Let’s first understand the basics of proteins! What does it stand for, its origin and the importance of protein in supporting your day to day life.

The name, “Protein” originated from the “Greek” word, “Proteios”- meaning “Primary” or “holding the first place”. But the irony is, it does not hold the same position in our diet!

Weight Scale
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Have you ever calculated the amount of protein present in your diet on daily basis? I must tell you that you need to add protein food sources to your diet depending upon your “mass” in Kg to which a common man addresses as “weight”. For example, if your mass is 70 kg on a weighing scale, then you need to have at least 70gm of protein in your diet per day. This is recommended for a sedentary person.

 

If I start writing about the functions of protein, its enormous but still I will try to give a glimpse of it.

Now I will discuss many scientific facts and proofs which will state that each and everything of your body is made up of proteins in major. It means that the raw material of your body is protein and if it gets deficient, what all functions will be hindered, I will be reviewing those ahead.

Cell Structure - Proteins
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1. A Human being is made up of trillions of cells and the outer membrane of each cell contains almost 50% of the protein, so don’t you think your diet should contain a major portion of protein rich food sources for e.g., Paneer, curd, eggs, chicken, fish etc. so that your body can maintain its vital structure and performs various functions.

Ghrelin 2
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2. Almost all hormones are made up of proteins except sex and stress hormones to regulate     the body functions. Hormones are very crucial and if they get imbalanced, people face lot of problems from their hunge For e.g., Hormones like Ghrelin and leptin participate in giving signals to eat food and to stop eating food. Other hormones such as Insulin and glucagon maintain a healthy environment in your body by keeping a check on blood glucose level.

 

3. All enzymes are made up of protein which are responsible for speeding up the bio chemical reactions thereby supporting your life. Whatever we eat, it needs to be broken down into smaller molecules so to create energy out of it. Whenever your body builds up antibodies or

Receptor 2
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perform muscle protein synthesis, the energy is being utilized in the process by the action of enzymes.  For e.g., Salivary amylase is a digestive enzyme in mouth which will help in the breakdown of carbohydrates into smaller molecules so that your body can use it for generating energy.

4. Receptor Proteins present at or around the cell membrane take signals from various medium such as hormones, drugs, neurotransmitters etc. So that to produce a response which is required by the body at that particular time.

Anabolism 1
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5. You will be overwhelmed to know that the immunoglobulin which act as a defence mechanism in body is also made up of protein like IgA and IgM.

6. Growth and repair inside your body is mainly a function of protein. Anabolism in which there is an increase in size of muscle takes place due to synthesis of protein.

7. Proteins also act as storage in our body e.g., Ferritin is a universal Intracellular protein that stores iron and releases it in a controlled manner. In humans it acts as a buffer against iron deficiency and iron overload.

Red Blood Cells
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8. Now if I discuss about Haemoglobin also Known as Hb, a term you are very much familiar with, is present in our blood which is a true oxygen supplier and a protein. Hb binds with oxygen and distributes it to different tissue of our body. Now you can relate this condition with Anaemia where Hb in blood is below the reference range thereby leading to deficient supply of oxygen.

9. So from the above information of haemoglobin, you can also understand that Red Blood Cells which carry Haemoglobin act as oxygen transporters inside your body.

10. Proteins also act as neurotransmitters which means they are involved in production and transmission of new signals from one cell to another and that is how different actions and reactions take place inside a human being. E.g. Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)

11. There are Proteins which aid blood flow by converting into Nitric Oxide such as arginine. Nitric Oxide is a powerful neurotransmitter which relaxes blood vessels and improves blood circulation.

12. The contraction of different muscles takes place due to the protein filaments in muscle fibres mainly known as Actin and Myosin. Whenever you work out in gym, at home or anywhere, there is a tendency of Actin and Myosin to get torn and this damage can only be compensated by the intake of dietary protein in the form of food and supplement. This is the stage which is responsible for hypertrophy meaning enlargement of the size of the muscle.  

Complete Cell
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I just tried to give an overview of the importance of the protein in your daily life and that is why you should consume it as per your mass in Kg to maintain the body’s homeostasis. All the above and many other vital functions will be performed beautifully by the body in an optimal manner in presence of sufficient and required protein.

There is a notion that one should take protein only if working out in gym or so and if not, then no protein is required as it will damage the body but I am glad to inform you that this is not true.

The smallest unit of protein is an amino acid. It means that when you eat a “Proteinaceous” diet like egg, chicken, paneer etc, the complex forms which are not readily available for the body to be used for building structure or any other vital functions of the body, have to be broken down to its smaller unit known as “Amino Acids” because this is the form which body will use for its functioning.

Protein is a POLYMER (meaning many unit), Its single unit MONOMER is Amino Acid! Now, Amino acids are organic compounds containing carbon atoms. The key elements of an amino acid are carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), and nitrogen (N), although other elements are found in the side chains of certain amino acids. Protein is a building block due to Nitrogen presence. i.e., it aids in cell repair, tissue repair, muscle building etc.

The amino acids are joined by amide linkages called peptide bonds. The term amino acid means any molecule containing both an amino group and any type of acid group; however, the term is almost always used to refer to a carboxyl group.

Amino Acid Structure
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Amino acids contain Amine group (–NH2) at one end and Carboxyl (–COOH) groups at the other end, along with a Side chain (R group) specific to each amino acid.

Whenever we study different forms of protein, one thing will remain constant or unchanged which is the backbone of it, consisting of Amine Group (NH2), Carboxyl group or the acidic group (COOH) and is also accompanied by one Hydrogen atom.

In the given picture below, you can see that the hydrogen atom is satisfying the valency of carbon and the side chain or the variable alkyl group is attached to satisfy fourth valency of carbon and this alkyl group is responsible for the change of name of the amino acids.

Amino Acid Structure 1
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Types of Amino Acids:

There are more than 300 amino acids but crucial are 20 because synthesis of protein will be dependent on these 20 amino acids. The 20 amino acids are divided into following classes:-

Essential Amino Acids

 These are basically 9 amino acids that cannot be made by body so you must get them from your diet.

 They are extremely important for muscle protein synthesis, building human structure, synthesis of non-essential amino acids and many other bio-chemical reactions for supporting a life. The 9 essential amino acids are as follows with the mnemonic, PVT TIM HLL.

  P – PHENYLALANINE

  V – VALINE

  T – THREONINE

 T – TRYPTOPHAN

 I – ISOLEUCINE

 M – METHIONINE

 H – HISTIDINE

 L – LYSINE

 L – LEUCINE.

If you have ever used BCAA powder supplement during workout, have you ever noticed that what ingredients it contains or what it is actually made up of!

BCAA means branched chain amino acids as it contains branches in the side chain (R) shown in the picture above.

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What you can observe is that each amino acid is different from each other but one thing is pretty common in all these three which is the backbone (Amine Group and Carboxyl Group accompanied by hydrogen). The side chain or the alkyl group made up of different molecules and atoms is responsible for making each amino acid distinct from each other.

BCAA contains minerals and amino acids i.e., leucine, Isoleucine, Valine within the ratio of 2:1:1. Out of these three amino acids, leucine promotes protein synthesis or muscle building whereas isoleucine and valine are engaged in several other functions including providing energy when consumed during workout in the form of BCAA supplement.

But do you really think that BCAA having essential amino acids should actually be used for providing energy?

If your answer is yes, then maybe you are incorrect! Because amino acids are needed to perform various vital functions in body so these must not be indulged in provision of energy . As I have already mentioned in my previous articles that fats should be the primary source of energy due to the caloric density.

Essential amino acids such as Phenylalanine helps with the formation of neurotransmitters and hormones, such as dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenalin and even in the formation of thyroid hormones. Phenylalanine deficiency can lead to depression, loss of appetite, cognitive problems (confusion, loss of memory), lack of energy and decreased alertness.

Tryptophan helps in the formation of serotonin and melatonin, substances that regulate the sleep cycle. For this reason, the said amino acid is used in pharmaceuticals antidepressants and in sedative and hypnotic pills. It also intervenes in tolerance to pain, so it is used by athletes who undergo intense physical activities. Further, it improves concentration. The deficit of this amino acid generates insomnia, depression and weight loss.

Lysine intervenes in the formation of L-carnitine, which is a compound that allows the circulation of oxygen in muscle tissues. Lysine is involved in the metabolism of lipids, making them used as an energy source. It creates antibodies, it is involved in the formation of hormones, enzymes and collagen (protein that creates bones, cartilage and connective tissues).

Methionine is involved in metabolism and helps to burn fat, and to the formation of other amino acids, such as cysteine and glutamine. It is used in the control of some pathogenic bacteria and to treat stones in the kidneys.

Other functions of this amino acid are reducing fat in the liver and muscle degeneration, keeping skin and nails healthy. The deficiency of Methionine can lead to fat accumulation in the liver. Methionine also serves as a raw material to make Creatine in body.

Threonine is involved in the formation of vitamin B12. On the other hand, it promotes digestion and prevents diseases of the liver (since it helps to lower the cholesterol level in that organ and in the blood). It intervenes in the regeneration of collagen proteins and helps the body to recover from wounds at muscle level.

Along with leucine and Valine, Isoleucine is important for protein development and for energy storage. It helps the body to recover after having performed intense physical activities.

In addition, isoleucine is necessary for the synthesis of haemoglobin and is one of the main elements of red cells. Isoleucine deficiency produces symptoms similar to those of hypoglycaemia.

leucine benefits the rebuilding of muscle tissues, skin and bones.

The above is just an overview of the functioning of essential amino acids so that you can understand that if you indulge any of the above amino acids in providing energy, there will be chances of hampering of the vital functions they are actually needed for.

Non-Essential Amino Acids

These are 9 amino acids that can be made by body so you need not have to get them from your diet but if so, then it will be like cherry on the cake as body will not have to wait for these 9 amino acids to be produced internally. They will surprisingly be utilized by the body for muscle protein synthesis.                             

 C – CYSTEINE

 G – GLYCINE

P – PROLINE

 T – TYROSINE

 A – ALANINE

 S – SERINE

 A – ASPARAGINE

 G – GLUTAMIC ACID

 A – ASPARTIC ACID

The name non-essential amino acidsdoes not mean that they are not essential for us. On the contrary, your body is not dependent on the external food sources in order to obtain them instead these non-essential amino acids are so mandatory that body has kept the full authority with itself of synthesizing them on its own. They also serve as building blocks of protein together with essential amino acids. Some of the examples of their functions include.

  1. Glycine heals wounds and helps with the various movements.
  2. Cysteine stimulates collagen and Glutathione production
  3. Proline   is involved in repairing tissues
  4. Tyrosine alleviates hypertension, depression and chronic pain and most importantly, it also regulates the thyroid hormone function.
  5. Serine is needed for muscle metabolism, burning the fat, immunity and  positive thoughts.
  6. Alanine metabolizes and removes toxins from the body
  7. Glutamic acid provides energy for brain functioning and forms proteins
  8. Aspartic acid is the building block of muscle and helps with the hormone production and release
  9. Asparagine  is responsible for amino acid sequencing of proteins

These are just a fraction of functions I am mentioning in this article as they have numerous other roles which is impossible for me to jot down here. To put it simply it’s just like the liver functions which are more than 500 but we just study a drop of it.

Conditional Amino Acids

Conditional amino acids are those non- essential amino acids which are produced inside the body but as the name suggests in some situations or conditions it is not possible for the body to synthesize in optimal amount as per the requirement depending upon the intensity of the activities and so it becomes essential to get them via diet.

Arginine - Glutamine - Conditional Amino Acids
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For example, Arginine & Glutamine are the two conditional amino acids which are recommended as per the fitness industry by the nutritionists to enhance the performance of an athlete or so. But there are other non-essential amino acids as well serving as conditional amino acids like Tyrosine, Serine, Proline etc but these keep importance from the perspective of pathology and used in pharmaceuticals to which a nutritionist does not have an access.

Arginine is a precursor for the synthesis of nitric oxide which promotes enhanced blood flow. It also boosts growth hormone release and serves as a raw material to produce Creatine in body.

Glutamine is said to be vital in the synthesis of protein and it is the most abundantly found amino acid in the muscle which is 60%. It promotes anabolism, metabolism, cell divisions and various other processes in our body. It produces enough amount of ammonium in order to regulate the acid base balance of kidneys.

Arginine and Glutamine have several other important functions.

 Till now we have discussed the importance of protein and many reasons to include it in our diet having said that you should always be wise in choosing a protein source, keeping in mind the amino acid profile of a food product and whether it contains a complete amino acid profile or not. You must be thinking what is complete protein?

There are different classes of protein such as First Class and Second Class.

First class protein provides all the 9 essential amino acids required for muscle building. So, they are said to be complete protein. E.g. Chicken, Fish, Mutton, Pork, Eggs, Paneer

Protein Food Sources - Dr Jain Priyanka (PT)
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For Instance, in 100gm of lean meat: 20gm of protein, 0-5 gm of fat, 0 gm of carbs along with vitamins and minerals are present.

In 100 gm of Cow paneer = 15 gm of protein, 15 gm of fat, 5 gm of carbs along with vitamins and minerals are present.

In 100 gm of Buffalo paneer = 20 gm of protein, 15 gm of fat, 5 gm of carbs along with vitamins and minerals are present.

In 1 medium sized egg with yolk: 6.5 gm of protein, 6.5 gm of fat, 0 gm of carbs along with vitamins and minerals are present.

On the other hand, Second class proteins do not provide all the essential amino acids required for building tissues.

For example, grains lack in Lysine or more than one amino acid and pulses lack in Methionine or more.

IN LEGUMES, Methionine is less but Glycine is more. In Rice, Glycine is more, Methionine is less

Protein Food Resources - Carbohydrates
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So, the combination of Rice and Dal makes up the Complete Protein Profile But remember that this combination will still be loaded with majorly Carbohydrates.

In SOYABEAN, Methionine & Lysine are very less and I will give you a detailed information with scientific facts of the protein sources so that you can decide what you should eat for complete amino acid profile and what all should be avoided specially those food sources of which you think that they are great sources of protein but in reality, they may turn out to be harmful to you.   

DR. Priyanka Jain (PT)
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DR. Priyanka Jain (PT)

Keep reading and liking my articles because we, at Fitness Cravers Academy believe and provide authentic information related to nutrition which will certainly help in improving the lifestyle and quality of life of general as well as a small scale of specialized population as well. My upcoming articles will include some interesting and captivating topics like Whey protein, other types of protein supplements and amino acid-based supplements. I will also empower you with the knowledge and judging skills whether you need the supplements or not. Rest the analysis on the myths related to Eggs, Soyabean, Tofu, Pulses, Almonds etc. and other natural sources will be taken care by me in the next article.  

Crave For Good, Crave For Fitness

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