Your Body on Protein

Take hold of your health with our weekly column from Fitness Director, Clint Ward. 

Your Body on Protein


We’ve all heard the phrase “protein builds muscle.” It’s been echoed in gyms, classes, and at the dinner table for as long as we’ve lived, but what does that really mean? A little understanding of the relationship between proteins, amino acids, and our body can helps us get the most out of our diets and better achieve our goals.

Proteins are a macro-nutrient (along with fats and carbs) and are considered the building blocks of all human systems. They are found in our organs, tendons, ligaments, hair, nails, bodily fluids, and even down to the center of our very own DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid). Besides water, protein makes up the majority of our body composition at roughly 20-25% of total weight.  

The Two Kinds of Protein

Animal meat such as chicken, beef, pork, lamb, and fish are all sources of complete proteins, meaning that they contain the 9 essential amino acids.  

Vegetables, grains, nuts, and legumes contain proteins but those proteins lack the combination of all 9 essential amino acids required for protein production at the cellular level and are therefore considered “incomplete proteins.” You would need to mix and match these food groups in order to obtain the 9 essential aminos.

The ESSENTIAL Amino Acids, Explained

The essential amino acids are as follows: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine.

When protein is digested, it’s broken down into smaller components known as amino acids which then turn around and build hundreds of different proteins specific to the body’s needs. There are 28 different amino acids, 80% of which are manufactured in the liver and are not necessary for consumption. However, the 9 essential amino acids are the remaining amino acids that can only be obtained through consuming protein sources. These 9 essential amino acids are crucial to a strong, sound, and healthy body.

Here’s a rundown of what they are, what they do, and the non-meat food sources they come from. [Source: Prescription for Nutritional Healing (4th Ed.), Phyllis A. Balch]

1: Histidine is significant in the growth and repair of tissues and can be found in rice, wheat, and rye.

2: Isoleucine is metabolized in muscle tissue which stabilizes and regulates blood sugar and energy levels. Food sources include almonds, chickpeas, lentils, and most seeds.

3: Leucine, combined with isoleucine and valine, working together to protect muscle and promote the healing of skin and bones. Found in brown rice, beans, nuts, and whole wheat.

4: Lysine helps calcium absorption and aids in the production of antibodies, hormones, and enzymes. Found in lima beans, potatoes, and yeast.

5: Methionine is an antioxidant and helps with metabolizing fat, preventing buildup in the liver and arteries. Food sources include beans, garlic, lentils, onions, and seeds.

6: Phenylalanine can elevate mood, decrease pain, and aid in memory and learning. Found in spinach, green peas, broccoli, and soybeans.

7: Threonine helps maintain proper protein balance in the body and can be found in seaweed, chives, and peppers.

8: Tryptophan helps to fight off depression and insomnia and assists in the production of vitamin B3. Food sources include brown rice, peanuts, and soybeans.

9: Valine works with leucine and isoleucine in order to protect muscle tissue and restores nitrogen balance. Found in grains, mushrooms, and peanuts.

Eggs and the Cholesterol Myth

Eggs are a great source of complete protein! As Fitness Director here at GRIPBELL, I never recommend restricting the amount of eggs that you eat throughout the week. You might be wondering, “But Clint, what about all that cholesterol?” Latest research suggests that the cholesterol found in eggs has little impact on the cholesterol that your liver naturally produces. A hard-boiled egg is one of the cleanest proteins that you can eat on a daily basis, and once hard-boiled it’s easy to separate the egg white, which is 100% protein.

Why Protein Matters Most

Whether your fitness goals involve building muscle, achieving a deeper squat, or simply making it through 9 holes without pain, protein is absolutely crucial to your success. Because of the importance of amino acids to your total body health, protein is the most important of the macronutrients, even if “building muscle” is far down your fitness list.

See you next week,

Clint Ward

Fitness Director, GRIPBELL