We all know that we need protein in our diets but what exactly is in protein that makes it so important to the human body? Plant and animal proteins are both made up of about 20 common amino acids. The amounts of these amino acids vary as a characteristic of each particular protein. This is why not all the protein found in food is the same and why some foods are better than others for sources of protein in our diets.
16% of the weight of any protein is made of amino nitrogen. These amino acids are required for the synthesis of body protein and other important nitrogen-containing compounds, such as creatine, peptide hormones, and some neurotransmitters. Only nine of the 20 common amino acids are considered essential, although all are important for our health.
These nine essential amino acids include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. They are unlike the non-essential amino acids in the fact that they can not be produced by the body, meaning they must be obtained through our diet. Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are known as complete proteins.
This type of protein mostly occurs in animal foods, such as meat, dairy, and eggs but can be found in plants such as quinoa, buckwheat, tofu, and tempeh. Incomplete proteins contain at least one essential amino acid, so there is a lack of balance in the proteins. Plant foods, such as peas, beans, and grains mostly contain incomplete protein.
Then there are complementary proteins that refer to two or more foods containing incomplete proteins that people can combine to supply complete protein. Examples include rice and beans or bread with peanut butter. This is essential knowledge for plant-based dieters out there looking to stay strong and healthy.
When we eat protein our bodies break it down into amino acids to use with various processes such as building muscle and regulating immune function. This is one of the main reasons athletes, bodybuilders, or anyone looking to gain muscle often uses protein powders, amino acid supplements, or intakes large amounts of complete proteins from whole food sources. Some plant-based protein powders like our Organic Vegan Protein contain a complete amino profile from a blended source of proteins that include pea, Jerusalem artichoke, sacha inchi, and hemp. Pea and brown rice have both been proven to provide benefits equal to that of whey protein, so blending in the other plant protein sources and blend of 10 superfoods only makes it that much better!
Even though protein powders are rich in amino acids, the most popular amino acid supplements are branched-chain amino acids or BCAA's. Branched-chain amino acids are only three of the nine essential amino acids and can be used to create the other six in the body in smaller amounts. Though supplementing with all nine can still be better to ensure you are getting adequate amounts of them all.
BCAA's still provide some pretty impressive benefits on there own. The branched-chain amino acid leucine activates a certain pathway in the body that stimulates muscle protein synthesis, which builds muscle on the body. Consuming BCAA's during exercise can also greatly decrease muscle soreness due to there ability to prevent muscle breakdown. Studies have also shown that taking BCAA's during your workout can reduce muscle fatigue.
Other essential amino acids like tryptophan are needed to produce the chemical serotonin, which acts as a neurotransmitter in the body. Depressed mood and sleep disturbances have been linked to low serotonin levels, but several studies have shown that supplementing with tryptophan can reduce symptoms of depression, boost mood, and improve sleep. One nineteen day study of 60 older women showed that one gram of tryptophan per day led to increased energy and improved happiness.
So you can see these amino acids are truly amazing in many ways including there ability to maintain a healthy body, aid in protein synthesis, decrease muscle soreness, prevent muscle breakdown, reduce muscle fatigue, reduce symptoms of depression, boost mood, and improve sleep. They can best be found in whole foods containing complete proteins or supplements like our Organic Vegan Protein Powder or an all-natural BCAA supplement. With the many scientific studies that provide evidence supporting these benefits, amino acids are definitely something everyone should have more of.