From chicken breasts to shakes, protein is a hot topic in fitness circles. We've just covered how much protein we need in our diet. That left us wondering, what actually is protein? Why do we need it and what do our bodies do with it?
Protein is a substance composed of a long chain of linked amino acids.
Different proteins contain different amino acids. We break down the protein during digestion, and we then use the resulting amino acids for all the functions of our body.
An amino acid is a molecule containing atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Each different combination of atoms makes a different amino acid.
Approximately twenty different amino acids are needed by the human body. Nine of those are classed as ‘essential’ because the body cannot make them, so we have to get them from food. The precise need for some amino acids depends on our state of health and whether we are stressed.
The primary use for protein is for growth and repair. Children use protein to get bigger, and adults use it to get bigger muscles. We can’t store protein, so it is essential that we eat it regularly as part of a balanced diet.
Amino acids also interlink with the other chemical processes of the body . They are involved with everything from sleep to mental performance.
As always, a balanced and varied diet is the most important thing you can do to get your protein. For most people, even if you are a regular in the gym, supplements are not needed.
Protein deficiency will produce weakness and illness, but too much protein can actually reduce performance. Too much protein also slows down digestion as the body tries to ration it out, resulting in nausea. So if you do think you need supplements, take advice.
The general rule still applies. Feed your body the right food in the right portions, and it will be equipped to meet all your demands.
thanks for the science bit - it occurred to me that I didn't actually know what an amino acid was. I've seen the protein shakes on the shelf at the gym, but good to know that I probably don't need them.