Protein is the foundation of a good diet and is made up of amino acids. Amino acids can be thought of as the "building blocks" of protein. Proteins are long "necklaces" of amino acids linked together. Dietary sources of protein are either complete or incomplete protein. Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids our bodies cannot make and are therefore vital in our diets in small amounts. By contrast, incomplete proteins, which come from mainly plant sources, can be combined to make a complete protein.
Protein makes up the largest percentage of material in the human body next to water, approximately 45%. Protein is vital to maintaining immune function, producing hormones and enzymes, healing tissue, and have a role in athletic performance as a component of hemoglobin and myoglobin. These tissues are involved in oxygen transport to muscles. Protein can also supply the body with energy during starvation or intense exercise. For example, in aerobic sports, amino acids may supply up to 15% of the total energy used. An inadequate supply of protein in one’s diet can obviously harm one’s health or performance!
How much protein your body needs is dependent on your weight, the amount of calories you consume, and your degree and intensity of training. If overall calorie or energy needs are not met, then the protein you eat will be used by the body for energy instead of for vital functions. When the body gets enough energy (calories) and protein daily, it can provide all the necessary body functions, maintain strength and heal effectively.
(Each Protein equivalent = 7 grams Protein)
(Each Calcium equivalent = 8 grams Protein)
Most women require a minimum of 4-6 protein equivalents and 3 calcium/dairy equivalents in their diets daily to maintain muscle strength, bone density, health and nutritional status. Athletes’ protein needs will vary, and may be greater depending on degree and type of training or sport. A nutritionist can help you determine your exact protein needs.
Women's Sports Medicine Center,
Hospital for Special Surgery