Proteins are made up of amino acids which are the structural units of the protein molecule. There are approximately 20 amino acids. Eight of them are considered ‘essential’ because the human body cannot make them on its own – which is the definition of an essential nutrient. Link a few amino acids together and you get a peptide. Link a bunch of peptides together and you get a protein. The shape of the individual amino acids (and resulting proteins) is unique and highly specific, so I won’t go into great detail about it here.
Suffice it to say, proteins are an essential part of virtually every function in our body from the muscles, to certain hormones, to our immune system(s) and a whole lot more. In particular, the amino acids known as the ‘branched chain’ amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) and the amino acid L-glutamine are of particular interest to active people as they are anti-catabolic (muscle sparing) and immune enhancing, to name only a few functions and benefits of these particular amino acids.
Though the RDA for protein is generally sufficient for couch potatoes (with some debate) the majority of athletes and/or highly active people will benefit from higher intakes of high quality proteins. Proteins with the highest biological value (BV) are the proteins that should constitute the majority of the active person’s diet, as they are superior for maintaining positive nitrogen balance, reducing recuperation time from workouts, improving immune function, etc.
Whey protein concentrate (WPC) and isolates (WPI) have the highest BV of any protein, is almost 50% branched chain amino acids, and is high in L-glutamine, which is why I recommend several servings a day of WPC/WPI to all the athletes/martial artists/police I work with.
There are several brands of WPC/WPI on the market. Other high quality proteins such as skinless chicken, fish, eggs, soy, and lean red meats, have relatively high BV values and are good proteins. Another point that is important to know, the higher quality the protein, the less the person has to eat and this allows the person to keep total calories lower by sticking to these high BV proteins.
For a person who is active in the martial arts, has a busy job, and probably does some weight lifting and/or aerobics, an intake of .7 to .8 grams of protein per pound of lean body weight is what I have generally recommended. For high level bodybuilders and competitive distance athletes, the protein intake will be higher, approximately 1g of protein per lb /bodyweight being the most common.
In certain situations, amino acid supplementation is useful, but most people will have no problem getting what they need by eating plenty of high quality protein foods. Low grade, high fat, preservative loaded, protein foods such as luncheon meats, hot dogs, etc., should be avoided for obvious reasons.
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