Protein Basics And The Role Of Amino Acids

Proteins exist in all of the cells, tissues and organs in our body; they are macronutrients that are critical for our nutritional health.  And although proteins must be consumed in adequate amounts, because they are continually being broken down and need to be replaced  – we typically get plenty of protein from our diet, instead of not enough as commonly thought.

The role of amino acids is very important – the proteins in our body are replaced from the different amino acids we get when we digest the foods that have protein in them.

Amino acids can be viewed as our body’s ‘building blocks’, and actually make up around 20% of our total weight.

And besides their structural importance, amino acids are also significant for things like insulin and thyroid functioning, and numerous other body processes, including clotting of blood, digestion, and disease prevention.

Although, there are lists that show as many as 25 amino acids, there are 20 that are necessary to make the different proteins needed in the body.  Of these 20, there are 9 which are essential. This distinction means they cannot be produced by the body, and must be specifically included in foods or protein supplements – do not mistakenly take this to mean whether they are important or unimportant.

Essential Amino Acid Functions

The role of essential amino acids can be seen through the many different critical functions they provide for the body; here is a description of some of these:

  • Histidine is a precursor to histamines, which work to protect the body from different allergic reactions.  It is also important for building hemoglobin and helping to keep anemia from occurring.
  • Leucine assists with muscle recovery and increased mass from exercise.  It also helps in the regulation of blood sugar, along with supplying energy to the body.
  • Isoleucine functions like Leucine for muscle recovery and blood sugar regulation.  Additionally, this is needed for hemoglobin to be formed.
  • Valine combines with Leucine and Isoleucine to make an amino acid group called BCAAs, or branched chained amino acids.  It is also needed for muscle metabolism and tissue repair.  It is also supposed to help if there are liver or gallbladder problems.
  • Lysine is important in the conversion process of fatty acids into energy, along with assisting the absorption of calcium.  Additionally, it is involved in the body being able to make different  enzymes, antibodies, and hormones.
  • Methionine is used in producing sulfur that is needed for proper metabolism.  This is also an antioxidant that is especially significant in getting lead and mercury out of the body.
  • Phenylalanine is a precursor for a group of adrenal gland hormones that are important in the regulation of the nervous system.  It is very much involved with the brain, including cognitive functioning, and mood or depression symptoms.
  • Threonine helps with normal growing by maintaining the body’s proper protein balance.  It is also needed to create 2 other amino acids, Glycine and Serine, which are needed to produce collagen.
  • Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, which affects the regulation of our moods and how we sleep.

Essential amino acid content is also used when considering the quality of a protein source; here are the distinctions:

  • Complete protein sources contain all of the essential amino acids
  • Incomplete protein sources are missing 1 or more of the essential amino acids
  • Complementary protein sources are 2 or more incomplete protein sources that include all of the essential amino acids when combined

Something that is important to note is that what is necessary is for your protein intake to be complete on a daily basis; it is not necessary for this to be done at each meal, in order to properly meet your protein and amino acid needs.

Getting Adequate Amounts Of Complete Protein Each Day

If you are eating a typical ‘Western’ diet, than you are eating lots of meat and animal products.

And although you may be causing yourself other nutritional health issues from eating too much pro-inflammatory fats, you are getting plenty of grams of complete protein and amino acids to meet your needs.

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, or have generally cut back on foods like red meats or whole milk, you can still easily get plenty of complete protein.

However, you will just need to look at different sources and combinations for adequately meeting your protein and essential amino acids needs – consider some of these excellent protein sources listed below:

  • If you will eat fish or poultry, but not red meat, you still have very good sources of complete proteins.  And cold water fish like Salmon or Tuna is also very good nutritionally, because it includes the highly anti-inflammatory omega-3 DHA EPA fatty acids.
  • If you eat a raw plant food diet, you can still get plenty of complete protein by combining foods like:  spirulina, pumpkin seeds, lentils, quinoa, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.  And you can increase the protein content even further by soaking and sprouting the seeds or legumes.
  • And you can also use a combination raw foods protein supplement

I use a combination of hemp, pea, and brown rice that also has glutamine and branched chain amino acids added.  It is completely natural and vegan, has a high correlation to whey protein, and I have found it to be highly digestible – which is why I originally tried it, because I was having stomach problems with whey protein.

I mix this into a smoothie 1-2 times each day, and this complete protein and amino acid combination provides 20 grams of protein with 91 calories per serving – you can learn more about this protein powder through the link below:

Raw Plant Vegan Protein Powder

How Much Protein Do We Need Each Day

As discussed, complete proteins and amino acids must be consumed in sufficient amounts, because they are critical macronutrients, and they are continually being broken down and need to be replaced.

And although the amount required each day does have some variables like those below, it is a relatively simple matter to meet all protein needs with high quality complete sources.

  • Needing some more as we get older
  • High activity levels including weight lifting
  • If you are trying to lose weight
  • AND who you ask

When I began to get highly involved with fitness and learning a lot about nutrition, I was getting a lot of my information from exercise and weight lifting sites and programs.  And as I soon came to learn from more study, they recommended far more protein than is necessary – I remember reading that I should get a minimum of 1 gram of protein per pound of weight.

I weighed 190 pounds at the time [way too much], and had cut my calorie intake to around 2000 calories per day.  So, that would be 190 grams at 4 calories per gram = 760 protein calories.

And that would be 38% of all calories coming from protein as a minimum, and it just isn’t necessary [or recommended] to eat that high of a protein diet.  Of course, the recommendations are coming from places that sell protein supplements, and from sources that make protein supplements.

The recommendations that I have found from different nutritional sources is for an average of .8 grams per kilogram of body weight – and also realize that if you eat a lot more that it will end up being oxidized as energy and ‘fuel’.

I eat and/or supplement with raw protein powder, to get around 125 grams of protein each day.  If I eat around 2000 calories, then that would be 500 protein calories = 25% of my diet.

Harvard:  recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day—that’s about 58 grams for a 160 pound adult. In the U.S., adults get an average of 15 percent of their calories from protein; for a person who requires a 2,000-calorie-per-day-diet, that’s about 75 grams of protein.

In healthy people, increasing protein intake to 20 to 25 percent of calories can reduce the risk of heart disease, if the extra protein replaces refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, or sugary drinks.

Really, the best thing to do is focus on a balanced nutritional diet that has eliminated as much sugar, bad fats, and processed foods as possible.  Eat raw whole foods that include omega-3 fatty acids and healthy fats, greens and fruit, and low fat sources of protein that when combined are complete proteins and essential amino acids – and you should expect to have good nutritional health.

If you are concerned whether you are getting enough complete protein, you can go to one of the following sites and enter when you are eating to get a breakdown:


Complete Protein And Amino Acids Supplement

And if you do some study and would really like to get more protein outside of what you get from the foods you eat, or just want a really good protein powder to mix into smoothies, then do check out a complete raw plant protein supplement.