Proteins are the main building blocks of the body. Each protein type serves a specific function. They’re utilized by the body to make muscles, tendons, organs and skin. Proteins are also used to make enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and various tiny molecules that serve important functions. Without protein, life as we know it would not be possible. The largest class of proteins are structural proteins. These types serve as essential components to our body’s construction. Keratin and collagen are the most common structural proteins. These are strong, fibrous proteins. Keratin forms the structure of your skin, nails, hair and teeth. While, collagen serves as a connective structure for your tendons, bones, muscles, cartilage and skin in particular.
The myth is that you only need to eat animal protein to build muscle. If you only are eating animal protein you are basically eating the muscle of that animal, and your body digests it into small particles called amino acids; which are the foundational building blocks of protein, and it takes certain acids and enzymes to break it down, these enzymes and acids are secreted from your stomach, pancreas, small intestines and so on.
Hormonal proteins act as chemical messengers. This process is composed of hormone producing glands and cells. For an example; your pancreas excretes the hormone insulin, which is released in response to your blood sugar levels. Insulin is transported through your bloodstream to wash out the sugar in your bloodstream, which is vital especially when it is elevated.
This whole conversion of breaking down the protein and building it back up into muscle tissue requires certain nutrients and minerals. These are called co-enzymes or co- factors that help and aid in the conversion of these amino acids into body tissue and muscle. So these vitamins are crucial for muscle building and that also means that we do not need that much protein to build muscle tissue. The average recommended daily intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram (0.36 grams per pound) of body weight per day. We need to steer our attention towards these essential nutrients.
The common essential nutrients for muscle building and maintenance are Potassium, fat soluble vitamins like A, E, K, and D, trace minerals, and vitamin C. Potassium is very important – we need 470mg a day and trace minerals are unfortunately missing in our soil. So perhaps we need to focus on getting these nutrients in from supplements and foods that are extremely rich in them. When we exercise we break tissue and build it back up, we need to make sure we are managing our insulin spikes because insulin is a very crucial factor in muscle building, it is involved in the absorption of protein & amp; amino acids. The common issue people have nowadays is insulin resistance.
When we eat a diet high in sugar and processed foods our body is secreting so much insulin that our cells become resistant to it and do not respond effectively to it. But thing is we have this dual effect of not getting enough fuel due to the resistance, and you also cannot get any amino acids in the cells; that is why diabetics have weakness in their muscle, joint tissue and loss in collagen.
Stress – this is the most common factor in our modern life. The adrenal glands secret cortisol; which is the stress hormone, and that is a catabolic – meaning it is destructive to the muscle tissue. When muscle breaks down due to high amounts of cortisol, it basically then converts the protein to sugar; which is called Gluconeogenesis; a metabolic pathway that results in the generation of glucose from non- carbohydrate carbon substrates such as lactate, glycerol, and glycogenic amino acids. (The break down of the term is as follows – Gluco: means glucose or sugar. Neo: means new. Genesis: means the generation of). Gluconeogenesis is dangerous for people with diabetes type 1 because muscle protein turns into sugar due to this generation of glucose – primarily taken from your quadriceps and gluteus Maximus. So when you see people with a flat buttock and bigger abdomen; that is the adrenal glands secreting so much cortisol and burning the muscle tissue around that area.
Nutritionally, you need to steer away from sugar so that you kill your insulin spikes that are messing with our muscles. I recommend staying away from protein shakes and only take them when needed because they do have an impact on insulin levels. Aim for a fattier source of protein, the more dietary fat there is in the meal the less insulin spikes. If you are having loads of protein day in and day out; you are basically over working your liver and that cannot be good for you on the long run. Please also note that this advice is for the average person who works out to stay fit and healthy, not anyone training to reach a specific goal or preparing for a competition.
Zein Nimri is an AFPA certified sports nutritionist, NESTA kids nutritionist, long distance runner, cyclist and traveller with big dreams. Follow her on Instagram @Zeinutritionist she is also currently studying to become an “Eating Disorder Recovery Coach”.