Aside from water, protein is the most important nutrient for your body.

It forms the basis for all muscle tissue and is the major component of almost all enzymes—those little catalysts that keep all the processes in the body running smoothly. Protein can even serve as an energy source in certain circumstances, though its role in building and repairing tissues is much more prominent.

Meat is not the only source. Proteins, like carbohydrates, provide 4 calories per gram consumed. We often associate protein with meats, but dairy, beans, nuts and seeds, eggs, peanut butter, and seafood are all good sources of protein. Protein can come from vegetarian sources as well as animal sources, and even grains, vegetables, and certain fruits have some protein in them.

There are 20 amino acids that act as the building blocks for proteins. Nine of these are considered essential, meaning we need to obtain them from the foods we eat because we can’t manufacture them in the body. The other non-essential amino acids can be made in the body without any problems. All 20 amino acids are used to form an almost unimaginable number of proteins that perform a wide variety of functions within the body.

Do You Know Your Amino-Acids?

Essential Amino-Acids: Isoleucine, Leucine, Valine, Histidine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan

Non-essential Amino Acids: Alanine, Arginine, Asparagine, Aspartic acid, Cysteine, Glutamic acid, Glutamine, Glycine, Proline, Serine, Tyrosine

About the essentials:
•Isoleucine aids the formation of hemoglobin and stabilizes and regulates blood sugar and energy levels.
•Leucine promotes the healing of bones and skin and the repair of muscle tissue.
•Valine promotes muscle growth.
•Histidine is considered an essential amino acid only in children; adults generally produce adequate amounts.
•Lysine aids the absorption of calcium, helps form collagen, and helps in the production of antibodies, hormones, and enzymes.
•Methionine improves skin tone and promotes hair and nail growth.
•Phenylalanine has two forms; one has nutritional value and the other can alleviate pain and depression.
•Threonine aids the formation of tooth enamel, elastin, and collagen.
•Tryptophan is a natural relaxant and enhances the release of growth hormones.

About the BCAAs:

Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine comprise the branched chained amino acids or BCAAs, which are a primary fuel source for muscles.

How much should you consume?

The recommended intake for protein is 0.8 grams/kg of body weight; however, many experts agree that more may be needed in active populations. The recommended range for protein intake is 10-35% of total calories, which easily covers the needs of most individuals.