If you are into health and fitness, then chances are you know about the importance of incorporating good protein sources as part of a healthy and balanced diet. You probably also know that protein plays an essential role in both building and maintaining lean muscle mass… But do you know exactly why?
When we talk about a balanced diet, we usually consider the three main macronutrients required by the body on a daily basis. These are protein, carbohydrates and fats. Unlike carbohydrates and fats, protein is not stored in the body, which makes it even more important for us to consume on a regular basis. What makes protein so special is actually the amino acids from which it is formed.
What are amino acids?
Amino acids have long been referred to as the building blocks of life, as they are an important component in every single cell in your body. There are 20 amino acids required by the human body, only 11 of which it can synthesize itself. This leaves 9 amino acids that need to be gained through diet, hence the ‘9 essential amino acids’.
These essential amino acids, including histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine, are available in a variety of foods that are commonplace in most people's diet. Some foods (referred to as ‘complete protein sources’) contain all 9 essential amino acids in one go, whereas other foods only contain some (these are referred to as incomplete proteins). You can combine incomplete protein source together, such as beans and brown rice, to make sure you get all the essential amino acids required. You don’t even have to eat them all in the same meal, just as long as you getting all 9 amino acids in one day.
Sources of protein:
- Complete - Red meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, whole dairy products, soy products, quinoa, buckwheat, seitan and mycoprotein.
- Incomplete - Grains, beans, legumes, seeds and nuts.
What role does protein play in the body?
Amino acids are essential in each and every metabolic process within the body. They are responsible for optimising the transport and storage of all nutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water, vitamins and minerals. They also play a key role in the production of hormones, enzymes and other chemicals within the body. They make up around 20% of our body mass and form the basic structure of all cells, including that of bones, cartilage, skin, blood and muscles.
Protein and muscles
Each time you exercise or push your body out of its comfort zone, you are stressing and tearing the fibres that form your muscles. This is a good thing, as your body can then work on repairing and rebuilding them stronger and more resilient than before. These muscles fibres, or myocytes, are formed from proteins (the main three being myosin, actin and titin). In order for your body to repair, rebuild or replace these muscle fibres it needs the building blocks to work with. So not only do the amino acids play a leading role in transporting and storing the building materials, they also ARE the building material.
This is why it is important to make sure you incorporate protein into your diet on a daily basis, as it will help ensure optimal health, energy and muscle building power!