Protein is a macro nutrient that is essential to building muscle mass. It is commonly found in animal products, though is also present in other sources, such as nuts and legumes.
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How much protein?
The Institute of Medicine recommends that 10 to 35 percent of daily calories come from protein. How that equates to grams of protein depends on the caloric needs of the individual. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the amount of protein foods a person should eat depends on age, sex, and level of physical activity. Most Americans eat enough food from this group, but need to make leaner and more varied selections of these foods.
“A safe level of protein ranges from 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight [2.2 lbs.], up to 2 grams of protein per kilogram for very active athletes,” said Crandall. “But most Americans truly need to be eating about 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.”
What do proteins do?
Proteins play a role in nearly every biological process, and their functions vary widely.
The main functions of proteins in the body are to build, strengthen and repair or replace things, such as tissue.
They can be structural, like collagen, they can be hormonal, like insulin, they can be carriers, for example, hemoglobin, or they can be enzymes, such as amylase. All of these are proteins.
Keratin is a structural protein that strengthens protective coverings, such as hair. Collagen and elastin, too, have a structural function, and they also provide support for connective tissue.
Enzymes are catalysts. This means they speed up chemical reactions. They are needed for respiration in human cells, for example, or photosynthesis in plants.
Protein foods provide amino acids that our bodies use to synthesize proteins.
When people eat foods that contain amino acids, these amino acids make it possible for the body to create, or synthesize, proteins. If we do not consume some amino acids, we will not synthesize enough proteins for our bodies to function correctly.
There are also nine essential amino acids that the human body does not synthesize, so they must come from the diet.