Nutrition and Metabolism: How Protein Helps

The bodily function referred to as metabolism is a very complex thing. Not only does the right amount of food have to be introduced to the body, but it should be consumed at the right time as well. If the body is not getting enough food it will shut down the metabolism. The first step in the digestive process is the sensation of hunger. When you feel hungry, your body will send up signals via chemical compounds to your brain. Your brain then sends its own messages to the stomach to get ready for food, and then motivates you to eat food.

After the stomach has perceived that there has been enough food, it sends the message that you are full back to the brain, which then orders the food to stop coming. However, the problem is this: the message from stomach to brain and brain back to stomach may take as long as 20 minutes allowing more food to be eaten than what is really necessary, especially for those people who eat far too quickly. The faster that you eat, the more likely you are to overeat, subsequently gaining weight.

On the other hand, not eating enough food at all can damage the metabolism as well. When the hunger signal goes to the brain and no food is introduced into the system, a stronger signal will be sent. If the second, stronger signal is ignored as well, the body gets the message that no food is to be had and the metabolism will be slowed down or shut down completely. This allows the body to protect itself in case of starvation.

The body processes all foods the same way, only at different rates. There are a number of diseases that can slow the metabolism down or can change the way that the body stores the food once it is broken down. Diabetes is affected by the way that foods are broken down and stored. Diseases that affect the thyroid can also affect the metabolism as well.

The Process of Metabolism

The body uses energy all of the time- even during sleep. The process of breathing, the beating of the heart, and the other natural, involuntary processes of the body are all fueled by energy in the body. Your body takes all foods, combines the food with oxygen and then breaks it down to its smallest factor. If the body needs immediate energy, some of this converted food (calories) will be burned at that point. If there are too many calories or no need for immediate energy, it will be stored either as glycogen or as fat in the fat cells. Weight gain occurs when the body stores more energy than it is burning, either because too much food was consumed or because of a metabolic glitch.

Metabolism also is influenced by the rate of thermogenesis, the generation of heat during the digestion of food. Physical activity is also a factor that can increase the number of calories burned each day.

Muscles burn more calories simply by existing than fat does even when the body is sleeping. In fact, after exercise, the muscles will continue to burn calories for up to a full 24 hours. Men have higher metabolic rates than women do, and the rate at which you burn calories tends to slow down, sometimes dramatically, when you grow older.

Why Protein Helps the Metabolism

Of all of the macronutrients, protein takes the most work to breakdown so it also takes the most energy. Because it does take so long to break down, protein can help you stay full for longer, allowing you to eat less food. Protein also increases thermogenesis more than any other food. Only alcohol increases thermogenesis more than protein does.

Protein is needed as part of the digestive process because it is made up of the amino acids that are converted to the hormones and enzymes that are later used in this complex process. All protein foods are either complete or incomplete, meaning they either have all of the nine essential amino acids that the body cannot make on its own or do not. All animal proteins are complete, including dairy products and eggs. With the exception of soy, all plant proteins are incomplete. Because they lack one or more of the amino acids, they should be eaten in combination so that the lacking amino acid are present in the diet.

Constant Confusion and Increased Metabolism

The concept of constant confusion is simple: your body gets used to a routine and does not work as efficiently, especially if you are eating the same foods in the same amounts at the same time every day. Your metabolism will slow, leading you to a weight loss plateau. On the other hand, if you are varying your foods, the amounts and the timing, your body will not be able to predict as easily and your metabolism will stay revved up and working properly, allowing for steady weight loss. Diets that allow this type of flexibility are also easier to keep up with because they do not allow boredom to become a factor.

Protein Supplements and Metabolism

Small meals spaced three or four hours apart can allow the metabolism to work at a near constant rate. Using a small protein supplement as a between meal snack can be beneficial. Profect, from Protica, is a protein supplement that has 25 grams of protein per 100 calorie serving without carbohydrates and fats. In addition to being useful as a between meal snack, Profect can be used at the start of the meal so that you can eat far less.

Metabolism and Protein: a Case Study

Dianna has been working on losing weight for over a year. She has tried several fad diets and, sadly, has even resorted to trying starvation as well. Finally, she discusses her health with her doctor who suggests that she work toward getting her metabolism and health back to the right level and then start making small, achievable changes in her diet. She will reduce her calorie intake by 500 calories per day, and will also increase the amount of exercise that she gets. She will also use Profect during the day to keep her from feeling too hungry and to keep her metabolism revved up.

As she starts to lose weight, Dianna knows that she will have to adjust her calorie intake to account for her smaller body. While you are going to need increase calories if you are very active, most people tend to dramatically overestimate the amount of exercise that they are getting every day.

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