In today’s world there is endless nutritional information at our fingertips, with the majority (unfortunately) being blatantly misleading or at best presenting mis-interpreted data. The primary aim of our protein series is to equip you with the fundamentals of protein, what it is, why do we even need it and the knowledge necessary to take charge of your individual protein intakes.
Part 1 begins at a slower pace introducing some basic concepts: what is protein, why we need it, amino acids and why all protein is not created equal.
What is Protein?
Protein is an essential nutrient that can be composed of up to 20 unique amino acids (AA). It is found in most foods at varying concentrations. Foods such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts and whey protein are typically thought as excellent protein sources. Grains and legumes grains and legumes are typically consumed to meet protein targets depending on diet pattern followed.
Proteins are long chains of AA joined together that can be folded into specific structures as depicted in Figure 1. We ingest the majority of our protein intake via the diet and have individual needs and requirements.
Figure 1. Amino Acid structure and protein conformation
Protein also provides the building blocks for muscle building whether that be your heart muscle pumping blood around your body or the muscle in your leg’s that facilitate daily movement. Overall it is very important to consume adequate amounts for your biological need.
Why do we need Protein?
Our bodies need proteins and more specifically amino acids (AA) to produce not just muscle tissue but many essential molecules in our body, for example:
- Enzymes (molecules that aid digestion and metabolism)
- Hormones (chemical messengers telling our body what functions to carry out)
- Neurotransmitters (transmits signals throughout the nervous system)
- Antibodies (molecules that help fight and protect against foreign invaders)
Without adequate amounts of protein, whatever your activity levels are, our bodies cannot function well at all.
Essential Amino Acids These refer to the nine amino acids that the body cannot produce, and food is the only way to consume them.
Conditionally Essential Amino Acids Under certain conditions these become essential, e.g. when stressed, the body’s ability to synthesis these AA are impaired.
Non-Essential Our body can manufacture these AA and do not need to be consumed via the diet.
What is the difference between plant protein and animal protein?
Plant foods typically have lower digestibility and are ingested in smaller absolute quantities compared to their omnivorous counterparts. Therefore, individual’s following a vegan or vegetarian diet pattern are advised to pay careful attention to their protein intake and sources to ensure adequate amino acid intake.
It is generally advised that vegan and vegetarians supplement with a protein powder to conveniently to increase the amounts of protein, not because they are absolutely necessary, but due to a superior AA profile, digestibility, cost and fantastic taste.
When choosing a protein supplements, look out for a blend of plant-based protein sources vs animal protein (whey protein). Plantforce® Synergy Protein providing a high in essential AA profile, branch chain amino-acids and has a similar profile to some whey proteins. Its ultra-clean blend is lab-tested, RAW and 100% plant foods sources of protein. A convenient way to get extra protein in your diet.
So how much protein do we need to consume daily?
How much protein an individual need is dependent on multiple variables; age, gender, weight, goals and activity level. The recommendation dietary reference daily intake in Europe for healthy adults is 0.8g of protein per kg or 0.36g per pound of body weight.
Sheila who is 68kg (150lb) would need to consume around 54g a day to meet this 0.8g/kg body weight recommendation. This is considered to be the minimal amount of protein a healthy adult must consume daily to prevent muscle wasting when total caloric intake is sufficient.
It should be noted that this protein intake recommendation is only to prevent deficiency and not necessarily to THRIVE. Elite athletes or even individuals who engage in higher activity levels have vastly different requirements and require higher amounts of protein, which is beyond the scope of part 1, however, we will delve further into this in the next instalment.