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Propello Life blog Understanding Protein 101

Understanding Protein 101

By: Kate Cline

Protein is an often misunderstood component of food.  When you think of protein, what comes to mind?  Usually people think of meat and muscles.  Many associate protein with animal products, and feel that animal meat must be consumed with almost every meal, especially if you want to gain muscle. Indeed, there is good protein within animal-based products, but that’s only part of the full protein picture. Here are some examples:

  • Propello Life Grass-Fed Whey Protein (1 scoop = 119 cal, 21g Pro)
  • Chicken Breast (4 oz = 150 cal, 32g Pro)
  • Ground Beef, 93% fat (4 oz = 170 cal, 23g Pro)
  • Chicken Eggs (1 egg = 70 cal, 6g Pro)
  • Salmon filet (4 oz = 180 cal, 23g Pro)
  • Fat Free Plain Greek Yogurt (1/2 cup = 70 cal, 12g Pro)

The History of Protein

And protein is a wonderful, powerful product!  In fact, proteins got their name from the Greek word proteos, meaning “taking first place,” or “primary” because of its importance in human health. 

But there’s more to it than thinking we simply need to eat meat.  Originally when scientists were doing their research and found proteins, before giving it that name, they simply described their find as “animal substance.”   But things took a mysterious twist, when in 1728, scientists found this same “animal substance” in wheat flour.  So, “animal substance,” no more! 

Today, we now know that protein comes from a vast array of food sources, not just animal-based products.

But what are proteins?  They are “biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function.” Let’s simplify it into an analogy: Proteins are like stacks of Legos!

Proteins are made up of Amino Acids

That’s right.  Proteins are made up of smaller “building blocks” called Amino Acids.  Legos come in a multitude of different colors and sizes; Amino Acids come in a multitude of different shapes and sizes as well. And depending how the amino acids are connected and put together, it will determine what the task of the protein is in your body.  Put your building blocks together one way, and you get a little red fire truck. Put them together another way, and you get a little white house. Similarly, the way a protein is built will determine its role in your body.

Proteins do so much for your body. For instance, here are some of the tasks proteins do:

  • Work in your muscles, including heart muscles
  • Produce enzymes and hormones
  • Help build a strong bone matrix
  • Help transport nutrients around your body (via transport proteins and lipoproteins)
  • Make antibodies that help your immune system
  • Maintain proper fluid balance
  • Maintain proper acid-base balance
  • Part of your connective tissues, hair, skin, and nails ([click here] to read our Blog post on collagen and connective tissue)

That’s a lot more than just making big, powerful muscles!

Like individual Lego blocks that can be put together in certain ways to make different objects, how your body places Amino Acids together will give you a different result.  And because all of these different TYPES of proteins are made from different arrangements of Amino Acids, it is important to not just get general “protein” in your diet, but to get a variety of protein so you can make sure you’re getting a variety of all the amino acids.  Different food sources have different combinations of amino acids in them.  You don’t want to use only red Lego blocks all the time, for example. Likewise, you need to mix up the protein sources in your diet.  Variety of size and color in Legos is like the need for different types and sources of protein in your diet.

Protein Variety is key to get as many amino acids as possible

There are 20 different Amino Acids (individual Lego blocks) that combine in different ways to create the many different proteins to fulfill the many different roles, as stated above.  The average, healthy body can usually make 11 of these 20 amino acids, leaving the other 9 amino acids necessary to get through what you eat or drink.  These are called the “essential” amino acids, because it is essential for you to make sure you get them from your foods.

Have you ever heard of a Complete Protein?  That just means the protein in a single food source is a type that contains ALL 9 of those essential amino acid building blocks.

Is this important? Well, yes and no. It is important to get all of the 9 Essentials… but it’s not required to get them all in one food item, or even all in one meal. As long as you get good variety regularly, you should be okay.

If you want the ease of complete protein foods, animal products are where most people turn due to popularity (ie: chicken, beef, eggs, fish) But there are plant protein options that may not have all 9 essential amino acids by themselves, but will provide ample building blocks when included in a diverse diet – maybe they only have 1 or 2 of the amino acids, or maybe they have 8. Keep switching up your foods, and you’ll get them all.

Here are some plant based proteins. Some are complete and others aren't so be sure to mix and match to make sure you get a good variety of amino acids.

  • Propello Life Vegan Protein (1 scoop = 120 cal, 20g Protein - complete protein)
  • Hemp seeds (1oz = 160 cal, 10g Protein - complete protein)
  • Chia Seeds (1oz = 135 cal, 4g Protein - complete protein)
  • Quinoa (1 cup cooked = 222 cal, 8g Protein - complete protein)
  • Amaranth (1 cup cooked = 250 cal, 9g Protein - complete protein)
  • Split Peas (1 cup cooked = 230 cal, 16g Protein - complete protein)
  • Black Eyed Peas (1 cup cooked = 200 cal, 13g Protein)
  • Spirulina (1 oz dried = 80 cal, 16g Protein - complete protein)
  • Whole grains (brown rice, oats, barley, millet)
  • Beans and Legumes (mung beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils, etc)
  • Nuts and seeds (flax, almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds)
  • Most vegetables have a little bit that add up (Broccoli, kangkong, chard, mustard greens)

So get your variety, get your building blocks, and let your food help create the masterpiece of a healthy, growing, and glowing YOU!

[Coming Soon - Part 2: how much protein do athletes need?]

About the Author:

Kate Cline is a 15-year Registered Dietitian and Functional Medical Nutrition Practitioner with a virtual private practice based out of Dublin, Ohio. She also has a background as a NASM Personal Trainer and Yoga Teacher. She brings all these applications together to help active people who are dealing with chronic health, pain, or digestive issues. The goal is for clients to Feel Better, Fast with personalized nutrition and lifestyle programming. You can connect with her at www.DublinDietitian.com, Facebook, LinkedIn, and on Instagram @DublinDietitian

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