What Is Protein and Why Do We Need It?

By: thedrswolfson
October 31, 2018
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Protein is one of the most important macronutrients. It is essential to life.

It exists in many foods, but is especially high in animal foods.

Protein is powerful.

It is an essential component of the body. It’s in cells, it helps the body function, it boosts immunity and helps create hormones. It is also an important constituent of blood, skin, hair, heart, nails, and bones.

A high protein diet can be beneficial for weight loss and metabolic health.

Continue reading for some of the best health benefits to consuming protein.

What is protein?

A protein is made up of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen arranged into amino acids linked into a chain.

Amino acids are the simplest units of proteins. Proteins are made up of roughly 20 amino acids.

We eat protein, it is broken down to amino acids through digestion, and then the body rebuilds the proteins it needs using these amino acids.

The cells in our bodies link the amino acid breakdown products end to end in various sequences to synthesize thousands of different proteins.

The human body has 20,000-25,000 genes that code for hundreds to thousands of proteins. Each protein has a specific function in the body determined by protein synthesis that takes place. Each human is unique therefore based on small differences in each body’s proteins.

Protein synthesis in the body depends on a diet that provides quality protein and all of the essential amino acids.

The proteins you consume in your diet (AKA dietary proteins) go through digestion and absorption processes in your body and are broken down to their simplest units, amino acids. This forms an amino acid pool in the body for use by the cell.  Proteins and amino acids are not readily stored in the body (there isn’t a lot of room to store them) so there is constant protein turnover, meaning they get used in a variety of ways in the body.

There are 9 essential amino acids that the body cannot make. This means they have to be obtained in the diet. The others (referred to as” non-essential amino acids”) the body can make from amino acids it gets from the diet.

Proteins can either be high biological value or low biological value. High biological value proteins contain all of the essential amino acids in a good sequence and are generally animal products like meat and whey protein. This high value means they are highly absorbed and utilized by the body.

During times of illness or chronic stress, the body may not be able to make all of it’s non-essential amino acids. At this point, they become “conditionally essential” meaning they must be obtained through a dietary source such as whey protein.

What are the functions of protein?

Whenever the body is growing, replacing, or replacing tissue, proteins are involved.

The amino acids of proteins are also precursors to several other compounds and proteins and have many roles such as:

  1. 1. Structural materials – Proteins are needed for growth and building and maintaining tissues.
  2. 2. Enzymes – Proteins are enzymes and can make chemical reactions happen in the body (they can break down substances or build up substances in reactions).
  3. 3. Hormones – Many body hormones are proteins (i.e. insulin).
  4. 4. Regulate fluid balance – Proteins are in cells and plasma (in blood vessels). Proteins are large and don’t usually leak out of blood vessels. In sickness or protein malnutrition they can leak out of blood vessels into the spaces between cells. Proteins attract water and so fluid increases and causes swelling in tissues (such as Edema).
  5. 5. Acid-base regulators – Proteins in blood act as “buffers” to maintain a balance between acidic and basic states in the blood. In order to survive, the blood must be kept at a constant pH and this balance is due to body proteins.
  6. 6. Transporters – Lipoproteins like LDL and HDL are made of proteins (lipoprotein transports other compounds in body).
  7. 7. Antibodies – Proteins function as antibodies to defend body against disease.  Antibodies are large proteins produced by immune system in response to foreign invaders like a virus. Antibodies provide immunity.
  8. 8. Source of energy – Proteins can be sacrificed to provide energy in the form of glucose in times of starvation, low carbohydrate intake or disease. Protein can be used to synthesis glucose or fatty acids in times of starvation.

What are the benefits of protein?

  • Curbs appetite. Protein is one of the most satiating foods. It keeps you feeling fuller for longer.
  • Decreases body fat and increases lean muscle mass.
  • Can help increase metabolism (basal metabolic rate or BMR). Increased lean muscle mass results in increased metabolism.
  • Aids in weight loss and weight management.
  • Increases protein synthesis in the body. The body’s main molecules are proteins. The body takes the protein you consume, breaks it down into amino acids then uses those amino acids to synthesize the bodily proteins it needs at the time.
  • Helps repair and rebuild muscles. It is well absorbed and easily used by the body to build muscles.
  • Can help to stabilize blood sugar and boost insulin sensitivity.
  • Whey protein can reduce blood pressure and is therefore heart healthy.
  • Whey protein can help to slow aging and boost glutathione (body’s master antioxidant).

What are some of the best sources of protein?

Protein-rich recipes:

Who is protein for?

  • Everyone!
  • Athletes
  • Elderly who are at risk for muscle wasting or Sarcopenia
  • Those looking to boost muscle mass
  • Those looking to gain weight 

Summary of information:

  • Protein is one of the most essential macronutrients there is. It is a vital component of all of our cells.
  • The body takes the high-quality dietary protein it gets and breaks it down to amino acids then synthesizes it’s own body proteins it needs using the ingested amino acids. Protein fuels the majority of our cellular reactions and keeps our bodies healthy.
  • There are many great sources of protein. Look for grass-fed meats and eggs. If you’re in a hurry or just need a high quality source of protein look to our newly launched grass-fed whey protein powder with added nutrients!
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