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  • Many people, when they’re just getting started on their fitness journey, don’t understand the importance of protein. However, they quickly learn that protein is critical whether your goals are to simply be healthy, burn fat, or build muscle- but the question still remains: does protein give you energy?

    The answer to this question is a bit complicated- but the simple answer is that yes, protein can improve your energy levels. That being said, before we get into that, it’s important to first define exactly what protein is.

    What is Protein?

    Protein is a nutrient that is required for all living organisms. It’s made up of amino acid chains, which differ based on the source of the protein. Additionally, these amino acid chains are found in a variety of shapes.

    The amino acid composition, as well as the shape/structure of the chain, is involved in what the protein will do for your body. To explain how important protein is for your body, if you were to remove all of the fat and water from your body, the remaining portion is made up of protein.

    There are 20 amino acids. Many of them are naturally produced in your body. However, there are 9 that your body is unable to produce. These are known as essential amino acids because you must get them from dietary sources- otherwise your body won’t have the materials it requires for many key functions.  

    Most of the animal-sourced proteins contain all 9 of these essential amino acids. They are known as complete proteins. Complete protein sources include the following:

    • Whey
    • Meat
    • Some dairy
    • Eggs
    • Fish

    On the other hand, most of the plant-sourced proteins are not complete protein sources because they lack 1 or more of the 9 essential amino acids. However, there are a few that do contain all 9- one of them is quinoa.

    Therefore, if you are vegan or vegetarian and following a plant-based diet, it’s important that you make sure you’re consuming a variety of sources so that you’re getting all of the essential amino acids.

    Many plant-based foods are complementary, which means when consumed together, you get all 9 essential amino acids. One example is rice and beans.

    Where Does Energy Come From?

    Now, we can address the protein/energy relationship. While it’s true that protein can be used for energy, research shows that it’s not the best source for energy. In fact, it’s the last thing your body wants to use.

    Instead, your body prefers to use protein to maintain and rebuild skin, bone, hair, muscle, nails, and more. That being said, there are many people who believe protein gives them energy.

    While protein does theoretically contain the same amount of calories per gram as carbohydrates, it’s misleading to claim that consuming protein will give you equal, if not more, energy. That being said, carbs are your body’s preferred energy source.

    This is because carbs can be broken down and used to provide energy to a variety of systems within your body. In fact, once carbs run out, your body will use fat instead of protein as an energy source.

    Fat actually contains the most energy because it has 9 calories per gram- but it takes longer for your body to process fat to use for energy, when compared to carbs and protein.

    Therefore, when your body needs energy, it will start with carbs. Then, it will turn to fat and finally to protein. Typically, if your body is using protein for energy, it’s breaking down muscle tissue.

    How Does Protein Provide Energy?

    In most cases, your body will only use protein sparingly as an energy source. If you are restricting carbs or overall calories or if you work out for long periods, your body breaks down muscle protein into amino acids for energy.

    This primarily happens in those who are trying to lose body fat. When restricting caloric intake and carbs to lose fat, your body often runs low on energy and resorts to breaking down muscle to replenish that energy.

    Your body uses up carb storage, or glucose, quickly. Once that is done, it must begin metabolizing muscle tissue to keep glucose levels- and energy- high.

    Additional Benefits Associated with Protein

    Research shows that protein facilitates weight loss. After all, it’s very satiating, which means that, when compared to fats and carbs, you feel fuller for longer. Also, the thermogenic effect of protein is much higher than carbs and fats. This means that your body burns calories by simply breaking down and digesting protein.

    It’s important to keep in mind that your muscles are made up of protein and when your body metabolizes muscle for energy, you’re not getting the protein you need to preserve that muscle tissue.  

    Protein does help with energy levels in one way: by preventing your blood sugar from crashing after consuming a carb-heavy meal. Carbohydrates increase your blood sugar to levels that are unsafe, so your body will bring it back down.  

    This makes you feel sluggish and often increases your cravings for foods that are high in sugar. By consuming protein with carbs, it slows the release of glucose into your bloodstream. This means that your blood sugar isn’t going to get as high and won’t dip as low, keeping your energy levels consistent throughout the day.

    Of course, there are other benefits associated with protein as well but one of the primary benefits is to help with the growth and repair of muscle tissue.

    Exercise is critical to your overall health. However, when you exercise, you create micro-tears in your muscle fibers. This may sound bad- but in order to build your muscles bigger and stronger, you must break them down. If you have enough protein in your diet, you can easily repair this damage.

    If your goal is to build muscle, you need to consume enough protein to repair these micro-tears.

    More Tips for Increasing Energy

    Protein isn’t the only way to increase your energy levels. There are some other things you can do:

    • Get 7.5+ hours of sleep every night
    • Drink at least 100 to 120 ounces of water per day
    • Exercise
    • Choose foods that are high in nutrients
    • Reduce sugar consumption
    • Stay active

    In closing, regardless of whether you want to lose fat, gain muscle, or just improve your overall health and wellness, protein can help. In fact, your body needs protein to function properly.

    References

    “Amino Acid: Benefits & Food Sources.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22243-amino-acids.

    “Fats | Nutrition.gov.” Www.nutrition.gov, www.nutrition.gov/topics/whats-food/fats.

    Harvard School of Public Health. “Protein.” The Nutrition Source, 2019, www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/.

    Kubala, Jillian. “Essential Amino Acids: Definition, Benefits and Food Sources.” Healthline, 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/essential-amino-acids.

    Mayo Clinic Staff. “Choose Your Carbs Wisely.” Mayo Clinic, 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/carbohydrates/art-20045705.

    Pointer, Kathleen. “What Is Glucose and What Does It Do?” Healthline, 24 Mar. 2017, www.healthline.com/health/glucose.

    “What Is Thermogenic Effect? – Vikschaatcorner.com.” Www.vikschaatcorner.com, www.vikschaatcorner.com/what-is-thermogenic-effect/. Accessed 20 July 2022.

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