Proteins: Everything You Need to Know!
Proteins are the basis of our body because they are used as a building material for muscles and cells. In this article, you can read all about proteins: what the best protein sources are and how much protein you need per day to reach your goal.
How much protein do you need to build muscle, lose weight or just live a healthy life? And which products can you best eat for this?
What Are Proteins?
The body consists of 17% proteins. They are also called proteins and they play a major role in the body. You need them for your body to function properly: to build and maintain your skin, organs, nerves and muscles. Every cell in the body is largely made up of proteins. That is why it is important that you get this through your diet every day.
If we take a closer look at the structure of proteins, you will see that they consist of amino acids. These amino acids can bond with each other to form shorter or longer chains. Together these become complex structures and these are the proteins. Each protein has its own amino acid composition and structure, making each type of protein unique.
Essential and non-essential amino acids
There are different amino acids, 9 of which our body cannot produce itself. These are essential amino acids, which are important to get enough through your diet.
Below are the essential amino acids. They perform important functions within our body:
- Tryptophan: Necessary for a good resistance and good stress management. It ensures a restful sleep, because it is involved in the production of serotonin.
- Leucine: Is involved in muscle recovery, helps to maintain healthy joints, allows wound healing and has a function in sugar metabolism. It also provides extra energy in case of physical stress.
- Lysine: Ensures a good concentration, growth of bones, ensures a better absorption of calcium, and supports the resistance, especially against viral infections.
- Phenylanaline: Is necessary for the production of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and adrenaline, but also for regulating the feeling of hunger.
- Histidine: Important for the action of enzymes and has a function in the production of the protective layer of nerve cells.
- Valine: Plays a role in the functioning of the nervous system and in the growth and repair of muscles.
- Isoleucine: Is involved in the energy production of cells, and in the production of hemoglobin, but also helps regulate blood sugar.
- Methionine: Helps to keep skin, hair and nails healthy and to detoxify the liver.
- Threonine: Helps to absorb other nutrients better, but is also important in forming the binding substances in the body: collagen and elastin. Also involved in antibody formation.
Essential amino acids in food
By making combinations with amino acids, the body makes all the new proteins it needs. These have their own specific functions. The thing is, not all foods contain the essential amino acids. Animal proteins (from meat, fish, dairy or eggs) generally contain all the essential amino acids. Vegetable proteins do not have this advantage. If you are a vegetarian you will have to make sure that your diet contains enough varied proteins.
It is also important that proteins are of high quality. It’s all about the ratio between the different amino acids. If the ratio is right, the body can absorb them better. In general, you will find these high-quality proteins in animal products. Low quality proteins are made up of fewer amino acids and they come in unnatural proportions.
The functions of proteins
As mentioned, proteins are building materials. They play a major role in many processes within the body.
The production of body cells
Proteins are necessary in the production of the body’s own proteins, which are used for the construction and maintenance of organs and tissue. Cells are continuously created and renewed. The body breaks down proteins and this is replaced by new ones. That can be translated into about 200 to 300 grams of protein per day for an adult.
The production of hormones, neurotransmitters and enzymes
Innumerable processes take place within the body, these are constantly going on. This wouldn’t be possible without proteins. Enzymes (necessary for the conversion of substances, such as in digestion) and neurotransmitters (the messengers of the brain) are made up of proteins. The production of hormones (for example insulin) also depends on proteins.
Play a role in transport through the body
Proteins can help transport nutrients to cells. The substance hemoglobin is also a protein. This is necessary to transport oxygen through your body via your blood. Free fatty acids are also transported with the help of proteins. Ultimately, they are needed to get nutrition, oxygen and fats where you can use them. They also play a big role in making you feel energetic and healthy.
Important for your immune system
The protection of your body against viruses and bacteria is done by antibodies. These are the white blood cells. They can detect and identify pathogens and will then fight them. These antibodies are proteins. You will therefore have to consume enough through your diet to maintain your resistance. If you eat too little protein or of too low a quality, you can notice this in your resistance.
Provide balance in the acid-base balance
A good balance between acid and base is very important for the body. This is the pH value, which indicates the acidity. A healthy body has a pH of 7. If the acidity is below it, it is too acidic, if it is too high, it is too basic. An imbalance can even be life-threatening. To keep the acidity in balance, the body can make proteins. An example of this is albumin, which helps keep the acidity of the blood neutral.
The benefits of proteins
For the proper functioning of the body, it is therefore important to provide enough protein, with a high quality. If you start paying attention to this, it has many benefits for your health.
Blood pressure-lowering effect
Eating protein helps to keep blood pressure low. High blood pressure is dangerous, the heart has to work too hard and the blood vessels are under high pressure. If you eat enough protein in combination with vegetables, fruit and healthy fats, this lowers blood pressure, according to studies.
Helps to combat obesity
You may have heard about high-protein diets that can help you lose weight. But you don’t even have to follow such a diet right away to reap the benefits of protein for your weight. It’s important to realize that they can help you lose weight. Eating enough protein has a number of benefits for weight loss:
They make you feel full: because proteins digest slowly, protein-rich foods stay in the stomach longer. So you keep feeling full for longer after eating. This will help prevent you from snacking again soon after a meal. In fact, proteins really reduce the feeling of hunger, they prevent the hormone that makes you feel hungry (ghrelin) from being produced.
Stable blood sugar: Unlike carbohydrates, proteins do not cause your blood sugar to fluctuate. These kinds of fluctuations actually ensure that you get hungry faster. You don’t have this after eating protein. As a result, you will not need snacks and your energy will be well maintained.
Stimulates Fat Burning: Proteins help to burn more belly fat, so you lose more weight effectively. They stimulate the metabolism and you burn more calories.
By eating more protein you can reap all of these benefits. Opt for protein-rich snacks or more protein-rich products in your meals.
Promotes muscle recovery
You strain your muscles during exercise. This can cause damage to the tissue to a greater or lesser extent. That is quite normal. After exercise, you feel this as muscle pain. They are small cracks and your body will repair this itself afterwards. In order to better cope with the load, more muscle mass is also created. Proteins are needed for this recovery and muscle building.
The higher the quality of the proteins, the better the body can absorb and use them. By paying attention to your protein intake, your muscles recover the fastest and you prevent your body from getting the necessary protein from other muscles. Athletes often take a protein shake after a workout to replenish the proteins.
Strong bones skin and nails
Because proteins are involved in the production and maintenance of cells, they also make for strong bones. This is also important later in life to prevent osteoporosis. Your skin and nails will also look better.
Better concentration and a good mood
As you could read earlier, proteins are also involved in the production of neurotransmitters and hormones. By ensuring sufficient protein in your diet, you will notice that you can concentrate better and respond more alertly. It also affects your mood, so that you feel better about yourself. They also promote good memory.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
A standard calculation is used to calculate how much protein you need per day.
This goes as follows: You need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
Example: If you weigh 75 kilos, you need 60 grams of protein every day.
Everyone needs protein to stay healthy, but you can assume that the amount of protein you need varies from person to person. That depends on your exercise pattern, your health, whether you are a vegetarian or not. This is not included in the standard calculation.
The values can be adapted to the circumstances:
- Endurance athletes:2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
- Strength athletes:4 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
- Pregnant women are allowed to eat an average of 10 to 15 grams of protein per day more than non-pregnant women.
- Growing children:8 to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight.
You may also need more protein if you do heavy physical work, have a serious or chronic illness, have just had surgery, or if you have COPD. You can then increase your protein intake to 1.4 to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.
The different types of proteins: vegetable vs animal proteins
Earlier in the article you could read about essential and non-essential amino acids. Proteins are made up of amino acids and if you eat a product that contains proteins, they are broken down into amino acids. Your body will use these again to keep processes going, to maintain cells, in short, to do everything that requires proteins.
The proteins you consume come from vegetable or animal sources. Animal proteins contain all the essential amino acids your body needs. They are easy to absorb and contain the correct proportions. They are a complete protein source.
Vegetable proteins are not complete
Vegetable proteins are not complete. They often lack one or more important amino acids. For example, some are low in tryptophan, lycine or methionine. Now it may be that one day you eat a dish with beans in the afternoon and in the evening you eat nuts and lentils. That way you could get all the amino acids. It is important that you eat alternately and pay attention to your protein intake.
The question is also whether your diet contains enough protein. For example, it is said that soy is a complete protein source. Yet the quantities are very small. It should be clear that it takes more effort to ensure that you get the essential amino acids in a vegetarian diet. You will need relatively more protein and be careful to get it from different protein sources.
In principle, proteins of animal origin are no better than those of vegetable origin. Your body does absorb them more easily and you have all the essential amino acids faster than if you eat a vegetarian diet. You can, however, use a vegetable source, but you need to eat more of it to get the amount you need.
Where can you get your proteins from? Below is an overview with a distinction between animal and vegetable proteins. This way you can see what protein-rich food is.
|Animal||Grams of protein||Vegetable||Grams of protein|
Protein and weight loss
If you would like to lose some weight, proteins can make an important contribution to this. This is mainly due to the effect they have on the body, compared to carbohydrates. Most people are on a diet rich in carbohydrates. These are used by the body as the main fuel.
When your body takes in carbohydrates and they are digested, it affects blood sugar. This rises and insulin is produced in response. Over time, the blood sugar level then drops again. These fluctuations are uncomfortable for your body. It regularly stimulates binge eating, causing you to overeat. Another disadvantage of carbohydrates is that excess is immediately stored as fat. In this way, they contribute to obesity.
That is why it is advisable to eat less carbohydrates and more proteins. They are just as good a source of energy as carbohydrates, but if you want to lose weight, they bring even more benefits.
- Prevent the production of the hunger hormone
Your appetite is determined, among other things, by two hormones: one that makes you feel hungry (ghrelin) and one that curbs the appetite. Eating food with proteins stimulates the production of the appetite-suppressing hormone and inhibits that of the hunger hormone. It balances your appetite and keeps you from eating too much and too often.
- Accelerate the metabolism
Proteins accelerate your metabolism, especially in the first few weeks. You burn more calories and therefore more fat. The dangerous belly fat in particular will disappear.
- Constantly lose weight and then maintain weight
If you switch to a high-protein diet, you will notice that you lose weight quickly (2 to 3 kilos per week) in the first weeks. After that, it will go slower, but you will still continue to lose weight steadily. A high-protein diet helps you lose weight in a healthy way and get to your ideal weight. You can continue to eat high-protein to eventually maintain that weight easily.
What can you eat?
You eat fewer carbohydrates during a high-protein diet. This includes, for example, bread, pasta, rice, fries, pizza and potatoes, as well as biscuits, sweets and sugary snacks. There is no need to avoid all carbohydrates. You can distinguish between fast and slow or complex carbohydrates.
Fast carbohydrates can be found in sweets (such as liquorice, ice cream and chocolate) and in white bread, white rice and pasta. They are quickly absorbed into your blood, give you energy for a short time and provide few nutrients. Complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly, provide you with long-lasting energy and contain more nutrients. You can find these in vegetables and whole grain products.
You can get your proteins from meat, fish, poultry and vegetarian meat substitutes. Beans, legumes and nuts and seeds also contain a lot of protein. By eating alternately you get all the nutrients you need. With a high-protein diet, you can easily lose weight without getting hungry!
How Much Protein Can You Eat for Weight Loss?
You will benefit most from eating protein if you are on a high-protein diet. Normally, your diet consists of about 15% protein. If you want to lose weight with a high-protein diet, you can increase this to 20 to 25%. This equates to 175 grams for a woman and 210 grams for a man. Try to get the proteins in your diet spread throughout the day, so with your breakfast, lunch, and dinner.