Guest Post by: Sasha de Beausset, B.A., M.Sc.
It may seem like a silly question: “What is protein?”
Protein is so often spoken about – whether it is in our food, a drink or a supplement, we can readily identify which foods provide protein in our diet. We know meats, pre- and post-workout shakes, and some plant foods like beans and soy provide significant amounts of protein.
We may associate protein with strength, but do we actually know why? What is protein, and why do we need it?
After reading this article you will know exactly what protein is, what its various functions are in the body, and how much you should be eating every day.
What is Protein?
Proteins are the main structural component of bodily cells and tissues, and, after water, they make up the most of muscles and organs. There are several different types of protein, and these different types found in the liver, blood, organs, and hormones are all very different.
Protein is made up of what are called amino acids, the building blocks of protein. There are about 500 known amino acids, but only 20 appear in the human genetic code. Nine of these cannot be made by our body from other substances, and must be ingested in the food we eat. These are called essential amino acids.
The various proteins our bodies need are made up from amino acid chains, which come together in hundreds of different sequences. These amino acids come from food, and are broken down in our digestive system to form the proteins that are needed.
Proteins are necessary for:
- Body growth and development.
- Maintenance and repair of damaged tissues.
- To make hormonal messengers like insulin, testosterone, and estrogen.
- To make enzymes necessary for metabolism and digestion.
There are many ways to categorize all of the different proteins that are found in our body. One of the most common ways to categorize these proteins is by their function:
- Transporting proteins. One example is hemoglobin, which is needed to transport oxygen throughout the body via the blood.
- Structural proteins. This is probably the most well-known. It includes proteins like collagen, which makes up the skin structure, and filaments, which make up muscles.
- Enzymatic proteins. These are the ones that support metabolism and digestion, like amylase, which breaks down starch found in food.
- Signaling proteins. These include hormones, like insulin.
How Much Protein Do We Need a Day?
Because people associate protein with strength, there is a misguided idea that the more protein we consume, the more muscle we have. However, if we don’t couple the protein consumption with strength training, the protein will be used for energy, and, if the energy isn’t used, it will be stored as fat.
Consuming too much protein can also be damaging to the kidneys, which have an important role in processing the protein we consume.
For these reasons, it is important to know how much protein we should be consuming a day.
For a 2000 calorie diet, the FDA recommends about 50g of protein per day. This requirement might be higher or lower depending on your weight and activity level.
In general, however, you can calculate your specific protein requirement by calculating 0.8g per kg of bodyweight. So, a 150lb person (68kg) would need about 54 grams of protein a day. Again, this is for an average level of activity. Those who are more active, will need more protein.
Heavy meat eaters can often actually over consume protein very easily, for example, one half breast of chicken contains 27.5g of protein. However, for those consuming a more plant-based diet, vegetarians, and vegans, sometimes finding healthy protein sources that contain all nine essential amino acids can be difficult.
The Natural Citizen’s vegan Organic Protein blend contains only 4 clean plant sources and all essential amino acids, it’s a pantry staple for those on a plant-intensive diet as you can toss it into smoothies, of course, but you can also bake with it or add some to soups.
Overall, there are so many reasons why protein is such an important part our daily diet. The most important part is finding the right sources and balancing your intake based on your body and activity level.