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What is Protein??

15th October 2016
What is Protein?
What does is mean?
What does it do for us?
Where do we get Protein from?

The word ‘protein’ refers to a type of molecule in food that can be broken down into amino acids. 

The body needs twenty amino acids - as a biological machine it can create (or synthesize) eleven of these itself.  However there are nine, called ‘essential amino acids’ that the body cannot create and has to gain through the consumption of food.  

These ‘essential amino acids’ are: Tryptophan, Threonine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Valine and Histidine.  

When we eat, the body breaks down the protein in food in order to create the amino acids that it needs.

What Protein Does for Us?

Protein is the body’s building block.  All of our organs, including the skin, are built from proteins, as are the muscles, hair and nails.  

Many hormones are proteins, and, the immune system, digestive system and blood all rely on proteins to work correctly.  

Protein is therefore an essential part of our diet, vital to development and correct functioning of the body.  Protein is particularly important for children and adolescents - as they grow and develop into adults proteins are used to produce tissue.  Protein is also particularly important for pregnant women

Note: If our diets contained no protein then our bodies would start to break down muscles in order to produce the protein it needs – our bodies are good at storing fats and some sugars but not good at storing proteins.  It is therefore necessary to continually replace the protein that our bodies use.

How Much Protein Do We Need?

The amount of protein that we need is dependent in part on our age, weight and levels of activity.  Children and adolescents who are still growing and developing need proportionately more protein in their diets than adults. People with high levels of activity may need slightly more protein than those who lead more sedentary lifestyles – as protein is essential in building and repairing muscle and other tissues slightly more is needed for those actively trying to develop muscle.

To calculate roughly how much protein you need to consume daily: multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8.  The answer is the number of grams of protein you should consume every day. 

Therefore if you weigh 100kg you should be consuming around 80grams of protein a day.

Many people on modern diets consume more protein than necessary.  A simple way to think about protein intake is to think about protein-rich foods making up a quarter of your diet – with a further quarter being carbohydrates and the other half being fresh fruit and vegetables.  

If we exercise more our appetites generally increase, so we eat more - the above ¼ protein rule still works as a general guideline - our protein intake would increase proportionately.

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