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Amino Acid vs. Protein: The Building Blocks of Your Diet

by Mara Welty June 07, 2024 5 min read

 Amino Acid vs. Protein

Think of amino acids like Legos. Just as Legos come in different shapes, sizes and colors, amino acids have different side chains that give them their unique properties.

Now, when you link Legos together, you can create a wide variety of structures and objects. Similarly, when you link amino acids together through peptide bonds, you can create a vast array of proteins, each with its own specific function and structure.

Proteins serve many different purposes, providing structural support for tissues, triggering hormones and enzymes and transporting molecules, among others.

That said, we’re exploring the relationship between amino acid vs protein in the body.

Zooming In: Understanding Amino Acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and your body requires a total of 20 amino acids to function properly. While most of these amino acids naturally occur within the body, there are nine amino acids that you can only get through diet alone.

They’re referred to as essential amino acids, and they include:

  • Histidine – This amino acid is responsible for the production of a hormone called histamine. It’s involved in the immune response; namely, producing allergy symptoms. But it also plays a role in digestion, cognitive function, sleep and sexual health. Histidine-rich foods include turkey, tuna, salmon, seeds, eggs, legumes and whole grains. Recommended daily allowance: 14 milligrams.
  • Isoleucine – Isoleucine carries oxygen in red blood cells and plays a role in the production of hemoglobin, a protein within red blood cells. It also plays a role in both energy and lean muscle mass production. You can find isoleucine in meat, fish, dairy and soy products, as well as seeds and whole grains. Recommended daily allowance: 19 milligrams.
  • Leucine – This is a type of branched amino acid that the muscles can use for energy, muscle repair, wound healing and blood sugar regulation. It also plays a role in the production of proteins and growth hormones that build and maintain tissues. Leucine is found in various meats, dairy products, nuts and seeds and whole grains. Recommended daily allowance: 43 milligrams.
  • Lysine – Lysine is crucial for muscle protein synthesis and plays a key role in the absorption of calcium, the formation of collagen and the production of carnitine, which plays a role in energy metabolism. Foods rich in lysine include meat (especially red meat), poultry, fish, dairy products (like cheese and yogurt), eggs, beans and soy products. Recommended daily allowance: 38 milligrams.
  • Methionine – This amino acid plays a role in protein synthesis to help maintain healthy hair, skin and nails. It can also sometimes function as an antioxidant. Methionine-rich foods include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds and legumes. Recommended daily allowance: 19 milligrams.
  • Phenylalanine – Phenylalanine can help stimulate dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine which can affect moods, mental alertness and stress responses. To add phenylalanine to your diet, eat plenty of fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, soy products and grains. Recommended daily allowance: 33 milligrams.
  • Threonine – This amino acid assists in the formation of antibodies and neurotransmitters, helping to support immune function and collagen production. It’s present in meat and fish, as well as dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. Recommended daily allowance: 20 milligrams.
  • Tryptophan – Tryptophan plays a role in the production of serotonin, which helps to regulate mood, sleep cycles, and appetite. It’s also a precursor of melatonin, which controls the sleep-wake cycle. It’s present in turkey, chicken, fish, nuts, seeds and certain grains. Recommended daily allowance: 5 milligrams.
  • Valine – Valine is another branched amino acid that plays a role in tissue and muscle growth and energy production. Supplement your diet with plenty of meat, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds and beans. Recommended daily allowance: 24 milligrams.

Zooming Out: Understanding Proteins

Proteins are long chains of amino acids that are connected through peptide bonds, which are formed through biochemical reactions.

Let’s return to the Lego analogy: Each amino acid, or Lego, has unique “side chains,” which you can imagine as a small part sticking out of the side. These “side chains” can connect to each other in unique ways to build specific proteins.

Once fully formed, proteins are critical to cell functions within the body and the formation of tissues and organs. Accordingly, proteins are found everywhere in the body, including the:

  • Hair
  • Skin
  • Bones
  • Muscles
  • Tissues

Per the National Academy of Medicine, adults require seven grams of dietary protein for every 20 pounds of body weight.

So, let’s say you weigh 200 pounds.

Divide 200 by 20 to get 10. Then, multiply 10 by seven to discover your daily recommended protein intake. In this case, a 200-pound adult should consume 70 grams of protein each day.

That may seem like a lot, but there are many protein-dense foods that can help you reach your protein goals. Such healthy dietary protein sources include:

  • Eggs – One large egg contains 6.3 grams of protein and additional vitamins and minerals.
  • Lean meat – One chicken breast contains 53.4 grams of protein, and a three-ounce serving of lean beef contains 24.6 grams of protein. Three ounces of turkey breast, on the other hand, contains 25.6 grams of protein.
  • Dairy – Incorporate dairy products like cottage cheese, which contains 28 grams of protein per cup. Greek yogurt is another high-protein option that provides 19.9 grams of protein per every seven-ounce serving.
  • Fish – Fish like salmon, white cod and herring are very high in protein, ranging anywhere from 41 to 124 grams per serving.
  • Lentils – Lentils are highly nutritious and packed with roughly nine grams of protein per every half cup.
  • Quinoa – Quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. For every cup, there are eight grams of protein.
  • Peanuts – Peanuts and peanut butter are packed with protein, containing about seven grams of protein per serving.

That said, whole foods aren’t the only protein source. You can also achieve your protein goals by incorporating a protein powder. Casein and whey protein powders, derived from cows’ milk, are popular choices due to their high protein content and fast absorption rates. There are also a variety of plant-based protein powders such as pea protein available to those who are lactose intolerant or follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. If your goal is to lose weight, understanding the different types of protein and how to use protein powder for weight loss can provide you with targeted strategies to effectively utilize these supplements.

Boost Your Protein Intake With INVIGOR8

Amino acids and proteins play a critical role in the overall health of your body, and can greatly provide both muscle building and weight loss support. As such, it’s critical to prioritize a high-protein diet that supports your body’s needs.

At INVIGOR8, our All-In-One Organic Superfoods Powder contains 20 grams of grass-fed whey protein per serving. Plus, our protein powder ingredients include essential vitamins and nutritional complexes to support your cognitive, digestive and immune health.

Take your first sip today.

 

 

Sources:

  1. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Protein.
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Amino Acids.
  3. Healthline. Essential Amino Acids.
  4. Nature. Protein Structure.
  5. Genome. Protein.
  6. Healthline. 16 Delicious High Protein Foods

 

About the Author

 Mara Welty
Mara Welty

Mara Welty is a copywriter who specializes in health, wellness and CBD topics. With a background in journalism, she aims to deliver engaging, research-based content that builds trust and engages readers through informative storytelling.

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