Published on March 19th, 2013 | by Joe Starks0
Know Your Substances: Protein
It is common knowledge that all living organisms need to consume proteins to live. After water, proteins are the most plentiful compounds in our body. Their percentage should be written down on all food labels, because it is important to know how much and what type of protein you consume. Proteins can’t be skipped as nutrients in a healthy person’s diet as there is simply no way around consuming them.
In affluent societies it might seem easy to consume enough protein, but is that really true? Can you consume too much Protein? Let’s look at the science behind these questions.
What are Proteins and why do we need them?
Protein is an essential type of nutrient that the body needs to grow. Proteins are classified as macronutrients because they are one of the three major nutrient types that give energy to the body, together with carbohydrates and fat. Proteins consist of chains of amino acids bound together with strong chemical bonds. These bonds break down when we eat the proteins and our bodies use the amino acids to create new proteins in our own bodies once digested.
Amino acids are divided into three categories:
- Essential, meaning consumption is mandatory to retain a healthy body. This happens because our body cannot create these types of amino acids by itself and thus needs to consume them via food or supplements.
- Nonessential, not because we don’t need them, but because our body can build them from smaller nutrients or other amino acids.
- Conditional, because they are usually nonessential but in times of extreme stress or illness we might need to consume more of them than the body can create at those times.
Proteins are necessary for the body to create all types of cells as they are part of the cell membrane. Some cells ad organs need larger amounts of protein to be built and to stay healthy. Among those are muscle, bone, organ and skin cells, as well as the eyes and hair.
Proteins are especially important during growth (aka childhood/adolescence), extreme training and pregnancy to help build the cells needed in all these conditions.
Great sources of protein are: eggs, meat, dairy, legumes, some types of grains, seeds and nuts.
Very good sources of proteins are also supplements usually sold in gyms and special pharmacies. These include all essential amino acids and will offer you most benefits of protein with the minimum calories from consuming them. Note that protein supplements are NOT anabolic drugs and should not be confused with them. They are simply highly concentrated proteins in the form of powders or bars and are totally legal to be sold in licensed businesses. Nonetheless, you should only take protein supplements if a physician or certified trainer tells you to do so, because there are side effects when consuming such high concentrations of protein if your body doesn’t really need it.
When it comes to proteins there is a clear-cut limit to how much we need to maintain our body. Simply multiply your weight in pounds to 0,4 and the result is your net protein needs in grams. In a person weighing 165 pounds you multiply that weight with 0.4 and you get his/her needs which are around 66 grams of calories per day to stay at the same weight and healthy.
Benefits and side effects of Protein consumption
The benefits of protein are numerous:
- They are essential for all cell growth, making them extremely important for retaining your health and preventing disease.
- Some hormones are proteins and we all know hormones are important for regulating our body’s functions.
- They give us energy, because the proteins not needed for cell growth can be burned to provide us with energy equivalent to that of carbohydrates
- If one needs to create many cells in a short amount of time (pregnancy, growth spurts, athletic training) adding a bit more protein to your diet is necessary.
Side effects of proteins occur only if consumption is extreme or not balanced enough. You can be eating a lot of protein but not getting all the essential amino acids out of them if you get it from a singular source.
Some of the side effects of an overconsumption of Protein include:
- Straining kidney function, because proteins are hard for the kidney to extract from the blood.
- Gout is a disease caused by too much Protein in one’s diet.
- High cholesterol levels.
- Weight gain if the amount of calories exceeds the necessary for daily energy needs. Consuming more protein than you need, will not increase muscle but fat cell growth instead.
You absolutely can’t maintain your health without eating the minimum amount of proteins needed. The more cells you need to grow the more protein you need. Not all protein is the same though because you need to include all essential amino acids in your diet. The best way to avoid a one-sided amino acid intake is to have a diet that includes many different protein sources like meat, eggs legumes etc.
Eating too much protein and especially in the form of red meats can be detrimental to your health in the long run.