Proteins are the essential molecules needed for growth and repair of muscle and other body tissues. They are considered to be the building blocks of the body and are necessary to help increase lean muscle mass and overall health. They are found in almost all food sources in some quantity, but most exceptionally in animal meats, dairy products, eggs, nuts, vegetarian proteins, and some vegetables.
The term protein just serves as an umbrella name for all amino acids, which chemically each contain an amine group (nitrogen), carboxylic acid (carbon and oxygen), and a specific side chain to each amino acid which can contain elements such as nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and alcohols. An amino acid becomes a protein when a polypeptide is formed by the linking of multiple amino acids. Protein food sources are either considered a complete or incomplete protein. Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids that the body needs and cannot make itself, while incomplete do not contain all our essential amino acids. All animal protein sources, soybeans, and quinoa are complete proteins. By pairing two incomplete proteins, such as a legume and a grain, you can create a complete protein. The most common meal this is demonstrated in is black beans (a legume) and rice (a grain).
A special group of amino acids are BCAAs, or branches chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These are a very popular supplement and manufacturers make a big deal of out how much BCAAs are in their product. Luckily, these same BCAAs are found in large quantities in animal products, especially red meat. Branches chain amino acids are the most essential protein for muscle growth, providing 35% of the protein in muscle and 40% of protein performance in mammals. There is also a possible correlation shown in a recent study of blood BCAAs in improving blood sugar regulation, which may help in the prevention and cure of diabetes once the mechanisms are discovered.
There is a large debate on how much protein to eat daily. Studies have differed largely with some concluding as low as .3 g/lb/day (grams of protein, per pound, per day) and others as high as 1.5g/lb/day. The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for protein is set at .8 g/kg/day which equates to about .4 g per pound. A large amount of studies however set this number much higher in people performing endurance and strength training activities due to the increased need for protein synthesis (rebuilding) in the muscle tissue. These studies range from .4 g – 1.5 g per pound, with .4 g being for recreational exercisers, .6 g for people exercising daily, .8 g for highly trained athletes, and the larger amounts for body builders. Your perfect amount of protein all depends on your daily activity, level of training, and fitness goals.
Check back soon for the continuation of Nutrition 101 featuring all you need to know about fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
By Sean Spire – a fitness professional, specializing in athletic development, weight loss, post-rehabilitation, and the geriatric population. With a degree in Exercise Science from Florida State University where he was a scholarship athlete in swimming, he currently resides in South Florida where he pursues his passion – helping people live life the way it is meant to be lived. More articles and tips can be found on Sean’s blog – http://www.aspirefitnessandhealth.com/
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