What Exactly Is Protein?
A protein is a string of amino acids (think a string of pearls) all kinked up into different shapes. Protein is often used as an alternative food source to replace carbohydrates in diet programs to induce weight loss. Protein is also crucial for regulating and maintaining a healthy functioning body.
Amino acids are often referred to as the building blocks that aid in the growth and development of muscles. Think of bricks to build a wall and walls to build a house. If you have ever consumed or read about protein powders, they are generally high in amino acids and therefore, high in protein.
Why Do We Need Proteins?
Proteins contribute to cell growth, repair, and maintenance
Proteins help build and repair muscle cells and tissues
Proteins can act as enzymes (enhances chemical reactions) or hormones (chemical messengers)
Proteins help maintain fluid and electrolyte balance
Proteins help maintain acid-base balance (pH levels in the body)
Proteins serve as an emergency energy source
Proteins contribute to immune functions
Proteins generate glucose via metabolic pathways (your body can make glucose from proteins!)
Proteins contribute to satiety (helps to keep you full).
Fun Protein Fact!
When heat or acid is added to proteins they can change their form, this is called protein denaturation. This is why meat toughens when cooked, eggs go from liquid to solid when heated and milk curdles when its pH is lowered (ie when milk passes its use-by date or by adding an acid like lemon or vinegar).
Where Does Protein Come From & How Much Do I Need?
Best Sources of Protein:
Nuts & Seeds
Beans, Chickpeas, Lentils & Legumes
Australian Dietary Guidelines for Daily Intake of Protein:
(suitable for an average healthy adult)
19-30yr 64g/day (0.84 g/kg)
31-50yr 64g/day (0.84 g/kg)
51-70yr 64g/day (0.84 g/kg)
>70yr 81g/day (1.07 g/kg)
19-30yr 46g/day (0.75 g/kg)
31-50yr 46g/day (0.75 g/kg)
51-70yr 46g/day (0.75 g/kg)
>70yr 57g/day (0.94 g/kg)
Whilst these amounts might seem low compared to what you have previously read about, this is all your body needs to function in a healthy state. Protein requirements are higher in babies and children as well as pregnant and nursing women due to the extra growth and production of milk. Special groups such as athletes and bodybuilders may also require larger amounts of protein and other special populations such as burn victims, people with severe injury or the elderly, may also require extra protein consumption.
People who regularly participate in exercise or go to the gym do not necessarily fit these 'special groups' where extra protein is required. Don't confuse yourself with regular healthy daily exercise that you should be doing, with someone who trains at an athlete level, running marathons, competing in weight lifting or CrossFit competitions.
It is heavily promoted to 'eat more protein' and this is true for those who consume high carbohydrate diets or excessively rely on take-away foods. If your breakfast contained two pieces of toast with avocado and a coffee, whilst this is not necessarily unhealthy, it is mostly a high carbohydrate meal with some healthy fats. You'd only be getting a few grams of protein from the bread. By simply adding some yoghurt, milk or nuts to your breakfast, you can very simply increase your protein intake, without being excessive.
Your body can only absorb approximately 20-30g of protein per serving and any additional protein will be excreted by the kidneys as a waste product.
Consuming Too Much Protein:
High protein intake is associated with high cholesterol, especially for those who consume large amounts of animal products (LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) is only found in animal products such as meat and dairy). Overconsuming protein can also increase the risk of kidney disease, heart conditions and some cancers. Having a high intake of animal protein (especially processed products like sausage and salami) is one of the leading causes of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancers.
Eating too much protein can place strain on the kidneys to work harder. When you have extra waste products such as urea (a byproduct that's created from metabolising protein) that need to be excreted by the kidneys, this puts extra pressure on the kidneys and for the kidneys to remove waste products, they need to flush them out with water. This can result in overworked kidneys and dehydration. Your kidneys need to remove waste products and water in a certain ratio. It would be difficult to urinate if you had viscose (thick) urine, so water is pulled from cells if necessary.
Side Effects of Too Much Protein:
Gas & Bloating
Increased Cancer & Heart Disease Risks
Protein is a valuable macronutrient that is much needed by the body to continue building muscles as well as many other functions, but too much protein can be dangerous for your body. Just like everything in moderation, you can have too much of a good thing. Eating a low carbohydrate diet that insists that you replace carbohydrates with extra protein, may result in short-term weight loss, but may cause greater health issues later on down the track.
Your body can only absorb approximately 20-30g of protein per serving and any additional protein will be excreted by the kidneys as a waste product. This means the kidneys and liver are doing a lot of work to get rid of the extra protein and whilst this will not cause any harm over a short period, you don't want to overwork your liver and kidneys over the course of several years. It is also important to ensure that you are not consuming large amounts of protein supplements, as this can cause excessive protein intake.
Always ensure you eat a balanced and nutritious diet that's plentiful in fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains, to live a long and healthy life.
Head Trainer & Nutritionist