We all know that protein is something that we need in our bodies, but many of us don’t know why. Many advertisements are always raving on about getting plenty of protein before workouts, so that we come out looking like the Hulk, but what is protein for and why do we need it?
This article aims to look deeper into the function of this important nutrient and answer some of the questions that have been plaguing you for at least the last five minutes.
What Is Protein?
Put simply, protein is one of 3 macronutrients that the body needs to consume in large amounts for energy, the other two being carbohydrates and fats. The difference with protein though, is that protein has many more priority jobs to fill before it becomes an energy source for the body.
Proteins are complex molecules that consist of amino acids and are slower to break down than carbohydrates, which means they are not an efficient energy source, but are longer-lasting. When proteins are digested they break down into individual amino acids so that the body can direct them where they are needed most, at the time.
There are 20 amino acids and the body can actually produce most of them, but 9 of them need to come directly from diet as they cannot be produced in the body.
What Protein Is Needed For
Protein gets the rad title of “The Building Block Of Life” because it is literally in every cell in the human body (1).
It is responsible for:
- Repairing and creating new cells
- Transporting nutrients throughout the body
- Is used to create enzymes, hormones and amino acids
- Building muscle
- It is important for the health of bones, teeth, hair, skin, blood and organs
- Boosting the immune system
It’s fair to say that protein is an essential nutrient for growth, strength and overall health and a protein deficiency could lead to serious health problems, if unchecked.
How Much Protein Do We Need
The average adult needs to consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (0.36g per lb) of lean body mass (LBM) minimum per day. LBM is the weight that is not fat. For the average person, this usually equates to around 60 grams of protein per day or between 10-35% of your daily calorie intake.
If you are an athlete or exercise regularly you will likely need more than this, more like 1 gram per kg, however, If you have too much protein, some will be stored as fat.
Exactly how much is too much is debatable, but more than 125g of protein for the average person will likely lead to weight gain.
Protein On Keto
If you are following a Keto diet, a common misconception is that too much protein can kick you out of ketosis, because it may cause gluconeogenesis where the body begins to produce glucose, however this is not true. (2)
The fact is, the body needs glucose for certain bodily functions and when there are a low amounts of carbs coming from the diet, the body will use non-carb sources to produce this glucose. Protein is one of these sources.
The role of gluconeogenesis is one of the most important on a Keto diet, as it helps to maintain adequate amounts of glucose for bodily functions, when carbohydrates are not present through dietary intake. Gluconeogenesis will only produce as much glucose as what is needed to support its most vital functions.
Protein deficiency is quite rare in developed countries, however, it can occur if enough protein is not consumed over time. Some of the symptoms that can occur from protein deficiency are:
- Muscle Wasting: Your body will begin to take protein from the muscles to make up for the deficiency
- Immune System: The immune system will be impaired, which could increase the risk of infection
- Healing: Without protein, wounds won’t heal as well
- Bone Fractures: Lack of protein can weaken bones and increase the risk of fractures
Extreme cases of protein deficiency can result in more severe conditions, but it is extremely rare in developed countries due to protein being easily accessible compared to poorer countries.
Sources Of Protein
Enough protein in the diet is quite easy to acquire because these are many foods that contain it. Basically any meat or seafood source will give you plenty of protein and if you are on a plant-based diet you can get protein from almonds, oats, broccoli, lentils, quinoa, black beans and tofu.
In order to maintain good health, adequate protein is essential, however, you still need to be aware of the amounts of protein that you are consuming.
If you are trying to lose weight, eating a low-carb, high-protein diet can help you, but if you are not controlling your portions you may still put on weight, as excess protein can be stored as fat.
Good health is just a balancing act really…