Protein is a vital nutrient to your body and helps control an insane amount of processes both on the micro and macro level. It comes from plant and animal sources, is easily-accessible through diet, and is an essential aspect of any balanced diet. Understanding how protein is utilized by our bodies can make all the difference in helping to find one’s nutritional balance.


Protein is one macro that translates between nearly any diet. Vegans, Vegetarians, Paleo Diet followers, and those on a ketogenic diet all need protein. In some cases of digestive insufficiency adequate protein isn’t available from food sources. In such cases, protein powder can help fill the nutritional gap. Still, the need for protein is a strong characteristic of what it means to be human. The best way to start to understand just how important protein is to our collective health is by considering how our bodies build and use proteins.

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. To facilitate this process, our bodies need all the necessary raw ingredients. In the case of protein, much of the required ingredients are amino acids.

Essential & Non-Essential Amino Acids

Generally speaking, amino acids can be regarded as being either essential or non-essential. Our bodies are able to synthesize some of these from other compounds (non-essential) while others must be supplied directly from one’s diet (essential ). There are also such amino acids that are considered as conditionally essential that require dietary supplementation during times of metabolic stress, such as sickness or injury. Glycine is one such amino acid—though there’s a strong case to be made that it should be re-classified!

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)

Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) have been shown to demonstrate a remarkable ability to help generate muscle tissue (R). Just as your body builds proteins from amino acids, it is also able to get amino acids from breaking down proteins. Branched-chain amino acids play a special role in the creation repair and creation of muscle tissue. Compounds included in the family of branched-chain amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. There are many BCAA supplements on the market that offer an isolation of only these three compounds.

Building New Muscle

Amino acids are like the raw building materials a contractor uses to build a house. Just like such a builder utilizes concrete, sand, brick, nails, and even a little duct-tape to build a house, our bodies use amino acids! If your body’s cellular ‘contractors’ have access to the required amino acids, your body is able to produce protein structures such as muscle or insulin without any issue. When our bodies are deprived of adequate amino acids they start to fall apart slowly.

Protein Deficiency

The symptoms of protein deficiency range greatly, expressing themselves throughout many levels of your body. There have been many clinical studies to assess and characterize the dynamics of protein deficiency in the human body. In one such study, researchers found that an induced protein deficiency in mice was responsible for non-alcoholic-induced cirrhosis of the liver (R).

This result was connected to trace mineral deficiencies as well as Glutathione and Superoxide Dismutase—both very powerful antioxidants. This study illustrates that protein deficiency can cause very serious health complications but also that protein deficiency isn’t always caused by a lack of dietary protein (or amino acid supplementation for that matter.)

Building Muscle Mass

How Protein Builds Muscle
How Amino Acids & Protein Build Muscle

The amino acids synthesized by our body, as well as those consumed directly through dietary sources, form what is referred to as the amino acid reserve. A larger amino acid pool means sufficient access to amino acids for the production of things like muscle tissue, cartilage, or and skin tissue (wound healing, among other things.) When amino acids are used to build new muscle mass it’s considered an anabolic process.

When the amino acid pool is lessened through metabolic stress, dietary insufficiency, or other unforeseen circumstances the body turns elsewhere for its raw ingredients. Many times this results in the breaking down of existing protein structures in order to recycle their constituent parts. In other words, if the body doesn’t have enough amino acids to build new muscle it will break down existing muscle to get the amino acids it needs. This is considered a catabolic process and is about as inefficient at building muscle as it sounds.

Protein Powders Supplements

There have been alarming reports on the quality of protein powder supplements from consumer-safety organizations (R). One such study found that many of the most popular brands of protein powder were laden with concerning levels of heavy metals and toxic residue. Some presence of these elements is natural and is to be expected but research suggests there’s cause for concern here.

Quality Concerns

Dietary supplements are all susceptible to this type of concern but, for whatever reason, it seems that protein powders represent a particular area of concern. The FDA maintains a stringent outline of testing, processing, packaging, and distribution guidelines to help ensure consumer safety. These are known as Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). we have a detailed article on the subject here to better explain the nuances of the subject. We also maintain a list of the top-rated protein powder supplements to help ensure our readers find products with the highest quality ingredients possible.

Benefits of Protein Powder

Protein powder supplementation has many novel uses and has been well-studied in the field of medicine and sports medicine. These types of supplements are often used to help increase access to amino acids during times of high-caloric demand, to meet the dietary needs of those with compromised digestion, and have even been known to help patients confined to a bed avoid muscle and bone loss. Below you’ll find an overview of some benefits of protein powder that’s been noted by researchers from various fields.

Healthy Bone Density

Research has shown that an increased amount of protein in older people can help prevent this loss in bone density (R). There is also a commonly-held misbelief that animal proteins contribute to loss of bone density through systemic states 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. 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 is their ability to help reduce first-trimester morning sickness among pregnant women. Researchers have tested many different approaches to learning which types of foods have an effect on morning sickness. In many cases, meals consisting mostly of proteins were able to help stave off nausea (R). By contrast, meals of carbohydrates or fats were found to increase morning sickness and a reduction in overall calories had no positive impact either. Protein-heavy meals seem to do the trick for nausea and, if you aren’t a breakfast kind of person, a protein powder shake might be the easiest and best-tolerated option.

Helps to Lose Weight

Researchers have demonstrated that high protein breakfasts have the ability to stop evening food cravings (R). This suggests that a protein shake for breakfast could help cut back food cravings throughout the rest of the day. Protein shakes shouldn’t be regarded as a miracle cure for losing weight but rather another tool used to help construct a well-balanced nutritional approach to maintaining a healthy weight.

Anxiety & Depression

Protein consumption has been directly linked with your body’s ability to produce Tryptophan and Serotonin, both of which are linked to positive mood. Researchers have found that meals heavy in protein may allow your body to make 8 TIMES as much Tryptophan and Serotonin compared to meals with a lower amount of protein (R). However, this research also found that the types of protein eaten had a great effect over how much of these compounds were made, indicating there may be more at play than meets the eye. If you eat a Vegan, vegetarian, or low-meat diet make sure you’re getting enough protein from non-animal sources to ensure adequate neurotransmitter production.

Final Thoughts

Protein is the most important macro in anyone’s diet. It helps the body build and repair itself in ways that can cause irreversible damage should one suffer from an extended protein deficiency. Our bodies rely on amino acids to build new protein structures and rely on dietary sources for a large percentage of them. Protein powder supplements have demonstrated many benefits in research but shouldn’t be considered a magic bullet by anyone. Protein is a dietary concern and only through working towards a balanced and well-designed diet will one be able to ensure protein sufficiency.

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