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What is Protein?

Updated on May 30, 2014

What is protein? What makes up proteins? What are the sources of proteins? Can we get proteins from supplements? How much protein should we take in each day?


What is it?

Almost every muscle, organ, tissue, enzyme in our body is made up of proteins. Ever since we were young, we were always told to eat more protein in order to develop strong muscles. Well that is, in part, true. However, protein benefits run more deeply than just to enhance our muscles. Behind every metabolic process that drives our body to move are these proteins. They are one of the most indispensable and vital molecules that are found inside us. A question remains: What exactly is a protein?

Amino Acids—The Basic Building Blocks of Proteins

What makes us unique is not just reflected in our physical characteristics and emotions. Our individuality is embedded deeply in our DNA, which are found inside our cells. We can think of DNA as the blueprint of the house and it carries the information and instructions on how to stack materials in order to make the dwelling liveable. Well, the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) also carries information and that information makes us who we now are. It also carries the instruction on making different types of amino acids and proteins.

Through a cascade of instruction relay, the DNA is transcribed to form RNA (ribonucleic acid). The RNA is then translated into individual amino acids that would eventually form the proteins.We can imagine the simple proteins that have not folded into its final form as a long beaded string. Each bead is an amino acid and the whole thing is what we call a protein.

Basically, amino acids are simple structure that comprises of the most basic elements—Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen (or CHON, if we want to remember it easily). There are 22 different types of amino acids found in proteins and in every protein, the arrangement of these amino acids vary. Our bodies do not manufacture all of the proteins by itself.

There are two types of amino acids: essential and non-essential amino acids. Out of the 22 amino acids, our bodies can only make 13 while the remaining nine are to from the food that we ingest. The 13 amino acids are called essential amino acids because we have to eat food in order to produce them. On the other hand, the other nine are the non-essential amino acids since we can produce them by ourselves. This is where our parents got it right and why it is vital to take in protein-rich foods to substantiate the amino acids that our bodies do not produce.

Where Do We Get Proteins?

Foods that contain all of the essential amino acids are called complete proteins. Some examples are meat, fish, poultry, milk, cheese, eggs and shellfish. Although gelatin is an animal protein, it is not complete protein because its proteins have been damaged by excessive heat and boiling.

So if we can find all of the essential amino acids in animal proteins and products, then what about the vegetable proteins? What happens to the vegetarians? Fortunately, although incomplete, vegetables do contain some of the essential amino acids. So it just takes a bit of research on which vegetables contain the essential amino acids and tweak the diet to contain all of them. And we have a vegetarian source protein.

Can We Get Protein From Supplements?

Since we are not totally sure that we take in enough protein per day, it would be advisable to take in supplements. Many people do this and an example is the whey protein supplement. The protein supplement should contain the essential amino acids. If there is not enough protein taken, we would develop protein deficiency. Nowadays, because of the diet modern people have, it has become very common and widespread.

How Much Protein Should We Take In Daily?

If we eat a lot—as in a lot-- of protein-rich foods, do we get to be stronger and will our system function better? Well not exactly. Our bodies do not store the excess proteins. Instead, they are excreted out as urea in our urine. There is a certain threshold and if we reach the protein needs per day, then the excess will be released out of the body.

However, in rare cases such as long term fasting, our bodies can utilize our proteins and burn them for energy. This is not advisable since the main function of protein is body maintenance, not as an energy source. Without the proteins, some body functions would simply not work.

So how much do we need? Depending on our age, size, metabolism and other factors, our protein intake varies. Go to this site to calculate the amount of protein you need.

With the help of the protein intake calculator (on the article link), do you take in enough protein each day?

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    • profile image

      stanley p. 6 years ago

      do you have other videos? i find youtube doesn't have many videos that explain in detail.

    • profile image

      xiao yun 6 years ago

    • profile image

      gel 6 years ago

      thanks... Am studying proteins tonight. This helps.

    • inaniLoquence profile image

      inaniLoquence 6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks summertime! :)

    • profile image

      summertime8 6 years ago

      Interesting hub. I'm voting this up.