Protein is a macronutrient that is found in every cell of the body. It’s frequently referred to as the ‘building block of life’ because it makes up our hair, nails and bones, whilst helping organs like the heart and kidneys do their jobs properly.
If you’ve read our blog on protein and exercise then you know that protein is important for working out, but what does it actually do for the body? Protein can help you achieve the results you want! From helping to build muscle, to burning fat and aiding recovery, whatever your fitness goals, protein could be the answer. There’s also a misconception that protein is for fitness fanatics with a rise in protein shakes and supplements, but that’s simply not the case. Anyone can benefit from adding more protein into their diet because it helps regulate the normal functioning of the body.
Here are just a few of the many ways that protein helps the body:
Protein helps to build muscle by providing amino acids – the building blocks of muscle tissue. Simply put, the more protein you eat, the more amino acids you have available to build muscle mass and strength. Alternatively, if you don’t eat enough protein, your body may break down muscle tissue to get the amino acids it needs which can prevent you from achieving your fitness goals.
These amino acids can also help repair muscle tissue. This is particularly important after exercise, which is why professional athletes, for example, need a much higher protein intake than the average person. Protein after exercise can help prevent injury and improve your strength so that you can continue to consistently workout without having long periods of recovery.
For more information read our extensive guide to Muscle Recovery here.
Bone tissue is constantly being broken down and rebuilt due to the strain placed on it by everyday activities such as walking. Therefore, it’s imperative that we get enough nutrients like protein and calcium into our diet to help keep our bones strong and healthy to protect against this every day wear and tear.
Protein is a major part of bone health. It helps to keep bones strong by increasing calcium absorption through the intestines and stimulating the production of new bone cells called osteoblasts. This can help prevent osteoporosis – a health condition that weakens bones, typically developed later in life.
Protein helps your body build and repair tissue, which is especially important after injury. Studies have found that consuming protein with a high content of leucine (one of the three essential chains of amino acids) can be effective in aiding recovery. Seeds, oats and legumes are all great vegan sources of protein high in leucine.
However, protein works in combination with other vital nutrients to help heal injuries. For example, your body also needs carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, particularly Vitamin C and zinc, to get back to optimal health. So just like most things, a balanced diet is key!
Hair and nails are actually made up of protein, which is why they need protein to keep them strong and healthy.
Hair is primarily made up of the protein keratin, which you may have heard of due to the popularity of keratin treatments. This treatment sees hairdressers combine chemicals with protein, which is then applied to the hair to form a protective layer that strengthens hair strands and prevents breakage.
Nails also need keratin which you can gain naturally through foods like almonds, avocados, coconuts, blueberries and pumpkin seeds. Alternatively, you can buy a keratin nail treatment from most beauty stores that you apply like any other nail polish to help rebuild your nail structure.
Protein helps you feel fuller for longer and keeps blood sugar and insulin levels steady, which can help prevent cravings and overeating. Protein also helps build lean muscle mass, which raises your metabolic rate. The more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns just existing, even while you’re sleeping!
However, everyone has a different body type and fitness goal so make sure you always consult a nutritionist, doctor or personal trainer to ensure you are following the right calorie and protein intake for your gender, age, height etc. If you’re ever in doubt, consult the NHS’ calorie intake guide here.
Now you know all the amazing things protein can do, it’s time to see how you can add more of this important nutrient into your diet. Eating a protein bar is one of the easiest ways of incorporating more protein into your daily life as it’s perfect for eating on the way to work or packing in your gym bag!