Updated: Mar 16
What is protein?
Proteins are the building blocks of life. Your body’s cells contain and rely on protein to perform effectively. Your body depends on protein to function properly.
How does our body use protein?
Protein is 1 of the 3 macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein). Your body requires these nutrients to function properly. The body does not keep a store of protein, so it needs to be constantly replenished.
Protein has a role in nearly every bodily function and process. Fats and carbohydrates are considered energy macronutrients, whereas protein serves as a structural and functional macronutrient, forming bodily structures and performing many important functions.
Protein is used in the body in the following ways:
The physical structure of muscles and bones is composed of proteins. Proteins are also found in the skin, tendons, ligaments, and joints. A variety of proteins work together to provide elasticity so tissues can bend but not break, and also enable movement.
Digestion and Metabolism
The majority of enzymes are made up of proteins. The body contains enzymes in its saliva, stomach and intestinal fluids, blood, and in its cells. These are essential for effectively digesting the food that we eat. Another function of proteins is to transport nutrients throughout the body.
Adding more protein increases your metabolism so your body can more easily burn all calories.
Proteins make up the framework of your cells, including the cells of your immune system, therefore, getting enough protein in your diet can help prevent illness and infection. Proteins are used by white blood cells to fight infections and disease. In response to sickness or disease, the white blood cell manufactures antibodies, which are proteins.
A diet low in protein leaves you open to tiredness, weakness and a low immune response, all the more reason to get the essential proteins from the food that you eat.
Hormones play a critical role in the regulation of physiological processes. These responses contribute to human reproduction, growth and development of body tissues, metabolism, fluid, and electrolyte balance, sleep, and many other body functions. There are a number of hormones derived from protein, some of these include:
· Growth hormone – responsible for stimulating growth, cell reproduction and cell reproduction – key for human development!
· Insulin - regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein by promoting the absorption of glucose from the blood into the liver, fat and skeletal cells. It is essential in regulating our blood sugar levels.
· Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) – this is a key hormone in stimulating our metabolism.
· Amylin – this helps to keep you feeling full and stops spikes in your blood sugar levels.
· Leptin – another key hormone that helps you feel full and regulates your energy balance by inhibiting hunger.
How much protein do you need?
To function properly, the body needs adequate protein in the diet. Generally, individuals need between 0.8 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day.
Inactive individuals need less protein than active individuals. As well, those who exercise with a greater duration or intensity will require more protein than exercising with a lesser duration or intensity, and strength training also requires more protein than cardiovascular training.
Spreading protein consumption evenly throughout the day (as part of a balanced breakfast, lunch and dinner) is the most effective. As reported in their 2018 review on how protein should be distributed throughout the day, every meal should contain at least 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight and at least four meals should be consumed throughout the day (Schoenfeld & Aragon, 2018).
Protein and Weight Loss
Protein, an important nutrient and fuel for the body, also aids in weight loss. Consuming protein will keep you full for a longer period of time. Hormones that cause hunger are lowered by protein, while hormones that signal fullness are boosted.
Protein is essential to our bodies and can be a tremendous aid on your quest to lose weight. Eating plenty of protein while dieting (or any time) will help keep your body from burning muscle tissue instead of fat. Also, it helps build and preserve lean muscle tissue. If eaten properly, protein can be a great ally.
Studies have shown that people eating a diet high in protein typically burn more fat than those eating a low-protein diet. One reason this occurs is because of the thermic effect. The thermic effect is the energy our body uses to consume and process food. Calories are burned during the process of eating and digesting food. Since protein requires more energy to digest, more calories are burned in the process and less fat is stored in the body. On the other hand, carbohydrates and dietary fat are much easier to digest, but they are quickly turned to body fat and fewer calories are burned.
Sources of Protein
There are many sources of protein, from food to vitamin supplements. Despite the many benefits of protein outlined above, it is important to focus on consuming a balanced diet with other sources of nutrients as well. You can, however, add more protein to your diet and eat a healthy balance of all necessary foods.
Some of the richest sources of protein include beef, chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, and cheese. There are also plant proteins, which are found in beans (soybeans included), nuts and seeds, pumpkin and squash seed kernels, and lentils.
Protein has many roles in your body. It helps repair and build your body’s tissues, allows metabolic reactions to take place and coordinates bodily functions.
In addition to providing your body with a structural framework, protein also help your digestion & metabolism. Finally, protein keeps your immune system strong, transports and stores nutrients and helps aid us with our weight loss.
Collectively, these functions make protein one of the most important nutrients for your health.