Why is Protein So Important?

Why is Protein So Important?

July 1, 2019

Why is Protein So Important?

by our Sports Scientist Stephen Morehen

If you take part in any form of exercise or sport, or indeed if you’re interested in general health and fitness, then you have likely heard the word protein in the context of recovery and performance. So why do protein and exercise go hand-in-hand?  Why is this macronutrient so crucial in the world of health, fitness and sport?

The following article may seem a bit science-heavy but a base-level understanding of what protein actually is (and does) will be a huge help in the long-run!

When we exercise, tiny microscopic tears in our muscle fibres occur and the repair of this damage is necessary to allow our muscles to grow and adapt to the training stimuli which we provide with training regimes. Our muscles, like all other tissues in our body, are made of proteins and so it makes sense that to repair our muscles, we must provide them with sufficient protein in our diet.

Proteins are made up of amino acids, often called the “building blocks” of our bodies as they make up our cells, tissues and organs. Our bodies can produce certain amino acids which are classified as “non-essential”. However, there are 9 amino acids which we cannot produce and therefore must consume in our diets, as such they are called “essential” amino acids. This may sound like a bit of a challenge but luckily there are some food sources which contain all 9 of these essential amino acids,; these “complete protein” sources include red meat, soybeans, fish and you guessed it… milk!

The presence of amino acids in our body after we consume protein-containing food stimulates “muscle protein synthesis” (MPS) – the process of building and repairing muscle fibres. As well as MPS, “muscle protein breakdown” (MPB) can occur – particularly after muscle-damaging exercise such as resistance training. It is the balance between MPS and MPB which gives a ‘net-protein balance’ which in turn, dictates whether our body is in a state of muscle-building (positive balance) or muscle-breakdown (negative balance). [1]

Importantly, we must provide our muscles with amino acids following exercise to ensure that our net protein balance is shifted towards muscle-building by increasing rates of MPS. Indeed, research shows how drinking milk following resistance exercise successfully stimulates MPS [2] and is therefore a highly-suitable option as a post-exercise recovery drink! [3]

So, to summarise;

  • Exercise elicits miscroscopic damage to our muscles
  • Protein (more specifically amino acids which make up protein) are required to stimulate the repair of muscle fibres
  • Some amino acids have to be consumed in the diet as they cannot be produced by our bodies
  • Foods such as red meat, fish and milk are great sources of the essential amino acids
  • We should aim to consume protein following exercise to facilitate recovery and allow us to perform at our best in our next session
  1. Jager, R., et al., International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2017. 14: p. 20.
  2. Elliot, T.A., et al., Milk ingestion stimulates net muscle protein synthesis following resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2006. 38(4): p. 667-74.
  3. James, L.J., et al., Cow’s milk as a post-exercise recovery drink: implications for performance and health. Eur J Sport Sci, 2019. 19(1): p. 40-48.

Feature photo is Bam Organic Ambassador Ben Deakin with Bam Organic 25G Vanilla High Protein. Buy NOW

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