The Basics of Protein: How Does It Work?

The Basics of Protein
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Protein is a fundamental nutrient that extends far beyond its reputation as a dietary staple. While many of us are familiar with the general notion of protein and its recommended servings, a deeper understanding of its role in our bodies is essential.

In this article, we will try to unravel the basics of protein. We will explore its composition, diverse sources, and the vital reasons why it holds such profound significance in supporting crucial aspects of our health, ranging from tissue growth and repair to hormone regulation and immune function.

By delving into the intricacies of protein, we can enhance our knowledge and make informed choices to optimize our dietary intake, ultimately paving the way for a healthier and more vibrant life.

Protein Basics

Many of us know that protein is good for us, but why? We’ve been taught that eating 1-2 servings of meat daily and 3-4 servings of grains and beans will provide us with the correct amount of dietary protein needed in order to live a healthy life. But to what extent is this true, and why is protein essential in your diet?

Chances are this is one of the questions you may have found yourself asking your personal trainer on day one. Let’s break down the most important things you need to know about protein and why it’s important in your diet.

What is Protein?

Protein is, in every capacity, an energy compound. Just as carbohydrates and fats provide calories to be turned into working fuel, protein provides amino acids and, through a process known as gluconeogenesis, provides calories for energy.

Protein is also a nutrient needed in your diet in order to allow for proper cell growth. Bodybuilders and strength athletes will supplement large amounts because they are putting their muscles under a large amount of stress and want the muscle cells to grow.

As the average person, you may not need as much, yet dietary protein is required in order to have healthy hair, nails, skin and other soft tissue.

How Much Do You Need?

The question of how much protein is needed in your diet all comes down to your body weight and particular energy expenditure (how active you are). Those that are very active require more protein than those that are not ‒ just as those that are larger in body mass will require more than those that are smaller.

The amount of protein you need can vary greatly. For example:

  • A person weighing 220 pounds that is highly active (exercising 4-5 times/week) may need 160 grams of protein each day.
  • A person weighing 180 pounds with moderate activity levels may require 105 grams of protein each day.
  • Someone weighing 130 pounds that has a low activity level may only need 55 grams of protein each day.

Talk with your doctor or a nutritionist to determine a healthy level of protein for your body.

How Does it Work?

Protein works in a very unique way to other macronutrients like carbohydrates and fats. Carbohydrates and fats are what we call “stored nutrients” ‒ meaning when you eat an excess of what your body needs, your body will store a certain amount to be used again.

Protein, on the other hand, is not stored in the body and an excess of protein is simply removed as waste. The protein that your body needs will go to work to be broken down into various amino acids.

Amino acids have a series of roles in the body. While some amino acids like L-arginine and L-citrulline work as vasodilators to allow for proper blood flow, other amino acids like L-Theanine can help to limit stress and even assist in sleep. This is why it’s important to get your protein from various sources.

The dietary protein you consume only serves to provide your body with amino acids. If your diet does not contain a wide spectrum of amino acids from foods like fish, beans, whole grains, lean meats, and more, you may be lacking in essential health and recovery tools.

The Protein Balancing Act

Think of protein as a balancing act. Too little and your body will become catabolic. Too much and the excess is excreted as waste. Having the perfect amount from a wide spectrum of foods will allow your body to find balance in performance, strength, weight loss, and overall health.


Protein is not just a buzzword in the world of nutrition but a vital component of a healthy diet. Understanding its definition, dietary sources, and importance is crucial for making informed choices about our nutritional intake.

Protein serves as the building block for proper cell growth, supports tissue health, and plays a significant role in various bodily functions. Determining the right amount of protein for your body weight and energy expenditure is essential, as it varies depending on individual factors.

By incorporating diverse protein sources into our diets, we can ensure a wide spectrum of amino acids for optimal health and recovery. Striking the right balance in protein consumption empowers us to achieve performance, strength, weight management, and overall well-being.

Whether you are an athlete, fitness enthusiast, or simply aiming for a healthier lifestyle, embracing the basics of protein will help you harness its full benefits and thrive in your journey towards better health.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is it possible to consume too much protein?

While protein is crucial for our health, excessive protein intake can have potential risks. Consuming significantly more protein than our body needs can put a strain on our kidneys, as they are responsible for filtering waste products from protein metabolism.

Additionally, excessively high-protein diets may lead to an imbalance in nutrient intake, as they often prioritize protein sources at the expense of other essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

It’s important to strike a balance and consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to determine the appropriate protein intake for your specific needs.

Q: Can consuming protein help regulate appetite and support weight management?

Yes, consuming protein can help regulate appetite and support weight management. Protein has a higher satiety value compared to carbohydrates and fats, meaning it keeps you feeling full for longer periods. Including protein-rich foods in your meals and snacks can help curb cravings and prevent overeating.

Moreover, protein requires more energy for digestion and absorption compared to other macronutrients, which can slightly increase calorie expenditure.

In addition, protein is crucial for preserving lean muscle mass during weight loss, as it provides the necessary building blocks for muscle repair and growth.

By incorporating adequate protein into a balanced diet, individuals can support healthy weight management goals. However, it’s important to maintain an overall balanced diet and consider the total calorie intake for successful weight management.

Q: Can consuming protein before or after a workout enhance exercise performance and recovery?

Consuming protein before or after a workout can indeed have benefits for exercise performance and recovery. Consuming protein before a workout provides the necessary amino acids to support muscle protein synthesis during exercise. This can help improve muscle strength, endurance, and recovery.

Consuming protein after a workout is equally important as it aids in replenishing glycogen stores, repairing damaged muscle tissue, and promoting muscle growth. The timing of protein consumption can also play a role, with many experts recommending consuming protein within the first hour after exercise to maximize its benefits.

However, it’s important to note that overall daily protein intake and a balanced diet are more crucial factors for optimizing exercise performance and recovery.