Protein is a more complex mix of atoms when compared with carbohydrates. This is due to the addition of nitrogen to the carbon, hydrogen and oxygen mixture. However, one gram of protein, like one gram of carbohydrates, yields four calories of energy when burned up by our cells.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, of which there are twenty-two. Eight of these amino acids are considered dietary essentials, and two others are considered semi-essential. They are considered essential because our bodies can not produce them, and therefore they must be acquainted through the food we eat. It is important to note that the reason we eat protein sources is not to provide the body directly with protein. Rather, it is to supply the body with the amino acids it requires to make its own proteins.
With sufficient amounts of carbohydrates available to meet energy demands, the channeling of protein for energy is spared, and this protein-sparing effect helps regulate protein metabolism. Protein is a very important nutrient since it is in every cell in our bodies and is the primary structure that makes up our muscles. However, it should not be the nutrient we eat in place of a healthier balanced nutrition plan that includes good carbohydrates as well.
In the case of high-protein diets, if the body has a level of protein above its needs, the excess is burned as fuel. There is a benefit of the higher amino acid blood concentration that results from a high-protein diet and that is the release of the hormone glucagon. Glucagon has an effect opposite to that of insulin: It increases the release of free fatty acids from adipose tissue.
Unfortunately, the burning of proteins is not as clean as the burning of carbohydrates, due to the nitrogenous waste accumulation, mainly in the form of urea. This waste has to be handled by the body and puts extra stress on the liver, kidneys, and urinary tract. This, too, is good reason to follow a balanced diet that includes all food groups, rather than one that focuses on protein.
Many people ask, "How much protein should I eat?" Current research suggests between 0.8 g / kg for the average sedentary individual, up to 1.7 g / kg for a strength athlete who runs 70 miles per week or performances daily heavy resistance exercise. On average, this is equal to 12 to 15% of your daily caloric intake.