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What's The Deal With Protein?

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Protein is the name of the game for many people building big weight and want to look their muscular best. A focus-point of many fad diets you may also have mental images of giant pieces of steak, massive amounts of meat, and copious amounts of protein shakes and bars when the word ‘protein’ is uttered by someone who looks like a copy of Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

But it is an important part of a healthy diet. Unable to be stored by the body protein has a hand in maintaining the body’s health from your lungs to your skin; without it the cells in your body would slowly break down. So let’s dig in to what protein is and why it is so important to us!

So Introduce Yourself, Protein

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One of the three macronutrients (the other two being carbohydrates and fats) protein is a molecule that is made up of amino acids which are their building blocks. They are called ‘macronutrients’ as you need large amounts of it to function and thrive. How your body use them and and the type of protein it is depends upon the arrangement of these amino acids.

There are 20 types of amino acids found in animal and plants, and 8 of them are considered ‘essential’ as they cannot be made by the body. These are :

  • Luecine
  • Isoleucine
  • Valine
  • Threonine
  • Methionine
  • Phenlalanine
  • Tryptophan
  • Lysine
For children the following amino acids are required for proper growth and maintenance as they body is unable to produce enough of them at this point in bodily growth:
  • Arginine
  • Histidine
  • Cysteine
  • Glycine
  • Tyrosine
  • Glutamine
  • Proline
Zooming out of the chemical-level protein forms most of your nails and hair, plays a part in making and repairing body tissues, bodily chemicals such as enzymes and hormones, and is a large part of cartilage, bones, muscles, skin and blood.

 

So where do you attain this ‘protein’?

Where Art Thou, Protein?

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While there are plenty of foods that are sources of protein it must be said that not all protein is built the same. Animal-based protein is considered ‘complete’ protein as they contain all the amino-acids that your body requires, while plant-based protein are called ‘incomplete’ protein as they are usually missing one or more important amino-acid. 

Here is a list of common food items that contain protein that are animal-based:

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Tuna
  • Mackeral
  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Prawns
  • Mussels
  • Chicken Eggs
  • Milk
  • Cheese

On the other side of the coin are plant-based protein sources that are easy to get your hands on:

  • Pulses (Red lentils, Chickpeas etc.)
  • Beans (Kidney beans, Baked beans, tofu etc.)
  • Grains (Wheat flour, Brown bread, Rice, Oatmeal, Pasta)
  • Nuts (Almonds, Walnuts, Hazelnuts)

So should you just go to town and absolutely fill your stomach with all of these? 

No. Serving sizes are generally 2-3 serves of of animal and plant-based proteins daily for optimum bolidy functioning. For example 2 eggs, meat the size of 3 deck of cards, or 3 tablespoons of nuts or seeds constitutes one serving.

It may appear that vegans and vegetarians are in serious trouble as they aren’t consuming animal-based proteins which are complete protein sources. But they’re not. Far from being hard it is easy enough to combine different plant-based proteins to compensate for what a single pulse/bean/grain/nut may lack in terms of amino-acid structure.

So if this is the case then why does the connection between protein and big bulging muscles exist?

Muscle, Protein, Muscle

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If you go to a regular grocery store you may have had the good fortune to come across protein bars and giant containers full of protein powder that are touted to give you a slim and toned body just by consuming it and doing nothing else. While inneffective alone, together with regular exercise they may produce results like the one you see on the package. 

And this may be where the connection originates from.

Various studies have the conclusion that consuming protein an hour after a workout improves muscle protein synthesis. The slim bod may also result from ingesting protein as two effects result from it: improved resting metabolism and increased satiety which means feeling fuller for longer and less calories being consumed as a result.

While the mainstay of gym-goers and gym rats what’s less known that it is equally, if not more, important for the elderly. After the age of 30 muscle mass density decreases 3% to 8% each decade which increases the risk for injury caused by falling over or tripping. Lesser appetite and hunger sense can also slowly reduce of amount of protein and other nutrients that the elderly recieve from their diet so those shakes and bars may be a good option as a high-density protein option.

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Sources

Betterhealth.vic.gov.au. n.d. Protein. [online] Available at: <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/protein>.

British Nutrition Foundation. 2020. Protein. [online] Available at: <https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html?limitstart=0>.

Foundation, T., n.d. Healthy Protein Foods. [online] The Heart Foundation. Available at: <https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/healthy-eating/food-and-nutrition/protein-foods>.

Lawler, M., 2019. What Is Protein? How Much You Need, Benefits, Sources, More | Everyday Health. [online] EverydayHealth.com. Available at: <https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/protein-how-much-you-need-benefits-sources-more/>.

Osterweil, N., n.d. The Benefits Of Protein. [online] WebMD. Available at: <https://www.webmd.com/men/features/benefits-protein>.

WebMD. n.d. Healthy Protein For Weight Loss. [online] Available at: <https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/good-protein-sources>.

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