Protein, the building block of life, serves a multitude of essential functions in the human body. From supporting growth and repair to maintaining a healthy immune system, protein plays a crucial role in our overall well-being. While you might know what dietary protein does this article is going to go over 5 essential functions of protein in the human body and why you actually need to get it from your diet to support them.
What Is Protein
Proteins are amino acids linked via α-peptide bonds and they play a crucial role in almost every cellular function in the human body. They are the building blocks of life, involved in primary, secondary, tertiary, and even quaternary processes in the body. Dietary protein is required to promote growth, repair damaged cells and tissue, synthesize hormones, and for a variety of metabolic activities.
While every human body does require dietary protein, some groups of individuals like athletes or those who engage in intense training, may require more protein than others. However, protein is required to enhance recovery, support immune function, growth, and the maintenance of lean body mass. [R]
5 Essential Functions Of Protein
1. Muscle Growth and Repair
Most individuals know that you should eat protein to support muscle growth and repair. Protein is vital for muscle growth and repair. When we engage in physical activities such as exercise or strength training, our muscles undergo stress and micro-tears. Protein helps repair these tears and promotes muscle growth, allowing us to become stronger and more resilient. Further more, one of the most essential functions of protein is not to just support your rocking 6 pack, but instead, to support and protect your skeletal system from injury.
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2. Enzyme Production
Proteins are responsible for just about every task of cellular life in the human body. One of the most essential functions of protein is to support the function, development, and breakdown of enzymes. Enzymes are proteins that facilitate chemical reactions in our body. They act as catalysts, speeding up the rate of these reactions (i.e. metabolism or chemical reactions).
Without enzymes, essential processes like digestion, metabolism, and DNA replication would occur at a much slower pace, hindering overall bodily functions. [R] Enzymes facilitated by protein also help to break down food molecules, such as carbs, protein, and fats, in order to assist in digestion and absorption. Without these enzymes, food is passed through the GI quickly and excreted.
3. Hormone Regulation
Proteins also play a crucial role in hormone regulation. Hormones act as messengers in our body, controlling various physiological processes. Proteins, such as insulin and growth hormone, help regulate blood sugar levels, promote growth, and maintain a stable internal environment. The pituitary gland is heavily dependent on protein to support the secretion of FASH, LH, and TSH. [R]
These hormones are essential to be sent within the body to release sex hormones, such as testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen, which play an important role in sex drive, reproduction, body fat storage, muscle building ability, mood state, and so much more.
4. Immune System Support
Our immune system relies on proteins to defend against harmful pathogens like infection, disease, and germs. Antibodies, a type of protein, recognize and neutralize foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. What you may not know is that the immune system is dispersed throughout the body to protect against infection, and protein plays a crucial role in helping support this body-wide system. Proteins may be in the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, or floating in the bloodstream. [R]
Additionally, proteins called cytokines help regulate immune responses, ensuring a balanced and effective defense system. Without this defense system, or quality protein to support it, we can fall victim to immunodeficiency diseases, poor immune responses, and over long term exposure, detrimental effects to our health that can cause both chronic and debilitating disease states.
5. Transport and Storage
Proteins are involved in the transport and storage of essential molecules throughout the body. For example, hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells, transports oxygen from the lungs to tissues. Similarly, proteins in our cells store and release important molecules like iron and calcium, ensuring their availability when needed.
Can You Get Too Much Protein
In short, the answer is yes, you can get too much protein. That being said, too much of anything in the body in excess can be detrimental to our health, including too much protein. Whether you’re looking to lose a few inches, optimize body composition, fight disease, or become the biggest, baddest bodybuilder out there, or some other goal in between all of that, there is no added benefit to consuming more protein than your body can handle (which is usually about 1.2g per kg of bodyweight). In general, the recommendation on daily protein intake is between 0.8 and 1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight.
Animal vs Plant Protein Sources
Typically speaking, animal and plant proteins both have essential nutrients in them to support your body’s need and use of protein to perform the essential functions of protein listed above. As long as you’re eating a complete plant protein (meaning it has all of the essential amino acids to make it a complete protein) you will be good to go.
That being said, it is recommended to diversify your protein intake sources, meaning incorporating both animal and plant protein types, as they both individually contain nutrients like fiber, fats, vitamins, minerals, phytochemical, antioxidant properties, and more. The least processed version of protein that you can get, the better. If you’re interested in learning more about the differences and similarities, we recommended reading this article about plant vs animal protein.
Essential Functions Of Protein: Takeaway
Protein, with its multifaceted functions, is undeniably crucial for our overall health and well-being. From muscle growth and repair to immune system support and hormone regulation, this essential macronutrient plays a vital role in maintaining a balanced and thriving body.
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