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More than just Muscle

When we think of protein, we generally have a few, often clichéd, preconceived ideas on exactly what it does for us.

For most, we think of Muscle bound body builders, drinking protein-based weight gain shakes to “beef up”, others think about their doctor warning them about the ‘dangers’ of too much red meat, or even the relatively new weight-loss shake phenomenon and their accompanying infomercial may spring to mind.

What you may not realise is that, nutritionally speaking, protein is the most important of the 3 macronutrients. Macronutrients are the nutrients that we take in that typically have a caloric value, and by ‘macro’ meaning large, these are the nutrients we need in abundance to sustain life.  The three macronutrients I am referring to are; proteins, lipids (fats) and carbohydrates.

If we go back to the initial statement relating to body builders and their attempt to grow large amounts of muscle, we can generally say that it is a widely known fact that protein helps the body build new muscle tissue.  What isn’t so widely known is that this process is in fact the last of the six most important processes that protein is responsible for.

 So, what are the other five?

Firstly, let’s look at what protein is and what it is made of.  There are thousands of different types of proteins within the body and they are responsible for many more thousands of processes. Every cell in your body consists of over 50% of its dry weight being protein. 

Protein is made of the body’s building blocks, known as amino acids, in which there are 500 known varieties, 21 of which are needed to sustain human life.  Within those 21 amino acids, there are nine that we consider essential as the body cannot replicate them and we must get them from the food we eat.  These are; phenylalanine, threonine, valine, tryptophan, leucine, isoleucine, methionine, lysine, and histidine.

The inclusion of these nine essential amino acids is important as it will determine if a protein can be classified as complete (all nine) or incomplete (missing one or two). Knowing this, can help both yourself and nutritionists determine which protein sources are suitable for you and their clients respectively.

So let’s look at those processes again.

The first and most important responsibility of protein is to ensure the vast amount of various tissues we have in our bodies are free from damage. Primarily, our organ tissue. With a large amount going to keep the liver functioning correctly, as it is responsible for keeping us alive and healthy.

Protein is then responsible for keeping our essential hormones and enzymes at healthy levels to help keep our physiology and behavior in check. This helps to keep the tall, dark and handsomes; Tall, dark, and handsome.

Thirdly, protein helps to regulate and feed our ever important gut-flora and immune system. Athenian philosopher, Hippocrates, said over 2500 years ago that all disease began in the gut and only now is modern day science finding links between what is in our stomach, and what happens in our head. This is commonly known as the ‘gut-brain connection’.

Especially important to children, teenagers, and pregnant ladies, is protein’s role in growth. Protein is helps to create what we commonly call Human Growth Hormone (HGH). Technically known as Somatotropin, HGH is a hormone released from a part of our brain called the pituitary gland and is responsible for the replication of our cells, growth and even lactation in breast feeding women.

Finally, before protein goes to work building and maintaining our muscle, it has to ensure there is enough energy to do all these things I have listed.  In the absence of sufficient carbohydrates, protein can easily be converted into energy for our bodies to use each and every day. This process is called gluconeogenesis. This term seems big but there is an easy way to remember it. Genesis is “to create”, Neo is “new”, and “Gluco” refers to glucose or sugar. So simply, it is ‘the creation of new sugar’. The body does this regularly to help regulate insulin, the hormone responsible for breaking down blood sugar.

So how do we ensure we get enough protein in our diets?

The best way of course is through correct nutrition. Eating high quality, grass fed beef, poultry and fish. Nuts, legumes and grains, such as Quinoa and Oats, all contain high levels of complete proteins.

People who are active tend to need more protein than those who tend to be sedentary, so a protein supplement may be required to meet your needs.  There are a large variety of protein supplements on the market these days, ranging from thick milk-based products that promote a fullness feeling through to light fruit flavored products that are perfect for after a heavy workout.  So if you would like to talk further about your individual needs, feel free to contact me at Mass Nutrition Townsville or any of the Mass Nutrition team and we would be more than happy to help assist you finding the best one for you and your lifestyle. 


Happy Training
Phil Smith
Mass Nutrition Townsville