Protein primarily serves as the building and recovery blocks for your body. They are the structural components for our tissues. Those building blocks are specifically known as amino acids. Proteins have different amino acid sequences, and there are twenty amino acids that we currently recognize.
However, there are eight amino acids that the body must consume as our bodies do not synthesize them, and they are known as essential amino acids. They are isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Ultimately, we would refer to a protein being “complete” if it contains all eight essential amino acids and “incomplete” if they do not.
So are proteins fair game and can we consume as many as we want? First, we are a big proponent of the power of protein (forgive the pun), but there is a limit to how much we should consume. Excessive amounts of protein consumption can cause deamination of amino acids into carbohydrates or lipids. This means that the liver may determine that we have depleted resources of carbs or fats, and that we must use protein as an energy source. This deamination process can cause catabolic processes which breaks down our metabolism. Extreme overconsumption of protein may also stress the kidneys, along with the liver, and be detrimental to the body.
So how much protein should we consume? Like carbs and fats, the amount is relative to the individual. But there more of a universally adopted amount, for instance, if you are moderately active and have a more high protein diet, you should consume 1 to 1.5 grams per each kg of your body weight. If you participate in strength training, are pregnant, are a growing child, or someone who is very active, you should consume from 1.6 to 2 grams of protein per each kg of your body weight.
Ergogenic aids are external influences to positively affect physical and/or mental performance. Common ergogenic aids are supplemental proteins, BCAAs, Glutamine, Nitric Oxide, and Creatine (monohydrate). These help with exercise performance, especially in the mass and strength department. Protein is the king when it comes to forming and repairing muscle tissues. Amino acids interact with each other to aid in the muscle production, and providing the body with the right amount of protein is critical to protein synthesis. Amino acids further help the muscle recovery process and reduce “DOMS” or delayed onset muscle soreness, which is the pain, felt 2 or 3 days after exercising.
Two high quality proteins are Whey and Casein. Whey is a “complete” protein, fast absorbing, and should be consumed within the hour of an exercise routine because it is quickly permeates through the cell membranes. It has a lot beneficial nutritional properties and is a natural occurring substance, usually found in cow’s milk. In its most pure state, it has little fat, cholesterol, and lactose sugars. Casein is another high quality protein, and is has slower amino acid release properties. It wouldn’t be typically taken right after a workout, but the protein would be processed throughout the day. Casein has high concentrations of glutamine, which is an anti-catabolic amino acid. We would further discuss Glutamine below.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are the essential amino acids as described above. BCAAs are precursors to muscle building amino acids such as glutamine and alanine. Glutamine is non-essential and is produced naturally; they are precursors to the formation of glycogen. When muscles contract, glutamine flows in the blood stream to the liver for energy, which helps reduce the catabolic effect of protein degradation or the deamination of amino acids. Glutamine helps preserve the right glycogen storage for workouts and fights against muscle atrophy, which is the decrease in size of the tissue. Glutamine further provides improvements in training as it has properties to form blood cells in our bodies (other known as hematopoiesis).
Other important to know amino acids are L-arginine. Arginine is produced naturally in the body and help aid in protein synthesis, support immune and nerve system functions, regulate growth hormone, and increases oxygen to the heart. Arginine most interesting property is how it vasodilates and causes blood vessels in the body to become wider. It is a precursor to nitric oxide, which has been shown to increase metabolic regulation of glucose, fatty and amino acids. Nitric oxide, from what we know, is the most powerful muscle relaxant in our bodies; it has been shown to increase blood flow, increase oxygen delivery, and improve our performance.
Creatine is a naturally occurring protein that serves as an immediate anaerobic resource of energy. Creatine is produced from our liver, kidneys, and pancreas from the amino acids of arginine, glycine, and methionine. Creatine Monohydrate is the supplement form of Creatine and is usually consumed in cycles of loading and maintenance phases. Loading phase requires approximately 20 grams of consumption per week as maintenance phase requires smaller dosage. Creatine Monohydrate has been proven to enhance performance by (i) increasing intramuscular creatine and phosphocreatine, (ii) greater synthesis of phosphocreatine, and (ii) increase metabolic function.