Understanding and using protein

Protein is the building and repairing material used by the body and is important at every stage of life. It is also used as a source of energy and is important for blood cell formation. The word protein is a Greek one meaning “of principal or first importance.” The main constituent of body tissue is protein. It is the substance found in muscles, nails, hair, skin and etcetera. A considerable portion of our food should be protein.

Proteins are created from approximately 20 basic amino acids. Unfortunately, not all living things are able to synthesize (create) all 20 of the amino acids. Most plants and microorganisms are able to do so, but humans and other animals must secure some of the amino acids through the food they eat. The amino acids secured in this manner are referred to as “essential amino acids” and include: lysine, valine, histidine, threonine, leucine, tryptophan, isoleucine, methionine and phenylalanine. The protein foods we consume are digested so as to release their amino acids.

Ensuring that we get the protein we need each day, will require that we secure food items that supply the various essential amino acids. In some ways, this process becomes similar to putting together a puzzle. Each piece (an amino acid) is important for the completion of the whole (a protein food item). Since different foods will supply different amino acids, a good way to ensure that all the essential amino acids are had each day is to eat a wide variety of foods that are good sources of amino acids.

Foods that are good sources of protein are milk and its products, meat, fish, eggs and soy which is a plant protein that comes closest to being considered a “complete protein.” Other sources of protein — especially those of a vegetarian nature — are cereals and grains, nuts and seeds and legumes. Today, the use of protein powders is quite popular. Soy, egg, rice and whey are common ones. Making use of these powders is a good way to help satisfy your protein needs.

Consuming even the highest quality protein foods is not enough. You must also ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of those foods. If you are an athlete or an extremely active person you should know the types and amounts of foods that are specific to your needs. A woman who is pregnant, a mother who is lactating or a person in his/her senior years will all require varying amounts of protein.

The more active you are, the more protein you will need. Athletes, bodybuilders, endurance and strength-trained individuals will need more protein each day than the less active (sedentary) members of the society. Protein needs will also increase for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and for persons who are overly stressed or recovering from illnesses.

To determine the amount of protein you need each day, you simply divide your weight (in pounds) by 2.2. The result will be your weight in kilograms. Next, you multiply your weight (in kilograms) by 0.8 to 1.8 (this range, 0.8 to 1.8 represents your level of activity; low to high respectively). The result of your calculation is the grams of protein your body requires each day.

For answers to your health and fitness related questions, call 941-625-4175, ext. 263 or visit the Cultural Center’s Fitness Center at 2280 Aaron St., Port Charlotte.

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