Protein has become very popular lately, with more and more products sporting the magic words “rich in protein.”
There’s a lot of talk about the role that protein plays in building muscle mass and overall health and performance, but before we run out and buy all those protein products, it makes sense to first understand what exactly protein is and how it works in the body.
What is Protein?
Protein is one of the three essential macronutrients for normal functioning, and it’s also the main building block for bodily tissues (including muscle, of course). Protein is composed of a long chain of amino acids (think of them like beads on a string), arranged in a specific order for every protein. The order of the amino acids is what determines how that protein will bend into its final shape, thus enabling it to fulfill its biological function.
The protein molecule is built of amino acids. Each amino acid is built from a string of carbons, with the addition of hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. The presence of nitrogen in the molecule differentiates between the different amino acids, as well as between protein and carbohydrates and fats (though they all have a carbon base). Some amino acids also have the addition of a sulfur or phosphorus atom.
In nature, we find 22 amino acids, and our bodies need 20 amino acids to build muscle and other bodily tissues. Amino acids differ from one another through the R factor, which gives each amino acid its unique structure and chemical characteristics. A mistake in the placement of one amino acid on the chain could cause irreversible damage in the functioning of the protein, and even lead to death.
Essential & Non-Essential
Our body knows how to manufacture only 11 of the amino acids that we need; these are called nonessential amino acids. The other 9 that the body does not know to manufacture by itself are called essential amino acids – essential because we need to get them from food. There are five amino acids that are said to be essential only during childhood and old age, while others might be essential in situations of stress (such as during an intense workout).
The Function of Protein in the Body
The proteins that the body receives from food are vital for supplying essential amino acids that the body is unable to produce on its own. That’s why it’s so important to eat a variety of protein-rich foods. Protein is critical for the body’s cells, accounting for half of the cell’s dry weight. The role of protein is not just to build muscle mass for exercise; it’s a central component for many actions taking place in the cell and in the atom.
The Functions of Protein in the Body
1. Production of enzymes— proteins that act as catalysts to bring about a specific biochemical reaction
2. To transport and store substances in the blood vessels and within the cells (e.g., hemoglobin and albumin)
3. Plays a role in regulatory systems and metabolic processes, including transmitting signals from hormones
4. Active in the production of energy (ATP) in the cells– creatine, glycolysis and aerobic pathways
5. Constitutes tissue structure– collagen and muscle as well as hair and nails
6. Production of antibodies— proteins produced by the immune system
7. Energy storage– Muscle can be a source of energy in the case of depleted carbohydrate stores or an unbalanced diet.
8. Production of fibrinogen— a protein that aids the blood clotting process
9. Production of receptors that enable the entry of substances into the cell according to specific stimuli
Food Sources of Protein
Protein from food is classified in two main groups:
Considered of higher biological value (the measure of the efficiency of a food protein for the maintenance and growth of bodily tissues) than plant-based protein due to the presence of more essential amino acids
Considered of lower biological value due to the absence of certain essential amino acids. A combination of different sources of plant-based protein can form a “complete protein” which is well absorbed in the body.
A good example is the popular combination of rice and lentils. Legumes are missing the essential amino acid methionine but are rich in lysein, whereas grains are missing the essential amino acid lysein but are rich in methionine. When combined, they constitute a complete protein, as one component makes up for what the other lacks.
The Value of Milk and Whey Protein
Milk and dairy products are considered an important source of protein. Gaining in popularity in recent years is whey protein, sold in powders, shakes, drinks and protein bars and touted for its benefits for exercise and muscle-building.
What is Whey Protein?
As mentioned above, animal protein is considered to be of very high biological value. Milk itself contains two types of protein: casein and whey. Most supplements are based on whey protein.
In terms of biological value, whey is ranked 106% (as opposed to egg, for example, which is ranked at 100%).
One of the advantages of whey protein is its relatively rapid absorption in the body, especially after having undergone partial or full breakdown of short peptides into amino acids. For this reason, whey protein is considered the highest quality protein for building muscle mass and supplying essential amino acids. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other good protein sources in food, nor do you have to consume whey protein only through supplements. Ricotta cheese, for example, contains mainly whey protein, and is therefore considered one of the cheeses with the highest biological value.
Casein, the other protein found in dairy products, also boasts a high nutritional value – for general health and for building muscle. Cottage cheese, mozzarella and parmesan are all casein-rich cheeses. Although casein is absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream than whey protein, that can be an advantage for times when you want a slow, steady supply of protein to the muscles over time, as opposed to a quick burst.
Our whey protein is developed by professional nutritionists and coaches. It has been carefully formulated to meet specific nutritional needs and goals. These experts have the skills and knowledge to create a high-quality protein powder that is not only effective, but also safe and free of harmful additives and ingredients. They take into account factors such as the source of the whey, the purity of the product, and the additional ingredients used to create a product that is optimized for health and performance. Additionally, professional nutritionists and coaches are able to provide guidance on how to properly use the product and incorporate it into your overall diet and fitness routine.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much protein do I need per day?
The recommended daily intake of protein varies based on factors such as age, gender, weight, and activity level. On average, the recommended daily intake of protein for adult men and women is 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Can too much protein be harmful?
Consuming too much protein can lead to an imbalance in your body's nutrient levels and potentially cause health problems, such as kidney damage, osteoporosis, or dehydration.
Can protein powder help with weight loss?
Consuming protein powder as part of a calorie-controlled diet and regular exercise routine can help with weight loss by increasing feelings of fullness, reducing hunger, and preserving muscle mass, but it is not a magic solution and must be combined with a healthy diet and exercise for optimal results.