I’m sure you’ve heard all about protein. It’s really a hype food these days. We have protein shakes, bars, ice creams, cookies, cereal, and even water? Considering protein is absolutely a vital macronutrient, this is no surprise. However, what does protein actually do once you’ve had that post-workout shake? Essentially – kind of everything.
If you’d like to make yourself a quick protein shake before starting this article, try adding some to our Mushroom Immune Defense Berry smoothie! It’s delicious, helps with immunity, and serves as a refreshing way to add some protein powder of your choice. You’ll the recipe in our FK Nutrition Recipe book:
Now that you have your yummy snack, let’s find out what protein actually does to live up to the hype.
Breaking Down the Building Blocks
“Building blocks” is a common term to refer to protein. This is because it’s critical in the growth and developmental processes of the body. Of course, you’ve heard the protein helps your muscles, specifically, grow. That’s true, protein helps rebuild the breakdown of muscle fibers, especially after strength training. This is how your muscles get bigger: you wear them down in the gym through the tension of exercising, and then your body uses protein to recover those muscles so they can put up with that exertion in the future. Eventually, your muscles get bigger, you get stronger, and you might impress a few people at the gym.
However, protein does a lot more than get you those beach-ready muscles. It’s essential for growing and repairing pretty much all your cells and body tissue: skin, hair, bones, nails, organs, and bodily fluids. That sounds like a pretty big deal, right? Well it doesn’t stop there.
Protein is also responsible for regulating many natural body processes like immune response, vision, production of enzymes and hormones, and even fluid balance. It’s no wonder protein has long held the spot of glory in the fitness industry – it’s important stuff.
Alright, so I’ve told you all about what protein is (an important macronutrient) and what it does (build a lot of things), but how does it actually do that? Well it all starts with amino acids.
Amino Acids: The Essentials
To start, proteins are actually made of smaller units called amino acids. These are organic compounds made out of several different elements like nitrogen and oxygen. In total, there are 20 aminos acids. 9 of those are considered essential because your body does not naturally produce them: you need to get it from nutrition.
When a protein has all 9 essential amino acids, it’s considered a complete protein like animal-based protein or soy. Seeds and nuts for example, tend to be incomplete proteins because they don’t have all 9 essential amino acids. No worries to our vegetarian and vegan friends though. You can complete your amino acids by complementing protein sources, like pea protein and rice protein for example.
This is what a protein is actually made of. Let’s think of these singular amino acids like Lego blocks and then see how the body uses it to build things.
Protein Is Like Playing with Legos
Once you consume that tasty protein shake, tofu stir fry, or chicken burrito, your body starts breaking down the protein. The protein makes its way into the small intestine where enzymes and acids finish breaking it all down into the single amino acids. These get sent into the liver and reconfigured into specific kinds of protein. Those very specific proteins are your Lego building blocks.
You break down the big Lego wall with all of the colors. Then your liver sorts it out into the different colors themselves. Afterwards, it sends them to the correct places. The blue blocks go help with immunity, the red help rebuild muscle fibers, the yellow help with hair and nail growth, etc.
At the end of the day, your body sorts out these proteins to make sure that all of its needs are met. However, remember that our bodies do not produce the essential amino acids that create complete proteins. That’s why we have to consume them. Check out this list of protein sources:
- Lean meats like poultry and fish.
- Red meats (though it is recommended to limit these to no more than 3 servings of 3 oz a week).
- Nuts and seeds
- Dairy products
For those who are leading a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle it is especially important that you work towards completing all your proteins. You can accomplish this by mixing up your protein sources like those above. Our Fran’s Kitchen Nutrition Recipe eBook has a couple ideas on how to do this by combining nuts, seeds, and some veggies like broccoli. We recommend the Vegan Cheesy Cauliflower and Broccoli Casserole!
This has been an overview of what the famous “protein” is and how it works. Nutrition can be a little bit confusing with all the conflicting information out there. We understand this, which is why we seek to provide you with helpful information and a team eager to help you with your own health journey! We’re always available to answer your questions, help you start the journey, make any adjustments, or just receive feedback for how we can be of further assistance in the future! You can reach us through social media Frans Kitchen or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know how you prefer to get your protein down below in the comments!