What does protein do?
Our muscles, organs, immune system are mostly made up of protein.
Protein is widely known for the role of growth, repair and maintenance, but it also perform a variety of physiological functions:
Antibodies are proteins - these are produced by white blood cells and fight infections
Some hormones are made up of proteins - these send messages through the body to regulate cell activities e.g. insulin (blood sugar levels).
Protein is used to make haemoglobin , the part of the red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body.
All enzymes are proteins - these control the rate and pattern of chemical reactions within the body e.g. food digestion and extracting energy from it.
Protein does also provide energy (although this is not its main purpose).
What is protein made of?
Proteins are made up of amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids that take part in the protein structure, 8 of those must come from diet as the body cannot manufacture them. The other 12 the body can make. If you imagine a tangled up chain, each link would be amino acids and the big ball would be proteins.
8 essential amino acids which cannot be made by the body (can be obtained by diet):
12 non - essential amino acids which can be made in the body:
The reason I've given this list, is not for you to obsess over or do a detailed analysis of which you getting vs. not, but it's here as a reference point, so if you do come across any of these individual names, you can look and have an understanding of which groupings they relate to.
How do we get protein? Why are amino acids important?
When the body needs new protein, it looks around for the right amount of each component amino acid to make the new one. If there is a non essential amino acid missing, the body will make a new one. If an essential amino acid is needed,(the ones the body cannot make, which must come from diet) the body will have to wait until a new source is supplied. So yes it is essential for protein to be topped up on a daily basis, but the truth is, people who regularly eat complete proteins such as meat, eggs, milk and cheese, will have no problem with this.
Where do vegetarians get their protein?
In terms of components, there is no different between animal and plant proteins.They are both made up of amino acids, and they both contain the same 22 amino acids, but it is true that meat is more likely to contain all the essential amino acids as plant protein food sources often have lower quality proteins, vegetarians and vegans should eat a wide variety of foods to ensure that they are getting all the amino acids that they need.
Whilst most plant proteins are 'incomplete', this can easily be solved by combining plant protein sources to make these then 'complete'. Vegetarians can obtain an adequate supply of the required amino acids by having a good mix of pulses, grains, cereals and nuts. Soya bean products contain the full complement of amino acids.
The following combination are also great for ensuring a good supply of the required amino acids.
Where can you get a good supply of protein from:
How much protein do you need?
Did you know a breast of chicken contains c.40g of protein. A serving of kidney beans/ chickpeas supply c20g of protein. But how much protein do you need?
0.8kg x (your weight in kgs) = total daily protein needs
For example, if you weighed 60kg, 60 x 0.8 = 48g per day. This is just over one chicken breast or 2 servicing of beans/chickpeas. So actually the daily need for protein is quiet small.
That said, the following adjustments are suggested for:
An increase of protein will compensate for the breakdown of muscle tissue due to depleted glycogen stores, it will also help with repair and recovery.
When are protein supplements useful?
Strength and power based athletes weighing 80kg + may have a desired protein intake of 144g + this may be difficult to obtain by eating alone.
Those on a calorie restricted programme, may find protein via shakes and supplements more beneficial due to a lower calorie intake.
Vegetarian athletes may use protein supplements to boost their protein intake as plant source protein tends to be lower than that found in meat and dairy, that said this can be avoided subject to the right combination of plant based proteins.
Protein & bulking
Contrary to popular belief, having more protein does not mean you will automatically get bigger muscles. To increase lean muscle tissue, increased protein must be accompanied by the appropriate workload to promote muscle bulk. The key is lift as much and as heavy as you can (of course with the correct form, rest and recovery).
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