Protein is essential for growth and development. It provides the body with energy, and is needed for the manufacture of hormones, antibodies, enzymes, and tissues. It also helps maintain the proper acid-alkali balance in the body.
When protein is consumed, it is broken down by the body into its building blocks, the amino acids. Some amino acids are nonessential. This does not mean that they are not needed but simply that the body does not produce them on its own. Other amno acids are essential, which means that the body cannot synthesize them and therefore they must be obtained from the diet.
Whenever the body makes a protein, such as when it builds muscle, it needs a variety of amino acids for the process. If there is a shortage of amino acids in the body and this becomes a chronic condition, the building of muscle in the body stops and the body suffers.
Dietary proteins belong to two groups. Complete proteins contain ample amounts of all of the essential amino acids. These are found in meat, fish, poultry, cheese, eggs, and milk. Incomplete proteins contain only some of the essential amino acids. These may be found in grains, legumes, and leafy green vegetables.
Because of their high fat content, and the use of antibiotics and other chemicals used in the raising of poultry and cattle, most complete protein foods should be consumed in moderation only. Be aware that a combination of any grains, nuts and seeds, or legumes (such as beans, peanuts, and peas) and a variety of mixed vegetables will make a complete protein. This is a strategy known as mutual supplementation which enables you to combine partial protein foods to make complementary protein which supplies all the essential amino acids.
If your diet is not properly balanced and it fails to supply adequate amounts of essential amino acids it will become apparent eventually as a type of physical disorder. Eating a great deal of protein is not the answer to this problem and is actually unhealthy. Excess protein puts undue stress on the kidneys and liver which must then process the waste products of protein metabolism. Nearly half the amino acids in dietary protein are transformed into glucose by the liver and utilized to provide needed energy to the cells. This process results in the waste product amonia. Since amonia is toxic to the body, the body protects itself by having the liver turn the amonia into a less toxic product urea which is carried through the blood stream, processed by the kidneys, and excreted.
Strenuous exercise can also lead to the accumulation of excess amonia. This can put a person at risk for serious health problems such as brain disease or hepatic coma. High urea levels can cause inflamed kidneys and back pain.
It is good to remember that it is the quality, not the quantity, of protein that is consumed in the diet which is important. Mindful consumption of adequate quality protein in order to balance amino acid levels in the body and provide adeuqate energy for work and body maintenance and repair are important considerations in reaching toward the goals of better health and long life.
For these reasons, high protein diets, especially for those active in strenuous sports activities may be actually adverse to your health. A balance of adequate protein intake, supplemented with other necessary nutrients such as water, is the wiser choice for long range good health.