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Nutrition Basics – Protein is an Essential Component
Good nutrition is based on three main components called macronutrients. These are proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Each of the macronutrients is a vital part of a healthy diet and should be included in the right amounts for each individual. Protein is essential in the diet for a number of very important reasons.
The basic functions of protein
Protein is used in some capacity by every cell, every organ and every function of the body. It functions to create connective as well as muscle tissue, contributes to every cell membrane, and is part of the overall bone matrix. It is necessary to maintain the correct fluid balance in the body and also regulates the ph balance of the blood. (If the blood becomes too acidic, minerals are leached from the bones to lower this level.) Protein is also responsible for the formation of many of the body’s hormones and enzymes, including those responsible for sleep, digestion and ovulation. Proteins are also vital for the immune system. proteins are antibodies.
How proteins are used by the body
Proteins themselves are made up of 20 amino acids. Of these, the body can make 11 on its own, but the other nine must be supplied through food or supplement sources on a daily basis. (Amino acids cannot be stored in the body). During digestion, proteins are broken down into individual amino acids and amino acid chains, which are then absorbed and used to make other amino acids.
Each of the amino acids is made up of simple compounds such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulphur. Amino acids are linked in chains called peptides. A typical peptide may contain up to 500 or more amino acids.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
In the typical diet, protein makes up 25-35% of total calories. The American Heart Association recommendation is that protein should not exceed 35% of daily calories to be safe. A diet that is about 30% protein is recommended for weight loss because the extra protein keeps hunger from becoming a problem, but it’s not high enough to make health a real problem.
A person who is more active will need more protein than someone who is sedentary. Someone who rarely exercises, for example, is fine with about 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight. However, even a body builder will only need about 1.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight to maintain health and body size.
The best way to determine protein needs is to first determine how many calories are needed each day. Once the correct number of calories is calculated, the calories can be divided in the correct way. Despite the fad diets, complex carbohydrates are an important part of the diet, as are fats, especially good fats such as monounsaturated fats (olive oil, nuts and nut oils).
Is meat the only source of protein there is?
Many people think that protein only comes from meat and other animal sources. However, protein also comes from plant sources. Most plant foods have at least some protein in them. One of the most important benefits of a vegetarian diet is an adequate but not excessive amount of protein. Plant proteins are incomplete in that they do not have all the amino acids the body needs.
The typical vegan diet has 10-12% of its daily calories from protein, while the average diet has 14-18% protein.
Protein and the athlete
Protein is essential for everyone regardless of activity level, however the elite athlete of every type needs more protein. Whether it’s endurance athletes or powerlifters, their need for protein per pound of body weight will increase. While they need higher amounts of protein to stay strong and healthy, they also need other nutrients, especially just before their workout when they will meet the demands of a higher intensity workout. Protein cannot be oxidized and broken down fast enough by the body to meet these demands.
During resistance training, especially when it is a very heavy workout, there is an increased rate of protein synthesis and continuous breakdown that can continue for a full 24 hours after a workout. After training is completed, the body must be given a new source of protein, otherwise breakdown will result in loss of lean muscle mass.
There are downsides to protein for the athlete, including an increased risk of dehydration. This risk can be reduced by drinking plenty of fluids, especially before, during and after a workout, regardless of its intensity.
Protein at every meal: A case study
Damian tries to increase the amount of protein he gets in his diet by adding a small amount of this vital nutrient to every meal, including his snacks. Breakfast includes egg white omelets with a little sprinkling of low-fat cheese and some spicy salsa. Between breakfast and lunch, he’s been hungry, so he’s added a protein supplement, which gives him 25 grams of hunger-busting protein with only 100 calories per serving. For lunch he makes sure to have a lean turkey sandwich with lots of fresh vegetables on the side. On the way home from work, he has a second serving that keeps him full and energized until he’s ready for dinner later in the evening.
Dinner for Damian tends to be a lighter meal with a good source of protein, but also includes complex carbohydrates and fats. Before going to bed, Damian has a small protein-based snack so he doesn’t go so many hours without eating anything. He keeps it small so he doesn’t overwhelm himself with food just before bed because digestion can disrupt sleep.
As his activity level increases, Damian will add more protein, including additional servings of his protein supplement. If he has a problem that reduces his activities, he will reduce his protein intake. However, he also knows that if he is sick or injured, he may need to have additional protein to help his body heal faster and more efficiently.
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