Protein – All You Need To Know… What are proteins?

Protein is a macronutrient and the building block for many of the tissues within the human body; it performs a mix of structural and functional jobs within the body including muscle growth and repair and can also be utilised as a fuel source. If you aren’t consuming enough protein then this can have a detrimental effect on the body resulting in muscle atrophy, suppressed immune system and various skin conditions to name a few. Recommended daily allowance of protein for sedentary (inactive) people is 0.75 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. For active people looking to work at peak potential then 1.2-1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day would be more accurate. Protein should make up between 10 and 20% of your dietary intake in a balanced and nutritious diet.

Protein – All You Need To Know… What do proteins do?

Proteins are the most versatile and wide ranging macronutrient with multiple uses affecting areas such as muscle, bones, skin and nails, enzymes and hormones. Protein is an essential component of the hair, skin, nail, tendons and ligaments. All enzymes and some hormones are also proteins. They are also a key factor in the production of haemoglobin (the part of your blood that transports oxygen) and also in the antibodies produced by white blood cells to fight hostile cells within the body (infection, disease etc.). Although the list is far greater than just these few functions it is clear to see how important protein is in a healthy body and how many contributions protein makes to daily functions and wellness. Alongside all of these amazing roles, protein can also be used as an energy source providing 4 kcal or energy per gram consumed though it is the last of the macronutrients to be used as energy due to its wide ranging uses throughout the rest of the body.

Protein – All You Need To Know… Why proteins, not protein?

Protein is an inaccurate description of the macronutrient whereas proteins covers the reality of the situation; proteins are built from amino acids of which there are 20 types, 8 of which cannot be made within the body and must therefore be consumed in food. These 8 are known as the “essential amino acids”. Without these essential amino acids, the body loses the ability to synthesize the other non essential amino acids. The 8 essential amino acids are:

  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

And the 12 non-essential amino acids are:

  • Alanine
  • Arginine
  • Asparagine
  • Aspartic Acid
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Glutamine
  • Glycine
  • Proline
  • Serine
  • Tyrosine
  • Histidine
  • Cysteine

Proteins can be categorised in to two very clear and different groups; complete and incomplete. Complete or HBV (High biological value) proteins consist of all of the essential amino acids in volumes that meet the body’s requirements. Incomplete or LBV (Low biological value) proteins are missing one or more of those essential amino acids. Usually incomplete proteins are plant based with the exclusion of the soy bean which is a complete protein containing all of the essential amino acids.

Protein – All You Need To Know… Where do i get the right balance of proteins?

Here is a few examples of your basic protein sources:

Protein Sources




Legumes (beans)






Whole grains


Although this list is very specific regarding the food groups that offer you complete or incomplete protein sources it does not mean that with the correct balance of plant based foods you cannot gain a complete protein source; the key to remember is that variety offers you a wider range of protein sources and a great mix of amino acid sub-sets within those sources.

Protein – All You Need To Know… Are there risks involved with proteins?

Absolutely. Although rarely mentioned by supplement companies or in health food shops, the over consumption of proteins carries many risks that vary from slightly annoying to incredibly dangerous. It is rare to hear talk of these risks as the consumption of protein as the predominant component of your diet has become a popular and wide spread fad that is used by many body builders and athletes. However, as a normal person with a regular level of activity these volumes of protein can be detrimental to your health and lead to:

  • Kidney issues (and potentially kidney failure)
  • Dehydration
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis due to the accelerated mobilisation and excretion of calcium
  • far great intake of fats as most protein sources are high in fat
  • increases in fat stores as excess protein within the body is converted to fat if not utilised leading to weight gain

That being said, certain people will always have a greater need for protein such as strength and endurance athletes, people on diets who are consuming lower calories and those at the beginning of an exercise programme that require the additional protein to augment their muscle recovery and repair; protein is therefore an incredibly important part of any sportsperson’s dietary intake. Protein levels too far above the recommended daily amount will not enhance performance but can lead to damage in the kidneys and a resultant accumulation of toxic ammonia in the blood.

The key with all nutrients is to ensure you have a balanced intake with a good variety of different sources; ensuring you are trying to eat as many different food groups as possible. With the correct intake you can help yourself to lose weight, strengthen and tone your muscles, be healthier and have a far more efficient and functional internal system that increases your day to day wellness and well being. The question of supplementation is usually answered with the facts that a smart, sensible and well structured diet can easily give you enough protein to ensure muscles grow, repair and develop.

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