If you have been frequenting the gym, you are bound to have heard the word protein being thrown around. But will it make you lose weight or put on weight, hopefully in the form of muscle? Everyone has different goals for their health. What is protein and how will it help you achieve your goal?
Proteins are known as the building blocks of our body. They are made up of compounds called amino acids that form long chains. These chains then attract to one another and form more complex structures. Besides helping with building muscle, proteins have other important functions. They are a vital part of our immune system as they produce antibodies. They also form the basis of hormones and enzymes which are used in a number of body processes.
Protein is not only found in protein foods, but also in carbohydrate foods, in smaller amounts. When choosing which protein to include, it is important to consider the amount of protein available as well as the completeness of the amino acid profile. There are 8 essential amino acids. They are essential in that the body cannot reproduce the specific chain needed to make up the amino acid. This will mean the body is missing an important element for building the structures mentioned previously. Complete proteins include chicken, fish, meat, dairy and eggs. Plant proteins, such as beans and lentils, are incomplete in that they are missing some of the essential amino acids. This does not mean that every meal needs to be balanced in terms of which amino acids you are including. Just aim to get in all the essential ones throughout the course of the day.
In the context of weight loss, protein will be advantageous. It keeps you full for longer and is harder to digest than carbohydrates. But our body is generally only able to process a certain amount of protein a day – roughly 2g/kg/day. If this upper limit is exceeded, the body will reprocess the protein by removing the nitrogen and leaving the carbon chain to be used for energy. In excessive amounts this energy will be converted to fat and stored, possibly leading to weight gain. Another important aspect to consider about protein sources is that there are also high in fat, not just naturally, but also influenced by the method in which they are cooked.
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Many people have the wrong idea about how much protein their body actually needs and include protein shakes in their diet. These are mainly based on the whey protein found in milk which is extracted without the sugar. This does make it relatively healthy but it would be preferable to meet your protein needs with food. A dietitian assessment can help determine your personal protein requirements and explain how to include them in your diet.