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Monday, December 20, 2010

Exercise, Athletes and Continued Protein Needs

A chocolate-flavored multi-protein nutritional...Image via Wikipedia

The human body uses protein for a number of functions and purposes. Without an adequate supply of protein from the diet, the body will turn to its own stores- the muscles. While you may want to reduce your overall calories to lose weight, you do not want to reduce the good nutrition that you are getting from the three macronutrients: protein, fats and carbohydrates. To lose weight but stay healthy, strong and keep up your performance levels, you have to carefully reduce your calorie count with the right proportion of everything that you need. To understand why protein is so important to exercise and metabolism, you have to understand how the body uses it in the first place.

Protein Digestion in the Body

The body digests the three macronutrients differently and at different rates. Each of them can be eventually turned into either energy or fat, but they must go through different processes to get to that point. Fat is the easiest for the body to digest and is the fastest to be broken down. Carbohydrates, the preferred energy source in the body, are broken down based on what kind they are. Simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly and easily, similar to how fats are broken down. Complex carbohydrates are broken down much more slowly, a key fact to keep in mind when choosing foods that will not cause sugar surges. Protein is difficult for the body to break down and takes the most energy. Your body's thermic effect increases by 30% when digesting proteins, while with fats the effect is only a 3% increase.

Protein is broken down into amino acids in the body which are then absorbed and used to make new ones. The body can make a number of its own amino acids with the exception of the eight essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, valine, threonone, mehionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan and lysine. (Source: The Vegetarian Society).

All proteins are digested by enzymes that are either proteinases or proteases. After it is eaten, the protein is first broken down in the stomach by hydrochloric acid (in the stomach as gastric acid). Protein from all sources is handled differently and by different enzymes. For instance, the enzyme pepsin is the only protease that digests collagen (from animal protein, collagen comes from connective tissue) and digests the amino acids. The proteins are then sent to the duodenum, which is the first segment in the small intestine. There, the pancreas releases its own enzyme (pancreatic protease enzyme) trypsin and chymotrypsin. Trypsin is the enzyme which is used to break the protein into the amino acid molecules down to their final stage through a process called hydrolysis. (In hydrolysis a water molecule is put between the two amino acids to break their bond).

Digestion and Energy Creation

During the process of digestion, the body sends out a number of signals to decide what must be done with the food. When the body needs energy, it is created by the digestion of food if it is present or it will be drawn from stored energy sources. If there is too much food to deal with or it is being digested too quickly, the body will release huge amounts of insulin. When insulin overwhelms the body, it leads to immediate fat storage. The key to not gaining weight is keeping blood sugar levels much more even.

During a slower digestion process, the body releases less insulin, leading to the correct process. Food will be converted into immediate energy as needed or stored as glycogen. (Glycogen is converted back to glucose to be used as energy when needed.)

When the body is engaged in intense exercise, such as during training for serious events or for the dedicated athlete, carbohydrates are used first because fats and proteins cannot be burned fast enough to keep up with the intense demands. By the end of the workout, the body's metabolism will be revved up and will remain in active burning mode for around twenty four hours. If there is not a new source of protein consumed during this time, the body will turn to the glycogen stores in the muscles and the liver for energy, leading to a break down in lean muscle tissue.

The muscles are important not only because they are the only way that the body can move, but also for burning fat. Muscles need more energy per pound than fats do, making them key to keeping your weight under control. For every pound of lean muscle that you add to your body you kick your metabolism into a higher gear. Less muscle equals less fat burning ability, which in turn leads to more fat gain.

Many athletes mistakenly believe that they need an extreme amount of protein, but this is not true. It is important that they get the right amount of protein in their overall daily diet. While they should be getting the bulk of their protein from nutritious and varied, whole foods, they can benefit from a protein supplement right after a workout, preferably mixed with a carbohydrate for fast energy. The right supplement can help reduce muscle fatigue.

Choosing a Supplement

For fast protein restoration and an energy boost, a protein supplement might be the best answer. There are many kinds to choose from including protein shakes, powders, liquid protein shots and protein bars. What you choose may be based on your own personal preference and your exact protein needs.

Protein shakes

Most shakes come in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Make sure that the choice you make is not extremely high in calories, does not have a lot of added sugars and does not contain low quality ingredients.

Protein powders

There are four kinds of protein powders: whey, rice, soy and egg. They can be either single protein powders or a blend of two or more. The choice you make should be based on your dietary needs- rice and soy is acceptable for vegans and vegetarians while whey and egg are not meant for vegans. Whey is the most beneficial while egg protein is considered to be the perfect protein source.

Liquid protein supplement shots

Protein shots are small, easy to carry along wherever you go and can be consumed in mere seconds. They are also perfect as a post workout pick me up and should have high quality ingredients and a good amount of protein. Profect, from Protica is less than three fluid ounces, has 100 calories and has a full 25 grams of protein. It comes in a number of flavors and has vitamins as well as the protein.

Protein bars

Protein bars can be a quick snack after a workout or between meals but can also have more calories than are really needed. Make sure that you are reading the labels carefully so that you do not choose a bar that is loaded with fat and sugar.

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