education,  nutrition

Protein: more complicated than you think.

When people think of protein they tend to only think of muscle but the humble protein does much more than that.

Protein can be found in both animal & plant food & provides the building blocks for every cell in the body. That’s right. . . all of them. In fact, proteins form an estimated 50% of our body’s dry weight!


Did someone say Lego?

Proteins are the end result of a specific pattern of building blocks called Amino Acids (AAs). There are a crazy number of proteins all made up of different combinations of AAs depending on the job they need to do (eg: muscle vs red blood cells vs brain cells).

Amino Acids are like Lego

When we consume protein, our bodies break it up into individual AAs & use these AAs to create the various proteins we need, just like Lego. In fact, our body is breaking down & rebuilding proteins all the time.


Essential vs non-essential

Of the 20 AAs we can make all but 9 internally. The 9 we can’t make are known as essential amino acids, you may have heard this phrase – food & supplement companies love to use them to market their products. To get these essential AAs we need to consume them in our diet, this is why they are called essential.


Dietary sources

Sources of protein include lean animal products, nuts & seeds, beans & legumes, soy products & some grain/cereal products do contain protein but in amounts lower than other sources.

Animal, soy and quinoa products are ‘complete’ proteins which means they supply all 9 AAs whereas most other plant products do not. Don’t worry though, if you are vegetarian or vegan who doesn’t like these products you can get your essential AAs by combining plant sources. A well-known example is baked beans on toast.



Symptoms of protein deficiency include muscle loss, swelling/fluid build-up (Oedema), decelerated growth in children. Generally speaking, the western diet provides us with more than enough protein & deficiency is rare in these countries.



Ammonia is a byproduct of protein metabolism which is simply disposed off in your urine. As long as you don’t go crazy this doesn’t have any negative effects. However, if you eat too much protein on a regular basis it can put too much pressure on you kidneys & can lead to damage.

There is so much more I could say on proteins but I don’t want this post to get out of hand so I’ll stop now. There are all sorts of implications associated with high vs low protein intake that I’ll dig into in other posts in future.

I really hope you have found this post helpful & if you have any comments, questions or need clarification please leave a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you.

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Happy reading!


Kathryn Carter

I’m Kath, qualified nutritionist & personal trainer. I believe a personalised, flexibile approach to gaining physical & mental well-being is necessary for achieving sustainable lifestyle changes that support both these aspects of health. In the near future I will be offering a range of nutrition & lifestyle education services designed to gain the life my clients want in a way that works for them.


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