Mainly known by athletes, whey protein is a misunderstood key component of the functioning of the human body.
In this interview of our Chief Science Officer Dr Jean-Francois Lesgards (Phd: Chemistry/biochemistry and researcher for CNRS) by Sheila Partrat, we will explore the essential role of protein in the human body.
Sheila: Jean-Francois – let’s start at the top. What are proteins and what do they do for me?
1. Proteins are made of necessary amino acids:
Jean-Francois: Proteins are one of the three macro-nutrients we eat daily that provide calories or energy: proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Proteins are our building blocks. They are composed by Amino acids which are daily necessary.
Our bodies need, on a daily basis, 20 different amino acids that come from proteins. This helps build and repair muscle, bones, tissues and drive enzymes and hormones. Our body makes most of the amino acids we need except for nine, known as the nine essential amino acids. These must come from food. The first determinant of protein quality is the amount of each of these nine essential amino acids – this varies widely.
A protein containing all nine essential amino acids is considered complete. On the whole, animal proteins sources will tend to have all nine present, and enough of each to be considered complete. Conversely, it is harder to find vegetable proteins that have all nine essential. However, there are some exceptions such as spirulina. Additionally, proteins in some plants such as soy, pea, and rice are nearly complete. It is important to note that plant proteins can be complimented , the amino acid profile of a 70:30 pea:rice protein blend is similar to that of whey.
2. Proteins have many unknown but essential functions:
Jean-Francois: Proteins are large biomolecules that are vital for our organism: both for our body structure and our biological functioning. They protect and hold the body together.
For our body structure:
- Body repair: Protein help you maintain or increase your muscle mass. Grass-fed whey protein is the highest quality proteins given its branched-chain amino acids content. So, it is the best choice, in order to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Additionally, protein will boost the production of collagen which keeps your skin firm and healthy. It also supports enzymes and hormones production that generate hair growth and hair strengthening.
- Growth: Protein ensures correct growth of muscles and bones.
For our biological functioning:
- Immune boosting: Antibodies are proteins that bind to foreign particles, such as viruses and bacteria, to help protect the body.
- Biological coordinators: Proteins transmit signals to coordinate biological processes between different cells, tissues, and organs.
- Cell structure: They provide structure and support for cells. On a larger scale, they also allow the body to move.
- Cell chemistry: Enzyme proteins carry out almost all of the thousands of chemical reactions that take place in cells.
Proteins can also constitute an alternate energy source if we don’t consume enough carbs and fats.
“Protein is way more than only muscles”
Sheila: “How much do we need on a daily basis and how can we determine how much protein we are getting?
3. The daily protein requirement:
Jean-Francois: Each person is unique. Body weight, level of activity, gender and age will influence requirements. National guidelines may vary; however, our bodies will generally use at least 1 gram per kg. of body weight per day.
The elderly or very active individuals can go up to 1.5 grams/kg of body weight. However, if there are any known kidney issues, consult a doctor.
To be practical, an egg has about 6 grams of protein while a 100-gram piece of chicken has about 25 grams. For instance, someone of 70kg, would daily need the equivalent of 11 eggs or 400 g of chicken.
Sheila: What happens when we don’t get enough protein?
4. We can’t store amino acids:
Jean-Francois: We can store fats and carbohydrates which are used for energy in the form of fat or glycogen (for glucose). Conversely, we can’t store amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. That’s why we need to replenish our protein supply daily. So, if our body doesn’t meet its need of protein, it will take it from our bones and muscle mass, which is harmful for your health.
5. Ways to recognize protein deficiency:
Jean-Francois: Protein deficiency can manifest itself in many ways that can be hard to specifically identify as protein deficiency such as:
- Low immunity and slow wound healing.
- Wounds take longer to heal & prone to injury
- Poor detoxification.
- Low energy and fatigue.
- Poor concentration/brain fog and mood swings and poor sleep.
- Blood sugar fluctuation.
Interested in learning more? Check out our blog on 6 signs of protein deficiency.