Protein Power: Many Benefits of Vital Nutrition

high-protein-foods

Protein is a vital nutrient to your body, and helps control an insane amount of processes both on the micro and macro level. Protein can be found in many different forms, and your body uses tiny little compounds called amino acids to help build new protein. There are 20 amino acids that are known to be utilized just in your body’s building of muscle tissue alone! Knowing the importance of this macro, and the many roles it plays within your body, can help you maintain a healthy nutritional balance.

Protein Sustains Health

Generally speaking, amino acids can be regarded as being either essential or non-essential. The essential amino acids are those that your body is able to produce on it’s own, while the non-essential aminos must be gotten entirely from your diet alone! Another interesting type are branched chain amino acids (BCAA) which have been shown to demonstrate remarkable ability to help generate muscle tissue[15]. Just as your body builds proteins from amino acids, it is also able to get amino acids from breaking down proteins. This can be seen in the digestion of dietary proteins, which is provides enough protein for most people to maintain a healthy level of amino acids. Supplements such as protein powders are used by many athletes and fitness enthusiasts to help meet increased protein requirements needed to accommodate their energy exertion.

Researchers have found that maintaining healthy levels of protein can help reduce the risk of heart disease, prevent osteoporosis, help weight loss, and even treat anxiety and depression naturally

Maintaining a healthy protein balance in your body is essential to maintaining long-term health. There are many number of issues that can arise from poor levels of protein. One of the most shocking, is the catabolic state that your body can shift into when enough dietary protein isn’t available. Basically, if you don’t have enough protein in your diet, your body will start to break down your existing muscle tissue  to gain access to more amino acids, so it can then make more protein structures. This is not a healthy state for your body to be in, and can cause a lot of unwanted and damaging effects if present very often. When researchers investigate the benefits of protein, they often do so through the lens of protein supplementation with protein powders. Researchers have found that maintaining healthy levels of protein can help reduce the risk of heart disease, prevent osteoporosis, help weight loss, and even treat anxiety and depression naturally. These are but a few of the many benefits of protein, and to fully understand the importance of this vital macro-nutrient, it’s impotent to understand just how your body makes proteins.

Protein Synthesis & Amino Acids

Protein Synthesis Diagram
What is Protein Synthesis

Proteins synthesis occurs through the combination of many amino acids through a process know as translation, which happens on a cellular level in your body. By using messenger RNA (mRNA) ‘copies’ of your DNA to dictate instruction, tiny structures inside your body’s cells called Ribosomes assemble protein structures from amino acids [16]. RNA can be thought of as a copy of a blueprint from an architects’ office, and think of your Ribosomes as the contractors that build the house. To build a proper house, your contractor needs the appropriate materials such as concrete, steel beams, lumber, and nails. All those building materials are like the amino acids found in protein powder supplements. If your body’s cellular ‘contractors’ have access to the required amino acids, you body is able to produce protein structures such as muscle or insulin without any issue. When your body doesn’t have access to enough protein, you may start to develop some of the symptoms of protein deficiency. The symptoms of protein deficiency range greatly, expressing themselves throughout many levels of your body. One example—researchers found that an induced protein deficiency in mice was responsible for non-alcoholic-induced cirrhosis of the liver [13]. The was found to result in trace mineral deficiencies as well as Glutathione and Superoxide Dismutase—both very powerful antioxidants.

By using RNA ‘copies’ of your DNA to dictate instruction, ribosomes work to assemble protein structures from available amino acid components

While protein powders won’t ever provide you with all the nutrients you need to thrive, they can help you fill many nutritional gaps found in modern diets and caloric-restricting weight loss programs. Weight loss is a catabolic process, in which your body breaks down parts of itself. This is normal, and a healthy part of your body’s normal function but can be damaging to health, growth hormone production, and muscle if allowed to go unchecked. Protein powder can help reduce the catabolic effects on your muscle in post-workout states and during weight loss diets. Eating more meals (5-8) per day can help stave off catabolism, but isn’t convenient for everyone. This is where protein powder supplements can really help you maintain a healthy routine. To ensure you are getting the maximum benefit from your protein powder supplements, you should pay close attention to the ingredients and supplement brand. The best protein powders will be free of toxins, unnecessary additives, GMO ingredients, and be produced in a manner that preserves the full amino acid profile. By maintaining a regular exercise routine, providing your body with enough water and nutrition, and allowing your muscles ample time to recover—you can see tremendous benefits in your body from your muscles all the way down to your immune system.

Balanced Protein Intake

Quality protein powder provides your body with access to easily accessible core compounds in which it breaks down into amino acids, among other things. Amino acids are among the most fundamental building blocks used by your body to carry out a wide range of vital processes such as muscle building, neurotransmitter production, and solidifying immune function. It’s important to know however, that providing your body with too much protein can actually do more harm than good. When you ingest protein, your body has to deal with it some how, which places stress on systems such as your kidneys. There is a hard-limit on how much protein your body can utilize at any given time, after which you begin doing more damage than good. Research has also shown that too much or too little dietary protein can also cause the damaging effects of heavy metal poising to be worsened—which in turn inhibits your body’s ability to utilize nutrients properly.[14] It’s a vicious cycle that you definitely do not want to get caught in.

Quality Protein is … used by your body to carry out a wide range of vital processes such as muscle building, neurotransmitter production, and solidifying immune function

If you don’t work out on a daily basis, you don’t need as much protein as people that do. If you fall into this category, approximately .8 grams of of protein for every kilogram of your body weight has been found to be sufficient to meed your body’s needs[3]. If you are working out regularly, research suggests you need more, depending greatly on body type and circumstance. An increase in overall protein consumption during periods of inactivity, such as bed rest, have been shown to stop reduction in body mass, working as a pseudo-substitution for actual activity![4] While maintaining a regularly exercise program is critical to maintaining vibrant health, this body ‘hack’ is very useful if you are injured or temporarily disabled. This means that is you are consuming .8 grams of protein per 1 kg of your body weight on a regular basis, you would be able to avoid reduction in overall body mass by upping your intake to ~1.2 grams per 1kg. Learning more about the many benefits of protein to your body can help you better understand this phenomena.

Building Lean Muscle

How Protein Builds Muscle
How Amino Acids & Protein Build Muscle

Protein has been forever familiarized with building extra muscle, largely due to marketers targeting such premises. While it is certainly true that protein helps to build muscle mass, the notion is a bit limiting in how it portrays how your body uses proteins. Your body uses proteins, and the constituent parts they break down into, for for much more than just building new muscle. From metabolic processes to helping maintain proper bone-density as we age, adequate amounts of protein is vital to our health. The best protein powders on the market will account for the wide range of essential and non-essential amino acids that your body requires to build new muscles. These same types of amino acids will also be utilized by your body to help provide rigorous support for an array of other vital processes in your body as well. The quality of protein your consume—especially with respect to protein powder—can affect how well utilized that protein is by your body. As mentioned above, if your protein powder supplements are tainted with heavy metal contaminants you could run into all kinds of trouble.

The quality of protein your consume—especially with respect to protein powder—can affect how well utilized that protein is by your body

One important concept to keep in mind is your overall protein balance. During periods of working out, your body signals for protein to be made into new muscle as a response to the activity. If you are consuming enough protein to meet this demand you have—at least—a zero overall protein balance. This means that your body isn’t losing any protein during periods of stress. However, if you aren’t consuming enough protein to meet this demand, you have a negative protein balance. Negative protein balances cause a catabolic actually lose more muscle than your body is making.[7] When you exercise you are making tons of tiny little tears, which are then rebuilt during periods of resting. To be rebuilt effectively, your body needs two primary things from you—proper nutrition and ample resting time. A common saying to help illustrate this balance is that muscles are torn in the gym, they are fed in the kitchen, and the are built in the bedroom. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, or aren’t allowing your muscles enough days to recover, you will be at risk of at least not building new muscle but potentially even losing existing muscle. Protein powder and amino acid supplements can help ensure your body is supplied with the proper amounts of nutrition, but only your lifestyle choices can impact your sleep and exercise routines. Below you’ll find a list of some of the benefits of protein powders, when taken appropriately. In addition to the building lean muscle, ample amounts of dietary and supplemental protein has a tremendous impact on other aspects of your overall health and wellbeing as well.

The Many Benefits of Protein

As mentioned above, proteins do much more than just building new muscle. Ensuring proper levels of protein in your body can have an impact of a wide range of processes within your body. Much of the research revolving around dietary protein levels, and their effects on health, involve using protein powder supplements. This approach allows researchers to more greatly control the exact levels tested for, and has produced some incredible findings over the past years. In addition to helping build lean muscle, maintaining adequate protein levels has been shown to impact bone density, stabilize hormone levels, decrease body fact, treat anxiety and depression, and—as discussed above—fortify your body’s ability to build and maintain muscle mass. Many benefits of protein powder work together to paint a very powerful picture of just how important healthy protein levels are. Below, you’ll find further elaboration on several of these, as well as links to the research surrounding them.

Healthy Bone Density

One of the many issues that face us as we grow older is a reduction in bone-density. This can be caused by any number of reasons, but ultimately poses you with a very real threat. Decreases in bone density as we age, known as sarcopenia, can cause many different issues. One very obvious threat of this condition is that it makes your bones more vulnerable to breaking, thus limiting your ability to be physically active.  Research has shown that an increased amount of protein in older people can help prevent this loss in bone density.[6] There is also a commonly-held mis-belief that animal proteins contribute to loss of bone density through systemic sates of acidosis. This notion has largely been shown to be wrong through research, having entire studies devoted to the collection of other studies’ data proving the point.[6] In short, if you’ve heard protein shakes will cause your bone density to drop, don’t worry about it.

Stops Morning Sickness During Pregnancy

One of the more little-known benefits of protein powders are their ability to help reduce first-trimester morning sickness among pregnant women. Researchers have tested many different approaches in learning which types of foods have effect on morning sickness. Through many tests, they concluded that meals consisting mostly of proteins were able to help stave of nausea.[8] By contrast, meals of carbohydrates or fats were found to increase morning sickness, and a reduction in overall calories had no positive impact either. Simply put, having a protein shake for breakfast can greatly help to reduce the symptoms of morning sickness during pregnancy.

Helps to Lose Weight

Researchers have ‘found’ that consuming breakfast greatly reducing one’s hunger throughout the day. While this conclusion is little surprise for many, one particularly notable discovery was that high protein breakfasts demonstrated the ability to stop evening food cravings.[9] This suggests that by substituted a protein powder laden shake or smoothie for your breakfast could help you cut back food cravings, thus improving overall diet quality. This is largely supportive of the notion that periods of intermittent fasting support proper hormonal balance and healthy weight.[10] Protein shakes shouldn’t be regarded as a miracle cure for losing weight, but research has shown that they offer a powerful ability to help.

Treats Anxiety & Depression Naturally

Protein consumption has been directly linked with your body’s ability to produce Tryptophan and Serotonin. Serotonin is a powerful neurotransmitter that has been shown as playing an integral role in many types of cognitive and emotional functions in your body. There is still some debate over how directly-related to anxiety and depression Serotonin levels truly are, but there is enough evidence to suggest they are very inter-related. That means that should you be able to increase Serotonin levels, you’d likely be able to reduce anxiety and depression. SSRIs work by inhibiting your body’s uptake of Serotonin, which in turn makes more of it available to your brain. Researchers have found that meals heavy in protein may allow your body to make 8 TIMES as much Tryptophan and Serotonin.[11] However, this research also found that the types of protein eaten had a great affect over how much of these compounds were made, indicating there may be more at play than meets the eye.

Reduce Muscle Breakdown

Yes, protein powders are very beneficial if you want to gain lean muscle mass. There is little question to the overall effectiveness in these types of supplements in growing muscle. This benefit of protein powders has been included at the bottom of the list to help draw attention to the many other benefits as well. Research has shown, overwhelmingly, that muscle mass increases are more profound when there is enough protein in the body to reach a positive overall balance.[7] While rice, meats, eggs, milks, and other protein-rich foods can help you meet this demand—protein powders greatly simplify things. By consuming protein powders directly after a working out, you not only help maintain a positive protein balance—but you also help reduce the catabolic breakdown of muscle tissue.[12]

Protein Powders & Ingredient Quality

Protein Powder Heavy Metal Contamination Chart
Heavy Metal Levels of Popular Protein Powders

Supplement quality is a real concern, with alarming reports coming from consumer-safety organizations. One example of these dangers was found in a study conducted by Consumer Reports, which sampled many of the most popular protein supplements for heavy metal contamination. Many of the most popular supplements were found to contains worrisome amounts of heavy metal contamination[1]. While some presence of these elements is natural and is to be expected, researchers found them to be present in amounts high enough to cause alarm. These types of toxins can build up in your body over time, and cause a disruption in all sorts of vital  processes used to help maintain vibrant health. These types of materials can not only cause very worrisome effects to your health, but can also work in such a way to get you stuck in a cycle—causing more harmful effects while greatly magnifying already existing symptoms. The best way to avoid these nasty ingredients is to only buy from the most trusted supplement brands available.

Many of the most popular protein powder supplements were found to contains worrisome amounts of heavy metal contamination

When considering these types of contaminants, it’s important to realize that they aren’t filtered from your body as many toxins, and repeated exposure to them allows for a build up within your body. Nearly every food, supplement, plant, and animal found on Earth contain levels of heavy metals, continual overexposure can cause ‘deleterious’ effects on your health.[2] This shouldn’t shouldn’t be alarming, and many of these heavy metals are beneficial to you. However, being exposed to them in large doses on a regular basis causes them to build up in your system. Buying sub-par protein powders can put you at risk of of heavy metals poisoning. Exposure to heavy metals is one of the most abominable things you can do to your body, and effects the way many cellular and macro processes are able to function [5]. The effect of heavy metals on your body is very synergistic with your body’s ability to utilize protein. Too much protein in your diet can cause the effects of heavy metal toxicity, such as lead poisoning, to actually be magnified. At the same time, heavy metals can bind to protein receptor sites which in turn can lead to further symptoms of protein deficiency! [24] The takeaway from the warnings surrounding protein powder supplements is that you should strongly consider the brand you are purchasing, be mindful not to overdo it. The best protein powders on the market are those that help you meet your own nutritional goals, while doing so in a clean and sustainable manner.


References

1. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/04/protein-drinks/index.htm

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3113373/

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18187436/

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705323/

5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4427717/

6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18187436/

7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11255140

8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10516152

9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10516152

10. http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2015/01/30/time-restricted-eating.aspx

11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19454292

12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3698202/

13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12835497

14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1637366/

15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9781336

16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein_biosynthesis

Zack West

Zack West

Editor

Editor of the Organic Newsroom, self-confessed health nut, and spends much of his time working to better understand issues of modern health, nutrition, and living a balanced lifestyle.

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