What Is Protein?

What is protein?

Proteins are large molecules consisting of amino acids which our bodies require to function. There are 20 different types of amino acids; these 20 can be arranged in millions of different combinations to create different proteins each with a specific role or function.

After water, protein is the second largest component of the body with the average adult body containing 10-12kg. Protein is stored within 3 places in the body; in the muscle, liver and blood plasma.

 

Why do we need/use it?

Protein is found throughout the body in hair, nails, outer layers of skin, muscle tissue, the inner structure of bones, and red blood cells. Protein is used by the body to perform many structural, mechanical and cellular functions in the body including:

  • Immune Responses
  • Manufacture and repair of muscle tissues
  • Production of enzymes
  • Transport and storage of nutrients
  • Hormone production
  • Cell manufacture and functioning
  • Maintaining fluid balance
  • Transporting oxygen throughout the body
  • Source of energy

Different types of protein

The quality of a protein is dependent on its presence of amino acids.  For this reason proteins are categorised into complete and incomplete proteins.  Complete proteins are those which contain all eight essential amino acids.  They contain the correct ratio of amino acids to maintain protein balance and allow tissue growth and repair.  Incomplete proteins do not contain all eight essential amino acids. 

Proteins derived from animals are classed as high quality and complete proteins as they contain ample amounts of essential amino acids required by the body.  Sources of complete proteins include poultry, meat, fish, eggs, milk and cheese.

 

Proteins derived from plants are often classed as incomplete proteins as they do not contain all essential amino acids.  Examples include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, grains, cereals, legumes and soy foods.  These proteins are still good sources of protein particularly for vegan or vegetarian athletes.

In other cases nutritional protein supplements such as whey protein powders are a great alternative either for convenience or to allow correct timing of the delivery of amino acids.

Whey protein is a by-product created from cheese production. Whey is also the fastest digesting source of protein, this rapid rate of digestion is perfect for pre, intra and post training. At these times it is critical for the amino acids to the muscle as soon as possible, hence why whey protein is the best option at these times.

 

Casein is one of the proteins derived from milk. In fact casein actually accounts for roughly 80% of the protein found in milk. Just like whey, casein protein has a high biological value which means it has all the essential amino acids necessary for all of your processes that require protein. Casein is a lot slower absorbing than whey therefore provides a steady stream of amino acids into the blood stream fuelling the body for a long period of time.

 

When to use?

Timing of protein consumption is pivotal for athletes of any standard whether the goal be to increase muscle mass, strength, endurance or recovery.

To achieve the best results aim to spread your protein intake across the day. Recent research suggests that 20g consumed every three hours is superior for muscle protein synthesis to both smaller, more frequent amounts and larger, less frequent amounts.

Choosing your moment can affect the benefits. Taking protein first thing in the morning is a good way to get essential nutrients and kick-start your after eight hours of sleep.

 

Pre training is another great time to consume protein, no matter what sport. Whether it is bodybuilding, football, rugby, cycling etc. The amino acids from the protein will then be available to the muscles during exercise when they need them the most.

 

Taking protein intra workout, which is during exercise, whether it be half time in a football match or halfway through a workout in the gym will again benefit the individual, by allowing more amino acids in to help prevent muscle breakdown during training when they are put under extreme pressure.

 

Post training is arguably the most important time with regards to protein consumption. There is around a 40 minute window after exercise in which your muscles act like sponges, absorbing any nutrients thrown their way. Consuming protein in this time period will allow the amino acids in the protein to get into the muscle tissue, promoting growth and recovery.

 

When & what I personally use.

 

My diet is very structured; every meal is planned and weighed out. Each meal I eat contains protein of some variety. I try to consume as many different protein sources as possible, ranging from steak, eggs, nuts, chicken, turkey, seeds, fish, ostrich, buffalo and powdered sources; whey and casein.

 

I use the powdered supplements at specific times. Intra workout I take 30g of whey protein to help stop muscle catabolism during training. Post workout I take 40g of whey protein immediately to help start the growth and recovery process.

This is then closely followed up by another meal containing chicken and a carbohydrate source, usually rice. Before bed I will take 40g of casein protein to allow me to be fuelled with amino acids throughout my sleep.

 

Niall Dexter – Performance Foods Customer Advisor

  

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