Proteins are fundamental for the construction, repair and maintenance of the tissues in our body. They consist of hundreds or even thousands of smaller units that we call amino acids, which are connected by peptide bonds and form long chains. There are essential, semi-essential and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are those that cannot be synthesized by the body itself and therefore must be acquired by consuming food. Semi-essential amino acids are created inside the body from essential amino acids, and non-essential amino acids can be obtained from certain types of food but can also be produced by the body.
Proteins from animal sources are called complete proteins, as they provide the 8 essential amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine and tryptophan). In a vegetarian diet, it is necessary to combine different foods so that all the essential amino acids are obtained, thereby providing a substitute for the function of meat.
Major dietary sources of protein include red meat, chicken and eggs, fish, dairy products, soy and legumes (i.e. beans, chick peas and lentils).
WHAT IS IT? HOW IT WORKS WARNING
Whenever we consume foods that are rich in proteins, the body first breaks down the protein structure in order to be able to release and absorb the amino acids of which it consists. Whenever muscle tissue is damaged and in need of repair, the body uses the absorbed amino acids to this effect.
Intensive exercise calls for more protein needs: essential for muscle growth, repair and recovery. The combination of protein consumption and strength training stimulates the increase in lean muscle mass, as well as muscular strength and volume. In turn, the increases in size and strength help improve athletic performance. Contrary to what many people believe, protein is not the major source of fuel used to obtain energy while training. The most important nutrients used to provide energy for the muscles are what we call carbohydrates. Proteins only serve as a source of energy whenever the glycogen storage is depleted. The use of protein supplements is an excellent strategy to prevent the breakdown of existing muscles and structures (catabolism). The sooner protein levels can be restored after a training session, the better.
Enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, erythropoietin, antibodies… all of these are also proteins, which is why sufficient protein intake is vital for the correct functioning of the immune system and hormone production.
Which are the best times to take protein?
Breakfast: When waking up, the best way to prevent or minimize catabolism is to take a protein supplement.
Before training: When your daily schedule does not leave any possibility to have a meal before working out, a protein shake can be a quick and easy alternative.
After training: This is the perfect anabolic period, ideally used to restore the proteins that were depleted during training and enable reconstruction and recovery of the muscles.
Before going to sleep: As during sleep, the body is subject to a period of fasting, it enters a catabolic state, meaning that muscle cells are broken down in favor of energy production. Taking protein before sleep minimizes the chance that this happens.