a workout, no matter how heavy that workout may be.