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Fast proteins are ideal for taking after the workout and in the morning, while slow proteins are ideal as a snack or as the last meal of the day. Protein bars and protein snacks are ideal for on the go and in between!

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All about proteins

What are proteins?

Proteins, also known as albuminous substances, are various organic substances that are found in every cell in the body. For example, the human body contains between 50,000 and 100,000 different proteins. They form the majority of all organic substances in the human body and are therefore an essential component of every cell in the body.

How are proteins structured?

Proteins consist of amino acids. There are about 20 different proteinogenic amino acids that are central to the structure of proteins (α amino acids). When eating, proteins are first broken down into protein building blocks and then into amino acids. Amino acids can be distinguished according to whether they can be produced by an organism itself or not. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body; they are indispensable, vital amino acids. For adults eight amino acids are considered essential: L-leucine, L-isoleucine, L-valine, L-methionine, L-tryptophan, L-threonine, L-lysine and L-phenylalanine. There are also semi-essential and non-essential amino acids.

Each amino acid has an identical structure, consisting of a α carbon atom, an amino group (NH2), a carboxyl group (COOH), a hydrogen atom and a residual group (residue "R"). The amino group and the carboxyl group are linked together via the α carbon atom, which is also linked to a hydrogen atom and a residual group. The latter linkage is called a side chain, which serves as a distinguishing feature between the amino acids.

Chains can be formed between several amino acids. The acid group (carboxyl group) of one amino acid reacts with the basic amino group of a second amino acid by splitting off water and peptide bonds are formed. The resulting chains are called peptides or polypeptides. Macromolecular proteins thus consist of at least 100 amino acids linked to each other.

A protein does not have to consist of a single amino acid chain, it can also be composed of several chains that are attached to each other. The structure of a protein is encoded in the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), i.e. the sequence of the linked amino acids is determined by the DNA.

Proteins differ in size, shape, conformation (simple or compounded), structure (primary, secondary, tertiary, quaternary), function (enzymes, transport proteins, membrane proteins, etc.) as well as their occurrence in the body (localization). Based on the mentioned hundred chain links and 20 different amino acids, there are 20100 different possibilities for protein formation. This large number of different combination possibilities is reflected in the manifold use of proteins in the human body.

Functionality of proteins in the human body

The function of a protein is determined by its spatial structure. A distinction is made between four different levels of observation:

  • Primary structure:        amino acid sequence
  • Secondary structure:   α-helix, β-leaflet
  • Tertiary structure:         spatial folding of the amino acid chain
  • Quaternary structure:  spatial structure of protein complexes

The primary structure is the sequence of individual amino acids (amino acid sequence) and is determined by the DNA. The secondary structure is the spatial arrangement of the amino acids of a protein. A distinction is made here between helical structures (α helix) and unfolded strands (β leaflet). The tertiary structure describes the final spatial structure of a single protein molecule. Structure-stabilizing forces are formed between the side chains of the individual amino acids. If several protein molecules are close together, the entire spatial arrangement is called the quaternary structure.

Transport function: Globular proteins are soluble in water and blood. They can bind non-water-soluble substances to themselves. These are thus transported through the bloodstream. Example: The transport protein haemoglobin is responsible for oxygen transport in the blood.

Mediating function: Numerous signal substances are based on proteins. As hormones, they can convey information and control certain processes in the body. As receptors in the membrane, proteins are involved in the absorption of information.

Supporting function: Proteins are scaffolding materials for cells and tissue, e.g. as fibre proteins, supporting proteins (cartilage, bones, hair) and as tendon proteins (gelatine). Fibrillary (filamentous) proteins are involved in the structure of the skin (collagen) and hair (keratin).

Movement function: In the muscles, so-called contractile proteins change their shape. This enables them to support the contraction of the muscles and thus the locomotor system in the body. The structural protein actin is found in muscle fibres. Its interaction with myosin provides a basis for muscle contraction.

Applications of proteins in sport

The increased protein requirement of athletes
The muscles of the human body consist mainly of proteins. It can therefore only be built up if the necessary building blocks are available. The body absorbs these via food.

Proteins are involved in the metabolism in muscle tissue. Three factors play an important role here:

  • Time of protein intake
  • Quantity of protein ingested
  • Nature of the proteins

The time of protein intake

In particular, the time window directly after training, which is also known as the anabolic window among athletes, is considered particularly important for the timing of protein intake. Immediately after the stimuli for muscle growth are set during training, the body appears to be particularly receptive to nutrients. This is the reason why successful athletes reach for a post-workout shake after training, which contains a fast protein. But also at other times of the day it is important to ensure a sufficient protein intake to cover the daily protein requirement and thus support the building and maintenance of muscle mass.


The right amount of protein

In addition to the time of protein intake, the amount of protein also plays a role. Many sports scientists agree that a sufficiently covered protein requirement contributes to building muscle mass.

The German Society for Nutrition recommends that an adult person should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. This recommended amount is sufficient to maintain muscle mass. Athletes who want to gain muscle mass are recommended to take in more protein. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the daily requirement for strength athletes is 1.6 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. In diets, common recommendations go even further and it is recommended to consume 2.5g of protein per kilogram of body weight to support muscle maintenance. If there is an excess of protein, the excess protein is used by the body to provide energy.

Protein Absorption

The human body constantly builds and breaks down protein structures ("protein turnover"). Studies show that intensive strength training stimulates protein synthesis. This contributes to the development of new muscles. At the same time, this type of physical strain leads to increased wear and tear of protein structures. Scientific studies show that the protein balance is only positive when amino acids are supplied. According to these studies, an optimal stimulation of protein synthesis requires an interaction between physical strain and nutrition.

When determining the protein requirement, on the one hand the amount of protein that stimulates protein synthesis to the maximum must be determined. On the other hand, the protein should be of high quality. As already explained, there is no generally valid value for determining the daily protein requirement.

The quality of a protein depends on how it can provide the necessary amount of amino acids to grow, maintain and repair protein-containing structures. This ability is largely determined by two factors: Firstly, the digestibility of a protein, and secondly, its composition of amino acids.

There are different methods to determine the quality of a protein: The biological valency (BW) and the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) are among the recognized and frequently used methods.

Biological value

The biological value indicates how efficiently a food protein can be converted into the body's own protein. The reference value for the biological value is the whole egg (BV = 100). However, this value does not mean that a 100% conversion into endogenous protein takes place when whole egg is consumed, as the BW value of whole egg is determined arbitrarily. This method is often criticised because it takes little account of important factors influencing the digestibility of the proteins and interactions between several protein sources supplied simultaneously.

Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score

Due to criticism of the method of determining biological value and the limitations of other methods, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has developed a more precise unit of measurement for assessing protein quality: the PDCAAS method (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score). Taking into account the content of amino acids and their digestibility, this value indicates the ability of a protein to provide the human body with essential amino acids. The maximum PDCAAS value is 1. Despite some weaknesses, this method has established itself as the best method for determining protein quality to date.

Differentiation of proteins

Proteins can be distinguished in different ways, for example with regard to animal and plant origin. When assessing their quality, it should be noted that animal protein tends to have a higher biological value and better digestibility than plant protein. Milk protein is an animal protein, consisting of 80 percent casein and 20 percent whey. As a concentrate, the latter has a particularly high protein content and quality.

A further distinction is the biological value. As already explained above, this is about the ability to convert food protein into the body's own protein. Furthermore, proteins can be divided into slow or fast proteins. The relevant factor here is the time it takes for a protein to be available in the bloodstream for the amino acids that are broken down during digestion.

Use and application of slow protein in sports

Slow proteins have a higher blood availability than fast proteins. They enter the blood more slowly and stimulate protein synthesis in muscle tissue to a lesser extent. This means that slow proteins play a smaller role in muscle building. Due to a retention time in the blood of up to eight hours, the consumption of slow proteins is particularly suitable in the evening before going to bed. Casein is considered a slowly digestible protein that primarily contributes to muscle maintenance.

Use and application of fast protein in sports

Fast proteins such as those contained in Whey Selection, Whey Protein Isolate or Soja Protein Isolate play a role in the metabolism of muscle tissue. The fast, protein-rich, essential amino acids enter the bloodstream shortly after the protein source is absorbed and primarily contribute to building muscle mass. Scientific studies indicate that a sufficient supply of essential amino acids can help to stimulate protein synthesis in muscle tissue and thus promote muscle growth. However, this effect has not been scientifically recognised. For this reason, fast proteins are primarily supplemented immediately after training and in the morning.

Use and side effects

If the body has too many amino acids available from the intake of dietary protein, a low-calorie diet (hypo- or isocaloric diet) uses the carbon atoms of the amino acids to produce glucose or fatty acids and supply the body with energy.

When the amino acids are broken down, ammonia is produced, which is converted into urea via various stations in the body and later excreted. These metabolic and excretory processes take place in the liver and kidneys. The more protein the body receives from food, the more the organs have to work to break down the amino acids. To support the kidneys, the body must be supplied with sufficient water on a daily basis.