Coach Mary’s tasty tips #4
Last week I talked to you about carbohydrates, one of the three macronutrients present in the food we eat. Today I will be talking to you about proteins, another really important macro, especially in the world of fitness.
Proteins are present in many delicious foods, including fish, meat, eggs, dairy, soy, beans, etc. They are made up of small molecules called amino acids, bound together to form a variety of different proteins with different shapes and functions. These amino acids bond initially in a relatively straight line to give a primary structure to the protein, and then they fold and interact with one another to form secondary and tertiary structures (sometimes even quaternary). All this means is that they are very complex structures that have a specific shape depending on its composition and desired function.
Proteins are very diverse and our bodies use them for several different processes such as building and repairing muscle, forming hormones, carrying substances around the body, helping with digestion, among others. Unlike the other two macronutrients, proteins aren’t usually used as an energy source; this only happens in the case of starvation or in certain pathological states that lead to break down of muscle mass to form energy. But, for the most part, we tend think of protein as the most important macronutrient to help us get bigger muscle, become stronger at the gym, and get new PBs. #gains
When you hear people talking about different kinds of proteins, you tend to hear words such as complete and incomplete proteins, and essential and non-essential amino acids. So let’s talk a little bit about each one of these terms and make sure we understand what they mean before moving any further.
- Essential amino acids. Like I mentioned above, amino acids are the smallest molecules that make up proteins. There are 20 different amino acids in total, and they are connected to one another via organic bonds called peptide bonds. There are many different ways these 20 amino acids can combine to form hundreds of different proteins. But going back to the amino acids, 9 of them are considered essential, which simply means that our bodies cannot make them from scratch and we must eat foods that contain them in order to have them available to form proteins. Just for completeness, these are the names of the 9 essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, thrionine, tryptophan, and valine.
- In comparison to the essential ones, the non-essential amino acids can be synthesized by our bodies from scratch, so we don’t necessarily need to eat them in order to have them readily available to form proteins. They are alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, tyrosine
- Complete proteins: these are proteins that contain all nine essential amino acids. Examples of foods containing complete protein are meats, fish, eggs, milk, soy, and quinoa.
- Incomplete proteins: these are proteins that have little or no amount of one or more of the nine essential amino acids. They are not necessarily less good for you, it just means that you may have to combine different sources of incomplete proteins in order to obtain all essential amino acids from your diet. Incomplete proteins tend to be associated with vegetarians because many of the complete proteins are animal-based foods while incomplete proteins tend to be vegetarian. This is not 100% accurate, as quinoa and soy are both vegetarian and complete. Some examples of incomplete proteins are grains, nuts, seed, and legumes such as lentils and beans.
Amino acids, unlike carbohydrates, do not get stored in the body in the form of protein. These amino acids, once digested and absorbed by our gut, form a “pool” of resources that our body uses to form important proteins or for other vital functions, with the excess being converted to fatty tissue, just like excess from any other macronutrient. However, it is harder to eat an excessive amount of protein than it is to eat too much carbs of fat.
Lastly, I want to mention a few other essential things about proteins that I think are good to understand. 1 gram of protein, just like 1 gram of carbohydrates, contains 4kcals. Be mindful that many of the protein-rich food have an elevated content of fat as well, which needs to be taken into consideration if you are following a somehow strict diet or are counting your macros. On the other hand, protein-rich foods are said to leave you full for a longer period of time, so it can be a good macro to add to your snacks or breakfast if you know you won’t be eating again for quite a few hours.
There are plenty of other things to be said about this important macronutrient, but I think I will leave that for another post. Thank you for taking the time to read my post.
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