Protein is an essential nutrient for the body. The body uses protein to make tissue, muscles and organs and also to coordinate and regulate essential chemicals, among other processes. Over time, different proteins tend to break down or degrade and must be built up again. The body needs a constant supply of protein in order to continue functioning. Managing protein intake properly is necessary to keep the body in its optimal condition.  

A regular healthy diet should normally supply all necessary protein. The daily minimum amount of protein intake varies with a number of factors, including gender and level of physical fitness and activity. Some individuals, including athletes, need to increase their protein intake to meet the extra physical demands made on the body.

Protein:  What Is It and Why Is It Important for You?

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Proteins have been called the basic building blocks of life. The body uses these large and complex molecules to make muscle, blood, tissue, organs, tendons, hair, enzymes, antibodies and much more. The hormones and neurotransmitters that control your body are made up of proteins. In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that without protein, we would not be alive.

WHAT DO PROTEINS DO?

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Proteins perform vital functions in the body. They form the structure of tissue, organs and muscles, carry messages and regulate the functioning of the body. They are made up of folded amino acid chains, which are shaped according to the functions they perform. Proteins form enzymes which carry out the chemical reactions necessary to maintain the body. Enzymes also aid in cell reproduction by reading DNA sequences.

Proteins also make up the antibodies that protect the body and the messengers which will coordinate the functions of cells, tissues and organs. They are structural components of the body. They perform the crucial task of moving the body. They also provide transport for smaller cells from one part of the body to another.

HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO YOU NEED?

You need to make sure that there is sufficient protein in your diet to ensure that your body can function properly and meet all the demands you make of it. The right amount of protein intake for each individual varies with gender, age, height, levels of fitness and activity, etc. It’s important to remember that with protein, it’s not just quantity but also quality that matters.

Most people can maintain a sufficient intake of protein through regular foods like meat, fish, eggs, milk and dairy products. Vegetarians have to make a special effort to get enough proteins that the body can use. That’s because even though both plant and animal food sources have proteins, animal tissues are similar enough to human tissue to make them easier for the body to assimilate and use.

What Are the Benefits of Protein?

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Besides the essential part it plays in the maintenance of the body, protein intake can also help in losing weight and in preventing weight gain. It does this by improving the metabolism and by reducing food cravings. An improved metabolism burns calories faster, making it easier to lose weight.

Protein keeps you feeling full longer as compared to carbohydrates and fats. This reduces food cravings and also reduces the amount you need to eat at each meal in order to feel full. In addition, protein also helps to preserve muscle mass, which helps to burn calories. All of this makes proteins an essential part of any weight loss plan.

WHY ATHLETES NEED PROTEIN

While everybody needs a minimum amount of daily protein intake, athletes and bodybuilders tend to need more in order to build muscle mass and strength. Muscles are made of proteins and must constantly be rebuilt, like everything else in the body. For athletes, like bodybuilders and weightlifters who need to build muscle mass, high protein intake is necessary.

All athletes need to increase their protein intake because the body does not store it. Extra protein is needed to build up and restore muscles and to recover from minor injuries. Many athletes use protein supplements in the form of powders, shakes and bars to add protein while skipping the calories found in regular food.

Is There a Daily Minimum Need for Protein Intake?

Again, the optimum protein intake for an individual depends on many factors:  gender, age, height, weight, muscle mass, level of fitness, amount of daily exercise, etc. The lack of protein can lead to poor health and affect the overall functioning of your body. On the other hand, too much protein is also believed to carry certain health risks. Managing protein intake means determining the right amount of protein for you and finding the right sources of protein for your diet.

In general, a regular healthy diet can provide the proteins the body needs. Vegetarians and vegans may not get enough proteins from their regular diet and should add protein-rich items, like nuts and quinoa, to their weekly menu.

WHO NEEDS EXTRA PROTEIN?

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Some individuals, such as athletes, people whose lives or jobs require physical effort, the elderly and people recovering from injuries, need to increase their protein intake. An active lifestyle can increase the need for protein intake. This includes people who exercise a lot or whose jobs require heavy physical effort. People who walk a lot or lift heavy objects need more protein to power their activity.

For older adults, extra protein is needed to prevent bone loss or osteoporosis (bone loss) and sarcopenia (reduction of muscle mass). The extra amount of protein needed can be as much as half of the DRI, or Dietary Reference Intake. People recovering from injuries, particularly if the injuries involve damage to tissue, organs and muscles, also need to add more protein to their diet.

WHAT ARE SOME PROTEIN-RICH FOODS TO TRY?

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Animal proteins are actually the best source of protein in your diet because they provide all of the essential amino acids. This includes meat, fish, eggs and milk and dairy products. Salmon, sardines and egg yolks are rich in protein.

Vegetarians can get their proteins from lentils, beans and soy grains, like quinoa and nuts. Then there’s that old standby:  peanut butter, which is packed with nutrients. In general, a normal healthy diet should give you enough protein for your minimum daily intake.

What Is the Proper Protein Intake for Men and Women?

Men and men do have different needs when it comes to protein intake, but this is largely due to the difference in body size. In general, the recommended amount of protein varies by body weight. The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) for protein is 0.36 grams for every pound of body weight.

For a woman weighing 125 pounds, this comes to 45 grams of protein a day. For a man weighing 175 pounds, that is 63 grams of protein daily. Athletes and bodybuilders who have specific workout goals and are trying to add muscle and body mass may add more protein or protein supplements to their diet. The extra amount should not be more than 20% of the DRI recommended above.

What Exactly Is a Gram of Protein?

It’s important to remember that when nutritionists talk about grams of protein, they are referring to grams of the macronutrient protein and not the grams of food, like meat or eggs which contains the protein. For example, an egg may weigh as much as 46 grams but contains just about 6 grams of protein. Likewise, a helping of beef that weighs 8 pounds will contain 61 grams of protein. So one gram of protein refers to the amount of protein contained in a food and not the total weight of the food.  

Is Too Much Protein Harmful?

If proteins are so good for you, does that mean that more is better? Not necessarily, because any excess protein will be converted to fat. There are some concerns that excess protein intake may be associated with kidney damage and even osteoporosis. However, there is no scientific evidence to back these fears.

Conclusion

Protein is essential for our bodies' maintenance; it is necessary for health. Without protein, life and activity would not be possible. Managing your daily protein intake has numerous health benefits, including weight loss and preventing weight gain. For athletes, especially weightlifters and bodybuilders, protein helps to build muscle mass and increases strength. There are numerous plant and animal foods that are good sources of proteins.

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