Why protein and amino-acids should be the foundation of everyones diet.
what protein means to the body
A tremendous amount of research in the last few decades had led me to the conclusion that protein should be the bedrock of diet for people wanting to improve quality of life and long-term health. In this article I’ll outline the evidence to support this and how you can reach the ideal amount in your diet.
Every single cell in your body is synthesised from the building blocks of proteins called amino acids. Lungs, heart, skin, kidney, liver and muscles are all mad from amino acids. Where does the body get these amino acids? Mainly from recycling old amino acids already present in the body and from the foods that contain proteins we eat in our diet (ref).
The main reservoir of amino acids in our bodies are our muscles. If we don’t consume enough amino acids in our diet our bodies will break down muscle tissue and recycle those amino acids and take them to where they’re needed; say for kidney cells in need of repair. If this process of breaking down muscle to repair other cells persists, due to inadequate protein in a person’s diet, they could lose significant amounts of muscle and increase the risk of developing sarcopenia in later life (ref). Sarcopenia is the degenerative loss of muscle linked to frailty and increased mortality.
It is essential that we consume adequate levels of amino acids from protein in our diet to prevent muscle loss. The human body has a hierarchy of needs and muscle sits at the end of that hierarchy. Research shows that the first 50 grams of protein we consume in our diet goes to repairing non skeletal muscle cells like the heart and liver; not until we consume over 50 grams do we start to get amino acid being used to repair muscle (ref). The BMJ reported that when elderly people break a hip from a fall they have a 25% chance of dying in a year mostly due to the muscle loss when forced to bed rest.
The need for protein increases with the more exercise we do. The more we stress the muscle the greater the repair need and the greater our consumption of dietary protein to repair. Muscle mass increase has been said to be 75% stress through activities like resistance training and 25% protein consumption (ref).
There is also evidence to suggest that the older we get, the less efficient we are at extracting amino acids out of the protein we eat (ref). For example an 18 year old might be able to get 35 grams out f 40 grams of protein while a 55 year old might struggle to get 25 grams out of 40 grams they consumed in a meal. This potentially supports the notion that the amount of protein rich food we eat may have to increase as we get age.
Maintaining muscle isn’t just great for posture, strength, and functional health has also been shown to be one of the main indicators of longevity and quality of life. Muscle sucks glucose out of the blood which reduces inflammation, improves metabolism, reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and keeps our fat levels healthy.
Below I’ll attempt to outline the amount of protein we should be consuming in our diet to optimise muscular health to promote health, fitness, and quality of life.
Sources of Protein
There are 20 amino acids needed for the human synthesis protein to build cells, 11 of these are called non-essential because we can make them ourselves, and 9 are called essential as we need to consume them in our diet. Animal proteins like, eggs, milk, fish, beef, chicken, and lamb contain all 20 amino acids. Plant based proteins like nuts, seed, beans, and grains only contain some of the 20 amino acids. It is possible to eat a vegetarian diet and get all the amino acids but you have to eat a wide variety of food and plan your meals out carefully.
Here’s some examples of the amount of protein in different foods.
Meats and fish- 160-gram = 40-grams of protein
1 egg= 6.5-grams of protein
1 whey protein shake= 25-grams of protein
100-grams of full fat Greek yogurt= 10-grams of protein
28-grams of mozzarella = 8-grams of protein
28-grams of almonds = 6-gram of protein
100-grams of tofu= 10-grams of protein
Daily Amounts of Protein
How much protein we need to eat in our diet is dependent on our activity levels, but the research strongly suggest you should consume about 1.6-grams to 2.3-grams per kg of body weight, the lower end for someone who exercises less and the higher end for someone who exercises more. For a 70kg person that’s about 110-grams to 160-grams of protein a day. A 160-gram serving of meat or fish will contains about 40-grams of protein. Three 160-gram servings of meat or fish a day will provide a 120-grams.
Timing Of Potein Meals
Evidence suggests that our protein need is greatest first thing in the morning after waking and at and at the end of the day, as this is when our cells are most catabolic. Dinner and breakfast are probably the most important meals. Personally, I like to spread my protein intake over three meals. It’s been said that the human body struggles to absorb more than 60-grams of protein in one meal and can vary greatly person to person. Have a target to aim for, you want always it but if you dont know what to aim for you can never achieve it.
Good luck! Martin