Protein - The Building Block of Muscle

Posted by: Robert Swilley

Steak on Grill 

The human body has certain requirements to remain healthy and support daily activities. Protein is a nutritional building block that supports the body's natural ability to build muscle. Upon hearing the term "protein", many people will assume that the topic has shifted to a health craze that requires extensive exercise and a radical change in the daily diet. Many different foods offer sufficient amounts of protein to offer most Americans more than enough protein throughout the day.

Protein Basics

Every bodily organ, tissue and cell is constructed of different protein strands. The natural rejuvenation process ensures that the proteins are broken down and replaced at regular intervals. As protein-rich foods are consumed and digested, the amino acids are used to replenish the protein throughout the body. Without sufficient amino acids, the body will consume muscle tissue to replenish the cells. Protein deficiency can lead to many different health problems.

Food Sources of Protein

Many different food sources offer significant amounts of protein in various forms.

  • Vegetable-Based Sources
    • Legumes (dry peas and beans)
    • Tofu
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Grains, certain fruits and some vegetables offer smaller amounts of protein per serving.
  • Meat Sources
    • Poultry
    • Fish
    • Beef
    • Pork
  • Dairy Sources
    • Milk
    • Yogurt
    • Cheese

Anyone who eats a healthy diet will find sufficient sources of protein to support normal activities. Additional sources of protein can be added to the diet during times of excessive exercise and hard physical labor.

Types of Protein

Amino acids are the basic building blocks of proteins. In the human body, there are 20 types of amino acids that are assembled to make various proteins that are the building blocks for cells, tissues and organs. The diet must include essential amino acids, which cannot be manufactured in the human body. A protein-rich diet will include two different types of protein, complete and incomplete.

Chain of Amino Acids and Protein Molecule

Complete Protein

A complete protein source is known to provide all of the essential amino acids. The proteins called complete are also considered high-quality protein sources, which are provided through animal-based food. Cheese, milk, eggs, fish, poultry and meat are complete protein sources.

Incomplete Protein

An incomplete protein will not provide all essential amino acids. Some protein sources work together to provide sufficient quantities of the essential amino acids, so they are called complementary proteins. Rice and beans consumed on the same day will provide complementary proteins for the body.

Recommended Protein Amounts

Normal activity levels require a protein percentage between 10-35 percent of the daily caloric intake. High activity levels, including body building, weightlifting and physical labor will require more protein than average activity levels. The percentage of calories should change to 40 percent from protein, 40 percent from carbohydrates and 20 percent from fat.

Throughout life, the protein consumption will changes because of physical growth rates and gender.

  • Young children - 13 grams per day
  • Young teens - 34 grams per day
  • Girl teenagers - 46 grams per day
  • Boy teenagers - 52 grams per day
  • Women - 46 grams per day
  • Men - 56 grams per day

Consuming sufficient protein is easier than most people assume because of the wide variety of high-quality foods that are available. Eating enough protein reduces the body's cravings for foods that are not healthy. Certain foods should be consumed with each meal to provide a steady supply of amino acids throughout the day.

  • Milk - 8 ounces - contains 8 grams of protein
  • Meat - 3 ounces - 21 grams of protein
  • Dry beans - 1 cup - 16 grams of protein
  • Yogurt - 1 cup - 11 grams of protein

These four foods will provide the 56 grams of protein an adult male requires throughout the day. Other foods have lower protein levels, but each one plays an important role in the diet.

The daily adult diet should have balance throughout the waking hours. Healthy foods provide necessary vitamins, minerals and proteins in lower quantities, which support weight control efforts.

Too Much Protein?

An American diet contains more protein than the human body needs in a day. With sufficient water, the kidneys can process excess protein without incident. Caloric intake increases with additional protein in the diet. Lifestyle should be considered when changing the ratio of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. High activity periods should be supported with more foods that are high in protein. As activity levels change, the ratio can shift to complex carbohydrates.

Cholesterol is an important consideration since animal-based protein foods are sources of saturated fat, which is considered the cause of elevated LDL cholesterol. Doctors have concerns over the risks of heart disease when the LDL cholesterol remains high for long periods. Other sources of protein can be beneficial for those with this condition.

Anyone with kidney disease should consult a physician before embracing higher levels of protein in the diet. Kidneys are strained when too much protein is present in the blood.

Word to Vegetarians

Sufficient protein in the vegetarian diet is possible with good planning. Plant-based protein sources should be included in every meal to sustain a constant source of amino acids. Complementary protein sources must be consumed within the same day to provide all of the essential amino acids.

Protein and Weight Lifting

weightlifter-performing-deadlift
Photo Courtesy: mjzitek

Any physical activity places strain on the body and requires sufficient nutrients. Protein is comprised of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen. At appropriate levels, the protein in the body will create a positive nitrogen balance, also called an anabolic state. In this state, the body will build muscle because all of the building blocks are present during the workout.

Failure to consume sufficient protein, or amino acids, prior to the workout will create a catabolic state in the body. The human body will find the necessary fuel by breaking down muscle for the energy it needs. All of the hard work invested in previous workouts can be sustained with consumption of high-quality protein-rich foods.

Anyone on a rigid workout schedule should consider increasing the protein intake for every meal through the day. Complete recovery between workouts can be achieved with 30-40 grams of protein in each meal. The body will remain in an anabolic state throughout the day with this type of protein-rich diet.

How Much Protein is Needed for Building Muscle?

Some experts believe that body builders should consume 1-1.5 grams of protein for each pound of body weight. A male weighing 180 pounds should consume 35 grams of protein in each of six daily meals.

Busy people struggle to include large quantities of protein through food sources. Another approach is to embrace whey protein shakes as an excellent source of protein. Before and after each workout, a protein shake can provide the amino acids required to replenish the body's supply. Whey protein is the most bio-available type of protein. Convenience is another reason to add whey protein to the diet.

Whey Protein

Many weight lifters have discovered that six meals consumed at regular intervals throughout the day are better. Smaller meals prevent the overly full feeling that can come from consuming large quantities of protein-rich foods. Pre-measuring and planning will reduce the amount of time required to prepare food.

Sufficient water consumption is necessary to provide enough moisture for proper digestion and waste elimination. High-protein diets can create additional thirst. Water is the best source of hydration since other drinks include more sodium than the body needs. More than 48 ounces of water each day will be required when six high-protein meals are consumed each day.

Final Word

Physical activity levels dictate how much protein should be consumed in a day. Anyone with the desire to build muscle through a workout routine should consider consuming an increased amount of protein every two or three hours throughout the day.

Adults living with normal activity levels must adjust the protein levels to match the body's needs as seasons change. Higher activity levels require support from a diet rich in high-quality foods that will provide the building blocks of muscle. Protein levels should vary depending on the needs of the body. Adjustments will be noticeable because the energy level will improve when the right nutrients are present in the body.

Low energy levels can be raised when eating the right foods in sufficient quantity. Reduce the amount of junk food to support the body's physical requirements. Long life is the reward for the person who eats right and exercises on a regular basis.

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