Protein consumption goes hand in hand with exercise and your diet. So inextricably linked are they that if you buy any type of exercise equipment, you have to give the code word “protein” before they’ll take your money at the register. Trainers have to tell you to eat or drink protein otherwise they get decertified. Fitness magazines have to stress the importance of dietary protein, usually in advertisement form, otherwise they go belly up. While I might be exaggerating a little, it’s an understatement to say that protein is important stuff to anyone pursuing physical fitness. The question that you might have is: “Why?”
Proteins are polymer chains made of amino acids linked together by peptide bonds. To avoid putting you in a science-induced coma, I will just tell you that protein is a nutrient needed by the body for growth and maintenance. Water aside, protein is the most abundant molecule in the body. Not only is protein found in every cell; it is the major structural component, especially muscle cells. Proteins are the precursor to nucleic acid, as in DNA and RNA, and vitamins. They form hormones and enzymes that help regulate metabolism, support the immune system, and help form blood cells. Proteins are incredibly important when it comes to exercise because the building blocks of proteins, amino acids, are used for building new muscle tissue, as well as repairing damaged tissues. Proteins also provide fuel for performance output, but the amount of fuel provided is largely dependent upon the type and amount of carbohydrate consumed. It should also be noted that if a person fails to take in enough energy via their regular diet, the body will use protein from muscle mass to meet the energy needs, which could ultimately lead to muscle wasting.
How much protein does the body need? The reality is that there are a lot of variables that feed into this answer. It’s affected by body weight and composition, physical activity level, energy and carbohydrate intake, and the presence of injury or illness. It is also affected by your fitness goals and pursuits. Someone who strength trains will require more protein than someone into endurance activities, such as jogging. The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults consume a minimum of 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. For example, a 160-pound person should get around 58 grams of protein. For those who strength train, some research has shown 0.77-0.82 grams per pound of body weight to be effective. Other research has shown 0.63-0.82 grams per pound of body weight to be effective. The scary thing is that there are a lot of web sites out there pushing 1.5-2 grams per pound of body weight, and excess protein consumption is not risk-free.
Risks associated with excess protein consumption are fat production (when intake exceeds actual caloric and protein need), calcium depletion, and a drastically increased risk of kidney stones. It should be noted that calcium depletion can be offset with regular calcium intake.
For an excellent list of protein sources, click here.
As always, be informed, and be healthy!
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