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What Is Protein

Protein is one of the four substances that are considered macronutrients. A macronutrient is a biological substance that provides calories. The four are

  1. Protein 4 calories/gram

  2. Carbohydrates 4/ calories/gram

  3. Fat 9 calories/gram

  4. Alcohol (some people debate as to if this really is one since we do not need alcohol to live, regardless it is still a source of calories anyway) 7 calories/gram

Protein takes on a special importance for individuals who are athletes, and for people who strength train or participate in any sort of exercise program. This is because we are constantly breaking down muscle and other connective tissue through these activities. Protein provides many of the building blocks that help rebuild these structures. When eaten, ingested, and eventually absorbed, protein breaks down into its building products called amino acids. Our body can reconfigure these amino acids to build the protein structures that our body needs at the time including muscle, tendons, ligaments, skin, finger nails, and even hormones. Our body does not store excess amino acids (contrasted with carbohydrates and fat which is stored as excess energy when the body is not using it), other than in the protein structures that are already built in the body. If the body needs more of these amino acids then it will begin to break down the structures that it already has. This is one reason why it is important to ingest protein at regular intervals throughout the day in order to maximize the recovery process.

Protein Guidelines

● There are 20 different types of amino acids (building blocks of proteins)

● 9 are essential. This means that your body cannot make them on its own and must get an adequate amount through diet.

There are two types of protein sources:

○ Complete sources: have all 9 essential amino acids in them. Examples are milk, beef, eggs, fish, poultry, pork, and other animal products

○ Incomplete sources: are missing one or more amino acids in them. Examples are nuts, quinoa, wheat, rice, beans and other plant products.

● You can combine different incomplete protein sources together in one meal to make a complete protein source

● Many people will say that you only need about 50 grams of protein a day. However, what they are citing is the DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) which is a number that is the minimal amount needed to prevent disease in a sedentary person, not the amount that is needed to be an athlete. The exactly number for this is .36 grams of protein/ pound of body weight

● In order to build muscle mass and maintain muscle mass for athletes a higher number is recommended. About .8-1.0 grams per pound of body weight. We recommend that people shoot for the higher number. First, it is easier to remember and calculate. Second, if you shoot for that and fall a little short you are still in a good range to build or maintain muscle mass with.

● Protein is also important for those who are trying to lose weight/ get rid of body fat. In fact, aiming for 1-2 grams of protein/ pound of body weight can help get rid of body fat.

○ Protein has a satiating effect. This means it helps you feel full. In order to lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit, and this is really hard to do if you are hungry all of the time. Protein can help you feel fuller even if you are in a calorie deficit.

○ Protein can help you retain muscle mass even as you are losing weight. A loss in muscle mass that often correlates itself with losing weight will actually slow down your metabolism. This means you will burn less calories throughout the day. This can make it harder to stay in a calorie deficit in the future and can lead to plateaus in weight loss. Eat enough protein to help you maintain muscle mass, which in turn will help you burn more calories.

By Coach Joe Zambito

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