The Meaty Truth of Protein

Protein is the bodies main building block of your cells. Everyone knows that muscle is comprised of Protein, but so are enzymes, hair, skin, organs and even bone. Essentially, all tissue your body has or grows requires Protein. To grow, your body needs Protein. To maintain, your body needs Protein. Unlike Carbohydrates, you must consume Protein to survive.

Calorie Count: Protein contains 4 calories per gram.

Amino What’s?


Protein is composed of Amino Acids. Simply put, Amino Acids are the building blocks of Protein. Different Amino Acids are required for different processes. Luckily, your body can make most of the Amino Acids it requires.  Your body breaks down the Protein you eat and stores it in an Amino Acid ‘Pool’ until it is ready to use. Before we jump into the breakdown of Amino Acids, I want to bring up a controversial point. How many Amino Acids are there?

It is estimated there are over 200 different Amino Acids. We have names for, or have discovered, Twenty-one. Most dieticians still think there are only Twenty Named Amino Acids. Most websites list Twenty Amino Acids. The debate is settled, there are Twenty-Two. Wait, Twenty-Two? Well, one has not quite found its place yet. For Twenty-one, we know what they do.

That brings us to essential vs non-essential. Traditionally there were Nine Essential Amino Acids, Eleven Non-Essential Amino Acids. Now, we have an additional Amino Acid. To confuse things more, some former ‘Essential Amino Acids’ were discovered as Non – Essential. Why? Your body produces some, or can convert other Amino Acids into them. But, in such low dose, that they should be supplemented for most people.

Why Even Have Semi Essential Amino Acids?

Well, that is because we know more about Amino Acids now. The truth is, science is complex. Our bodies are complex. For example, some previously ‘Essential Amino Acids’ we now know are only essential in infants. Adults simply do not need outside supplementation. Adults can use them, and supplementing them are not a bad idea, but Adults will not die without them.

For example, Arginine. Infants need Arginine. Infants also need Histidine, and we now know adults do not require these Amino Acids. We also now know that we need Methionine but may not need Cysteine, as Methionine is needed to make Cysteine. We also need Phenylalanine, as the body requires it to produce Tyrosine.

For the sake of argument, I am treating all Amino Acids the regular person should supplement or risk heath ramifications as Essential Amino Acids. Listing Amino Acids any other way is just confusing. To make matters worse, the medical and dietary community are still wrestling with the definitions of Essential, Non-Essential and Semi-Essential. Since it can’t hurt to supplement the former ‘Essential Amino Acids,’ you should. As they are pivotal for your body to function.

The Twelve Non – Essential Amino Acids:

  1. Arginine
  2. Alanine
  3. Asparagine
  4. Aspartate
  5. Cysteine
  6. Glutamate
  7. Glutamine
  8. Glycine
  9. Ornithine
  10. Proline
  11. Serine
  12. Tyrosine

Some of these should look familiar. Many, such as Tyrosine, are popular supplements sold in the ‘Vitamin’ section of grocery stores. Although your body can produce these Amino Acids, does not mean you can’t use more. Consuming more may improve cell growth, nutrition portioning (What your body uses and how it prioritizes fuel use) and metabolic function.  This brings up to an interesting point.

The Caveat of Amino Acids

The Caveat of Amino Acids is the simple fact that although your body can produce twelve Amino Acids, it does not mean it always will produce enough. That is right, your body could use more of some Amino Acids listed above. Consuming more of these Amino Acids, either through diet or supplementation can vastly improve biological function. Some people just feel better taking some Tyrosine. For people who think the supplement industry is just a scam, this is the point where they begin to ignore the truth.

If your body does not make enough of an Amino Acid, adding it to your diet will help. This is the crux of the debate of ‘Semi-Essential Amino Acids.’ To put this into perspective, if you broke a bone and your body requires more Amino Acids than normal to heal, it would make sense to consume more Amino Acids. Sure, you can get Amino Acids from your body, but consuming them would speed up recovery.

Why Would You Supplement Non – Essential Amino Acids?


Some Amino Acids can directly help biological processes. Depending on specific dietary and personal requirements, it may be beneficial to supplement them. Some common benefits would include:

  • Arginine – Kidney Detox, Immune System Maintenance, Hormone Maintenance and Wound Healing.
  • Alanine – Amino Acid Metabolism and Glucose Production.
  • Asparagine – Increase Stamina, Neuron Development and Nitrogen Transportation.
  • Aspartate – Improves Vitamin Solubility.
  • Cysteine – Angina Pain Treatment, Overdose Treatment, and COPD / ARDS / Bronchitis Treatment.
  • Glutamate – Schizophrenia Treatment, and Improved CNS Function.
  • Glutamine – Wound Healing, Burn Healing, and Muscle Recovery.
  • Glycine – Topical Ulcer Treatment, Schizophrenia Treatment and Stroke Prevention.
  • Ornithine – Improved Wound Healing and Anti – Fatigue Benefits.
  • Proline – Improves Formation of Collagen.
  • Serine – Improves Fat Metabolism, Improves Muscle Growth, and Improves Immune System.
  • Tyrosine – Depression Treatment and Stress Relief.

The Amino Acids your body can not produce are what we call Essential Amino Acids. Your body needs these Amino Acids to preform bodily functions, but can’t produce them.  You must consume these Amino Acids through diet.

The Nine Essential Amino Acids:

  1. Phenylalanine
  2. Methionine
  3. Lysine
  4. Leucine
  5. Isoleucine
  6. Threonine
  7. Histidine
  8. Valine
  9. Tryptophan

Where can you get these Essential Amino Acids? Sorry, vegetarians. You need to be ready to eat a wide variety of foods to get your quota. Plus, you need to do this daily. This is because outside of meat, no other food source contains all nine sufficiently. For us meat eaters, we can supply our body with all nine by eating a nice steak. If you are deficient in Amino Acids you can suffer from Malnutrition or even death.

But not all is lost for a vegetarian. Although not all vegetables contain the Essential Amino Acids, some do. Such as Soybeans. This means that Tofu also has all nine Essential Amino Acids. Thusly, Soybeans are touted as the ultimate meat Protein Replacement. Soybeans also contain Omega 3 Fatty Acids, the only bean to do so.

For those who dislike Soy / Soybeans / Tofu, the other plant option would be Quinoa. These two non – meat options are the only complete sources of Essential Amino Acids outside of meat or meat products such as Eggs or Milk. But there are several incomplete non-meat protein options.

Essential Amino Acid Options from Plants

Phenylalanine – Can be found in Seaweed, Pumpkin, Beans, Rice, Avocado, Nuts and Seeds (Almonds, Peanuts), and Leafy Greens.

Methionine – Can be found in Sunflower (Seeds and Butter), Seeds (Chia, Hemp), Rice, Wheat, Brazilian Nuts, Oats, Legumes, Onions, Raisins, Cacao and Onions.

Lysine – Can be found in Nuts (Almonds, Cashews), Seeds (Hemp, Chia), Beans, Spirulina, Parsley, Avocados, Watercress, and Lentils.

Leucine – Can be found in Pumpkin, Peas, Rice, Seeds (Sesame, Sunflower), Turnip Greens, Beans (Kidney), Figs, Avocados, Dates, Raisins, Apples, Blueberries, Bananas and Olives.

Isoleucine – Can be found in Rye, Nuts (Cashews, Almonds), Seeds (Chia, Pumpkin, Hemp, Sunflower, Sesame), Cabbage, Oats, Lentils, Beans, Rice, Spinach, Pumpkin, Cranberries, Blueberries, Kiwis and Apples.

Threonine – Can be found in Pumpkin, Leafy Greens, Seeds (Hemp, Chia, Sesame, Sunflower), Nuts and Wheat.

Histidine – Can be found in Rice, Wheat, Rye, Beans, Seeds (Chia and Hemp, Corn, Cantaloupe, and Cauliflower.

Valine – Can be found in Beans, Spinach, Broccoli, Seeds (Sesame, Hemp, Chia), Figs, Grains, Apples, Nuts (Such as Peanuts), Blueberries, Cranberries, Oranges and Apricots.

Tryptophan – Can be found in Oats, Seaweed, Seeds (Hemp, Chia), Leafy Greens (Such as Spinach and all Lettuces), Pumpkin, Sweet Potatoes, Squash, Carrots, Chickpeas, Onions, Peppers, Celery, Apples, Oranges, Bananas, and Lentils.

BCAA’s Vs Amino Acids

BCAA’s are Amino Acids. But Amino Acids are not BCAA’s. Why? BCAA’s are Branched Chain Amino Acids. They refer to three Amino Acids. The three are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. What makes these three unique? They are touted as excellent for muscle growth, which is why they are crammed into many supplements.

The theory is simple. BCAA’s are found in high concentration in muscle tissue. By supplementing these in particular you have a higher rate of muscle growth, at least in theory. What BCAA’s do help with is helping preserve glycogen stores in muscle and increase nitrogen retention intra muscle. Some studies show that BCAA’s can help nitrogen retention after exercise, reduce protein breakdown during exercise, and reduce recovery time after exercise.

From a supplement perspective, people take supplements which provide far less benefit. Additionally, people take supplements which are based on far less accurate science, if any. Since Amino Acids do have some direct benefits, BCAA’s are not a waste. I do add BCAA’s to the Protein Powders I use.

Meat with Highest Protein Concentration


Not all meat is created equal when it comes to Amino Acids. Naturally, a fattier meat would contain more Fat, and less actual Protein. Common sense says it would have less Amino Acids. A quick reference guide to the amounts of Protein (All per three ounces serving):

Lean Beef – 31 Grams

Ham or Pork Sirloin – 28 Grams

Chicken Breast – 28 Grams

Turkey Breast – 28 Grams

Halibut, Tuna, Salmon – 22 Grams

Cod, Perch, Tilapia – 20 Grams

Do you need Protein Daily?

Protein is broken down in the gastrointestinal tract into the amino acids. The broken down Amino Acids go into the ‘Amino Acid’ pool.As your body requires protein for a function (Hormone replacement, Cell growth, Muscle building) the Amino Acids are reconstructed into protein to be used for the specific biological process required. This process is called protein biosynthesis. The entire amino acid pool is activated for construction three to four times a day.

This means that the body requires more amino acids daily to refill what your body needs. If you are insufficient in an Amino Acid, your body can not perform the required bodily function. If you want a head full of healthy hair or to build muscle, you need protein. More importantly, you need Amino Acids. Without them, your body literally cannot function. Protein, and subsequently Amino Acids, promote overall health and well being (Erdmann, R. & Jones , M., The Amino Revolution).

But, like anything, if you consume too much protein and do not use it for a biological process, it will be stored in your body as fat. Your body can use Protein as an energy source, so don’t worry. If you eat too much you can just burn it off like you would be eating anything else. But if you do not eat enough, your body will not function properly.

How much Protein do I need?

Here is the million-dollar question. So far, we do not know how many Amino Acids (Or how many of each specific Amino Acid) is required for a biological process. So, we are stuck with just rough estimates for how much Protein in general you should consume. The best estimates are:

  • .7g per kg for Low Activity Individuals
  • 1.0g per kg for Moderate Activity Individuals
  • 1.5-2g per kg for Highly Activity Individuals

Low activity individuals would be those who sit at a desk all day or are sedimentary. You just need about 0.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  This means, that is how much Protein for basic bodily function and recovery. If you are moderately active, you need more protein. Why? Your body does consume Protein to function. Then, it converts Amino Acids into Protein to repair. The more you do, the more you must recover your skin, organs and muscles.

For those looking to build muscle, or those very active, you need at least 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight. This applies to athletes, highly active people or building lifting weights to build muscle. When you build muscle, you are tearing your existing muscle to make the muscles larger.  When you are highly active, your body consumes more Protein to function, thusly requiring more to repair.

These numbers do not hold true when operating in a caloric deficit. When operating under a caloric deficit you must consume more Protein and Amino Acids to prevent catabolism of you existing muscle mass. Studies show for highly active individuals, you should aim of at least 3g per kg for High Active Individuals when operating under a caloric deficit.

Other Benefits of Protein

Although we should not forget that blood, cartilage, bones, and organs such as your heart are comprised of Protein, that is only the surface of Protein. Protein also has a significant role in keeping you full. As in, less hungry. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Protein is proven to increase satiety, and help weight management.

Protein improves brain function including mood, a healthy brain and promotes learning. Protein also helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol and promote over all wellbeing. The best benefit may be the longevity benefits that Protein includes.

The greatest benefit is the lack of consequences from not eating enough Protein. If you do not consume enough Protein you do risk malnutrition. You also risk lowering natural growth hormone, difficulty losing weight, low energy levels, slow recovery including wounds and a lowered immune system. To stay healthy, you need Protein. After all, your Heart is a Muscle.

For active individuals, athletes, and those resistance training, Protein is an essential tool of recovery. Without appropriate Protein, your body will simply not recover and you will lose muscle mass by exercising. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, and is required for many biological processes, preserving your muscle mass is essential to dieting and long-term health.

Find all the resources used in this article and the scientific basis of all our article at The Science Behind Fitness.

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