Your body has certain needs in order to function properly, and one of those needs is an adequate amount of protein. Found in meat as well as in rice, soy beans, and other foods, protein is a requirement for living a healthy, functional life. What it does and why you need it are a little more difficult to explain, however.

Protein is a single material that does a number of tasks once it's been consumed. Perhaps the biggest role protein fulfills though, is as a building block. Protein is a big molecule made up of smaller amino acids, and those amino acids make up the building blocks your body uses to repair itself, create new cells, etc.

According to The New York Times Health Guide, “Every cell in the human body contains protein. It is a major part of the skin, muscles, organs, and glands. Protein is also found in all body fluids, except bile and urine. You need protein in your diet to help your body repair cells and make new ones. Protein is also important for growth and development during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy.”

The role of protein in the body is particularly important when it comes to your muscles. Just using your muscles results in tiny tears, and those tears have to be rebuilt with new cells (this is why when you exercise your muscles get bigger and stronger). If you aren't getting enough protein then your body won't be able to keep its structure up-to-date and running properly.

Delving Deeper Into Protein

Protein comes from a number of sources, with chicken being one of the most popular. For those who want to avoid eating meat though (or who need a big boost of protein over and above what they can get during meals) there's the option of including sources like legumes and tofu, as well as protein powders and additives. These last options are often used by vegetarians who may not get as much protein as they need from their diets, or by bodybuilders who need to feed their muscles in order to keep growing.

According to, “Twenty percent of the human body is made up of protein. Protein plays a crucial role in almost all biological processes and amino acids are the building blocks of it. A large proportion of our cells, muscles and tissue is made up of amino acids, meaning they carry out many important bodily functions, such as giving cells their structure. They also play a key role in the transport and the storage of nutrients. Amino acids have an influence on the function of organs, glands, tendons and arteries. They are furthermore essential for healing wounds and repairing tissue, especially in the muscles, bones, skin and hair as well as for the removal of all kinds of waste deposits produced in connection with the metabolism.”

Amino acids are found in animal sources such as meats, milk, fish, and eggs, as well as in plant sources such as soy, beans, legumes, nut butters, and some grains (such as wheat germ).

Your body contains nine essential amino acids which can’t be synthesized by your body and must be supplied by food. You don’t have to eat protein at every meal – you can spread your consumption over a whole day. The nine essential amino acids are:

  • Histidine – needed for the growth and repair of tissue
  • Isoleucine – promotes muscle recovery, helps healing of wounds, regulates blood-sugar levels (also called a Branched Chain Amino Acid, or “BCAA”)
  • Lysine - required for growth & development; calcium absorption
  • Methionine – assists in the breakdown of fats
  • Phenylalanine - elevates mood by stimulating the nervous system
  • Threonine – used to form collagen and elastin (important human binding substances)
  • Tryptophan – helps regulate behaviour; helps improve your mood, decreases anxiety
  • Valine & Leucine – regulates blood-sugar levels and the growth and repair of tissues in skin, bones. (also called Branched Chain Amino Acids, or “BCAAs”)

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