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Do you know the importance of Protein in your diet? Team Grenade® athlete and Nutritionist, Vinny Russo, brings you his expert advice to highlight the importance of protein, whatever your goals are.

Even though they may be labeled as “meat-heads,” Bodybuilders know a little more than we actually give them credit for. When it comes to protein and how important it is for the body, these “gym-rats” are two steps ahead of the game! Protein is important for muscle growth, we know this, and science provides the evidence for this. The problem is, people only associate protein with muscle growth and nothing more. Some believe that if they don’t weight train or play a sport, then there is no point in making sure they are receiving adequate protein levels. In this article I am going to touch base on why and how protein is vitally important for the human body, no matter what your lifestyle is.

Protein is the most important nutrient needed for optimal development. It is the foundation to every human body, every living cell, and every construct of a DNA strand. Your body uses protein to build and repair body tissues, to make enzymes, hormones, and is used as important building blocks of bones, blood, skin, cartilage and muscles. Protein assists in energy metabolism and cellular processes, and also defends the body against disease via optimal immune function. Below you will find the 5 reasons why EVERYONE, no matter what the goal, should make sure they are getting enough protein through their diet!

Healing

Protein is directly involved in healing from an injury. Those who have recently encountered an injury should take advantage of this fact and increase their overall protein intake to help with the recovery process. Protein aids the body in repairing damaged tissues. So the lack of protein will call for a slower, less efficient healing rate within your body. The reason why, is because when your body lacks enough protein, it has a difficult time forming collagen (collagen synthesis is what helps heal wounds and repair tissues). The amino acid, GLUTAMINE, which is acquired via protein intake, is what stimulates this collagen synthesis. So without enough protein you will lack enough glutamine to initiate proper collagen synthesis thus leading to ineffective wound healing.

Optimal Immune Function

Your immune system is made up of proteins, and relies on more proteins to be made (protein synthesis) in order to function efficiently. In layman terms, if you are lacking protein in your diet, this will weaken your immune system. Proteins make up the immunoglobulins, or antibodies, of your immune system and are also part of the interferon that support immune system cells and attack viruses, bacteria or other foreign substances in the body. Why is this important? Well, for every antigen which attacks your body, you have a distinct and separate antibody to fight against it. The antibodies basically “capture” these antigens to allow the other immune system cells to destroy them. The antibodies are able to recognize viruses and bacteria which will allow your immune system to respond faster, and rid the body of the foreign material before any true damage is done. Now, without enough protein, the body’s ability to produce antibodies will be hindered.

Not getting enough protein can also cause unfavorable effects on your T-cell system. This T-cell system has 2 major players, the killer T-cells that destroy cells that are infected with germs or cancerous, and the helper T-cells that “help” arrange the immune response. So if our T-cell system isn’t working properly, then this will result in more frequent infections within the body. As a side note, since we are on the immune functions, the individual amino acid “Arginine” has been shown to be necessary in situations where the immune system is compromised by improving your ability to fight off infection. In order to get more arginine, you should eat more protein!

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Your Hormones

Hormones are chemicals produced by glands used as signalling molecules to help communicate and coordinate activities throughout the body. They also help in controlling the numerous functions of body which involve a variety of your organs. Protein plays an important role in building certain hormones - peptide or protein hormones. These protein hormones are hormones that bind to receptors on the outside of cells, and trigger a response inside the cell. Hormonal proteins, like insulin, help with the metabolism of glucose and are highly effective in controlling blood sugar concentrations. Hormones can also activate muscle growth by increasing protein synthesis or decreasing protein breakdown. So, if deficient in protein, your body lacks the materials it needs to build and support the hormones within your body.

All Enzymes

Enzymes are proteins that are used as catalysts to speed up, or reduce the energy of activation of chemical reactions within our body. In order to function properly, enzymes help with thousands of biochemical reactions performed by our bodies. They play a role in actions like muscle contractions, nerve impulse transmissions, the breaking down of molecules, etc. Just to shed some light on how important enzymes are, the enzyme ATPase is needed for breaking down adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which releases energy. ATP is our chemical energy that all of our cells in our body uses! Also, lipase, for example, is an enzyme that helps you to digest dietary fat. Lactase is a well-known enzyme which will catalyse the milk sugar or lactose metabolism in your intestine to help digestion. Without enzymes, the reactions in our body would occur too slowly to keep us alive!

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Body Fat Reduction

Body fat is reduced through a caloric deficit, meaning you are taking in less calories than normal. This does not mean you need to go on a diet and restrict yourself of calories, instead it may just mean to be more conscious of your food decisions! Protein is a valued source of energy providing 4 calories per gram. When we eat protein-rich foods, it takes a lot for your body to break down this macromolecule. Due to the fact that it takes a while to break down, this means you will experience a slower digestion which will aid in making you feel fuller for longer! If you are fuller for longer, you won’t be tempted to eat or binge, packing on the extra unnecessary calories. Also, due to the fact that it costs a lot of energy to break protein down, it is said to have a high thermic effect (the thermic effect of food relates to the amount of energy it takes your body to break down that food). Protein has the highest thermic effect when comparing macronutrients, which means you’re actually burning more calories to process the protein than you would with carbohydrates and fats. Also, take into account that only around 80% of the calories from protein is absorbed which leads to less calories being consumed overall. So, what this essentially means, is that you will be able to consume a greater amount of protein than either carbohydrate or fats without putting on the body fat (when comparing calories to calories).

Protein-rich foods are also said to reduce your hunger due to the chemical by-product which occurs after digestion called Phenylalanine. Studies have shown that phenylalanine triggers hormones like leptin, peptide YY, cholecystokinin, and GLP-1, which are all hormones that suppress hunger. Besides phenylalanine, when consuming protein, you reduce the levels of your hunger hormone (ghrelin). If you’re not hungry and not reaching any form of food in sight, you won’t!

So, as you can see, protein is much more than a muscle building supplement. It is a vital macronutrient needed for the development of you from your embryonic stages, through childhood and adulthood, into you elderly state. At all phases, protein will be used to help you develop and repair!