Proteins - Your building material

Along with fat and carbohydrates, protein is a macronutrient. This means that, in relation to micronutrients, e.g. vitamins, our bodies require large quantities thereof.

Proteins

Along with fat and carbohydrates, protein is a macronutrient. This means that, in relation to micronutrients, e.g. vitamins, our bodies require large quantities thereof. Protein is therefore one of the three main energy suppliers. Proteins also help to regenerate your muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and much more in your organism and to maintain your immune system. Thus, they are an essential part of each cell of your body.

These are the 5 most important functions of proteins

  • Bolstering the immune system
  • Strengthening tendons, ligaments, and cartilage
  • Muscle build up
  • Muscle regeneration
  • Regulation of hormone balance

1.     What are proteins?

2.     How much protein do I need per day?

3.     The effect of proteins on weight loss

4.     The effect of protein on muscle growth

5.     Choosing the protein source wisely

6.     What are the benefits of a protein shake before going to bed?

7.     Do you need protein shakes?

1. What are proteins?

Proteins are complex amino acid structures that play an essential role in the body. They do the important work in cells and are indispensable for the structure, function, and regulation of the tissue and organs of the body. Thus, protein is an essential building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. However, your body does not just use protein to build up or repair tissue, but to produce enzymes, hormones, and other bodily chemicals as well.

Proteins consist of amino acids that are connected in long chains. There are 20 different types of amino acids that can be combined into a protein. The amino acid sequence determined the unique three-dimensional structure of each protein and its specific function. There are essential and non-essential amino acids. The 12 non-essential amino acids can be synthesized by the organism, while the 8 essential amino acids must be supplied from external sources – primarily through food intake.

In contrast to fat and carbohydrates, our body does not store proteins in its actual form, but rather only in the form of muscle mass. That means, we only conditionally have a limited protein reservoir, which can be accessed in the case of a shortage (both of protein as well as carbohydrates) and therefore leads to a degradation of muscle mass.

Examples for protein functions:

Structural components:These proteins provide structure and support for cells. On a larger scale, i.e. as muscles, they also enable the body to move.

Transport / storage:These proteins bind to and transport atoms and small molecules to cells and within the whole body.

Antibodies:These proteins bind to certain foreign objects, such as viruses and bacteria, to protect the body.

Enzymes:Enzymes drive nearly all the chemical reactions that occur in cells. They also help in the formation of new molecules by reading the genetic information stored in DNA.

Messenger substance:These proteins transmit signals – like some types of hormones – to coordinate biological processes between different cells, tissues, and organs.

2. How much protein do I need per day?

Our body needs a minimal amount of protein per day to function well. To achieve your ideal health and fitness, it is recommended that a specialist calculate your individual protein need.

These are the general reference values:

  • Male teenagers and active men: 150-200 grams per day.
  • Children at the ages of 2 to 6, most women, and some older persons: 100-140 grams per day.
  • Older children, female teenagers, active women, and most men: 120-170 grams per day.
  • Muscle development: 1.3 to 1.5 grams of protein daily per kilogram of body weight (men and women) per day.

If you are healthy and have a well-balanced diet, you potentially already take in enough protein and do not have to supplement any additionally.

However, there are reasons that make supplementing protein necessary:

  • Sports: The supplementation with proteins after training is considered to be the best method to optimize muscle growth
  • Some diseases require a protein supplement; this should be clarified with the doctor.
  • Older persons eat less and sometimes less balanced. Here, it is recommended to take some high-quality and easily digestible protein.
  • Weight gain / weight loss (see point 3. and 4.)

3. The effect of proteins on weight loss

If you want to lose weight (body fat), it is recommended to prepare a diet plan with a specialist and to incorporate regular exercise into your daily schedule.

A protein shake, ideally before going to bed (see also point 6.) can contribute to weight loss if…

  • The overall calorie intake is considered throughout the day and the shake (in the evening) is a part of your meal plan.
  • The shake is of high-quality and well-designed without ingredients that act counterproductively.

Protein boosts your metabolism and muscle growth is stimulated. The increase in  metabolism accelerates your calorie consumption and demonstrably helps with weight loss. New acquired muscle mass leads to improved metabolism and increases the basal metabolic rate, which results in fat reduction/weight loss. (More under point 6.)

4. The effect of proteins on muscle growth

The intake of protein is of substantial importance for stimulating muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and muscle growth. A higher intake of protein with your diet is sensible for strenuous physical demand. Drinking protein shakes in addition to a normal diet is still a popular method for active adults. The protein shakes are ideally ingested within 20 minutes after training and / or before going to bed.

Taking proteins helps your body to maintain equilibrium in the muscles. Proteins contain essential amino acids that are important for this process. If your body lacks amino acids because you are not eating or you have oxidative stress caused by physical activity, this will lead to a negative shift. Drinking a protein shake can contribute to bringing your body back into a positive equilibrium, which is necessary for optimal muscle growth.

The body is in a constant cycle of building up and depleting amino acids and depends on the availability of nutrients to remain in equilibrium. Thus, it is up to you to take in the right amount of protein in order to establish a balanced environment for muscle development.

5. Choosing the protein source wisely

The type of protein you eat plays a vital role in your health management.                                                                                              

Examples for sources of dietary proteins:

 

  • Fish: Fish contains high-quality proteins and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Poultry: Poultry provides you with a complete variety of protein.
  • Legumes/beans: Beans contain more protein than any other plant protein. Moreover, they are rich in dietary fiber, which make you feel full for hours. Together with rice, legumes provide a complete amino acid balance. If you add an egg to that, you are eating a full meal.
  • Nuts: 30 grams of almonds provides 6 grams of protein, almost as much protein as 30 grams of grilled rib-eye steak.
  • Wholegrain products: A piece of wholegrain bread contains on average 3 grams of protein plus valuable dietary fiber.
  • Dairy products:Dairy products, preferably organic, contain all essential amino acids (proteins), valuable fats, minerals, and vitamins.

Some plant-based foods or extracts thereof, such as soy, almonds, lupines, peas, quinoa, squash, etc. can contain just as much protein as meat and other animal-based foods. However, choosing plant proteins as the only sources of protein is not sensible.

Common plant proteins and their disadvantages

Animal-based foods contain many micro and macronutrients important for our body that do not occur in plants (growth factors, e.g. IGF-1, enzymes such as lactase).

In addition, some plant inhibitors (antinutrients) contain so-called protease inhibitors, which lead to proteins being poorly able or not able to be metabolized* and can bring the hormonal balance out of equilibrium.

(*Dr. Katrin Kopf-Bolanz, Bern University of Applied Science).

In the study «Association between non-cow milk beverage consumption and childhood height» from the University of Toronto and other faculties*, it is clearly demonstrated that feeding small children purely plant-based milk substitutes impacts the body size of children. The data of 5,034 healthy children at the age of 24-72 months were evaluated in Canada. The one test group received cow milk products and the second group plant-based milk alternatives.

Result: A reduced growth at the age of 3 years with an average consumption of 3 portions of plant-based milk alternatives compared to 3 portions of cow milk. In the measured period, children that were fed with plant-based milk alternatives grew an average of 1.5 cm less than the children, whose protein requirement was covered with cow milk products. Some children experienced a growth halt.

Possible reasons for stunted growth or even a halt in growth when feeding small children with a purely plant-based milk substitute may be:

- Reduced protein amount

- Reduced intake of essential amino acids

- Lower concentration of growth factor IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1)

(Deposited study: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/faf6/c4ba9601dec08cd9f1bc3849d130f99293d1.pdf)

* the Department of Pediatrics St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto and the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Medicine and the Pediatric Outcomes Research Team, and Child Health Evaluative Sciences, Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto.

6. What are the benefits of a protein shake before going to bed?

Why should you drink a protein shake before going to bed?

Studies show that taking 30-40 grams of protein before going to bed can contribute to weight loss, to stimulation of muscle growth, and to maintaining muscle mass.

Some examples for this are below:

For weight loss- In January 2015, a study was published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, in which overweight women were administered a protein shake before going to bed. It was found that the participants felt less hungry in the morning. Furthermore, researchers were able to demonstrate in the January 2014 issue of the British Journal of Nutritionthat: “if you take protein or carbohydrates before going to bed, metabolism in the morning can be accelerated” (translation from German).

The good news is: If you have a higher metabolism, you can burn more calories. Thus, drinking a protein drink before bed can accelerate your weight loss. Just ensure that you take the additional calories of the protein shake into account in your diet. A protein shake normally has around 90-300 calories depending on if it contains additional treats, such as fruits, milk, and almond butter.

For muscle growth– Consuming sufficient protein is essential for persons who want to increase muscle mass and stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS). As mentioned above, the consumption of protein before or after training is ideal. You can enhance the result by drinking a protein shake before bed.

According to an Oxford academic“a proper dispersion of the protein intake (both temporal and quantitative) is indispensable for the protein supplement to increase muscle mass, strength, and function. The intake of protein before bedtime additionally supports this process.” (Translation from German).

Retaining muscle mass- In an article based on scientifically conducted studies from Frontiers in Nutrition, it is explained that the intake of proteins before bedtime is a practical option for diminishing the loss of muscle mass with increasing age in older adults.

With increasing age, muscle mass decreases naturally due to inactivity and a lack of muscle protein synthesis. Drinking a protein shake, particularly before bed, is a good option for seniors to retain their strength and muscles.

Does protein disrupt sleep?

Experience shows that the protein intake before bed has no impact on the latency of the onset of sleep or the sleep quality. You only have to ensure that the utilized type of protein is easily digestible. Whey or buttermilk protein products are best suited.

 

7. Do you need protein shakes?

You can make the decision to use protein supplements based on a few criteria.

Benefits of protein-rich dietary supplements:

Adding protein-rich supplements to your daily diet using high-quality products:

  • Can have a preserving effect on the digestive tract and organs, i.e. less burdensome because your digestive tract does not have to perform as much «of its own work».
  • Can be an ideal alternative for people with chewing problems, swallowing problems, etc.
  • Can be good for older persons with a slower protein metabolism
  • Can be a simple option for getting high-quality proteins (convenience)
  • Can be a quick and effective solution for a balanced diet if there is a lack of time
  • Can be a high-quality and quick supply for optimal regeneration after sports
  • If the quality of the shakes is high, the kidneys are less burdened. Persons, who have kidney disease, should consult with their physician before choosing a protein product.

High-quality and thus healthy protein drink powder and products are not easy to find despite the apparent overabundance on the market. Therefore, whole foods are often the more ideal choice.