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Proteins and How To Use Them Properly

Hello everyone, welcome to the third portion of this nutrition segment. So far we have spoken about how carbohydrates and fats circulate and are used in our body. If you have not read the other articles please do so HERE:



Now it is time for one of my favourite topics. That is a lie, I find ALL nutrition very entertaining and ruthlessly plunge into whatever information I can find on any related topic. But let us get on with it.




So what is a protein? Well the simplest answer is as that a protein is a basic building block of life and that without it we would not even exist. So before I put you all to sleep let me first demonstrate the importance of proteins with a few examples. Let us start deep within the body, slowly becoming more superficial so that everyone can understand how proteins affect every level of our biology. First let us start with DNA. Our personality and our physical traits are determined by a complex code of nucleotides that determines everything we think we know about ourselves. This alpha helix structure is primarily proteins with a sugar-phosphate back bone. Just like how a triglyceride has a glycerol back bone and fatty acids attached to it, as discussed in the last "Fats" article., DNA has the same general structure. A backbone with proteins that stem from it and connect with other proteins that form a twisted latter shape. So thanks to protein, you are who you are. If you do not like who you are I suggest going to a genetic engineer.

Figure 1: DNA- as you can see the four proteins that attach and create the “rungs” of the latter

As if this does not demonstrate the importance of proteins enough let us go up a level to the cell. In the last segment I discussed how the basic structure of a cell is a double layer of fatty acids. Well this is a very general and over simplistic view of the cell. Imbedded into the fatty acid layer are “boulders”. These “boulders” act in multifaceted ways which life could not exist without. They are able to increase the structural integrity of the cell because they are held together by stronger bonds then the fatty acids, which in the last article we explained move slightly to help the cell function. Some of these “boulders” form tunnels right into the cell and act as a door way into and out of the cell. Nutrients and hormones can come into the cell and unwanted particles can leave the cell so it does not overfill with waste. Wouldn’t want to be constipated on a cellular level would you? A lot of these “boulders” allow for hormones to attach to the cell and cause a signalling cascade to happen in the cell. An example of this would be how Epinephrine causes a signal to Hormone Sensative Lipase to start breaking down fat, which I discussed in the last article.

Figure 2:A section of the phospholipid bilayer. You are unable to see the glycoproteins however they look similar to the “charbohydrate chain” as seen above.

Some of these boulders have long projections sticking out and allow it to communicate with other cells for various reasons. One example would be that a virus can look like a cell and act like a cell but because these projections exist then it allows the cell to say “ Hey wait, this cell does not seem familiar, let’s get rid of it.” Without these projections then we would get sick very quickly considering how everyday bacterium tries to infiltrate our body. It is up to these “boulders” and projections to keep us safe. If you have not guessed yet, these “boulders” are proteins.

Let’s move up yet another level for all you athletes and coaches. Muscles are made of proteins as well, which for most is nothing new. To imagine how a muscle contracts let’s look at a gymnast climbing a rope. The gymnast’s name is Myosin; he’s foreign. And he is climbing up our 28 foot rope whose name is Actin. Myosin has to get to the top of the rope and to do this he will place his hand higher on the rope then he is currently, use his muscles to pull himself up, then repeat until he is dangling from the rafters and hit that bell that so many gymnasts hate to hear. The muscle works the exact same way. Myosin proteins pull on actin proteins pulling them closer together. We humans with our brutal vision, due to sitting in front of the idiot box all day, cannot see these small microscopic events. However we can see the result of thousands of actin and myosin proteins pulling on each other so that they all slide a bit closer together. We call this muscle contraction.

Figure 3: actin and myosin sliding against each other to shorten the “H” zone which is done thousands of times along the muscle fiber and causes it to shorten.

I will write a article with more information on this process later, but for now let us get back to the topic at hand; proteins. Our last example will be one that we all know so well, or not so well depending on your hairline status. Keratin is a protein that is found in nails, skin and yes, hair. We cannot see the individual proteins but they are a major part of our physical appearance, which we know is extremely important in this day and age.

For a gymnast protein is somewhat important because it helps to build muscles as we now know. The more protein in the system the greater the weight each of those micro movements can pull. As we discussed, it is like a rope climb and if you are packed full of proteins then your "rope climb" is faster and can pull heavier weight without breaking. It is important to note that muscle proteins are as long as the entire muscle! Imagine your muscles like long strings of spaghetti one attached at one end of the bone and the other attached at the other. (Terrible over simplification but, please researchers, don't kill me, it's for younger athletes afterall:p. The reason muscles get "bigger" is because you add more spagetti and the current spagetti becomes thicker with fluid that holds the substrates inside.

Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy referes to the concept of thickening the muscle. Myofibrillar Hypertrophy refers to the addition of new spaghetti strings ontop of the current ones. Both of these mechanisms make you stronger. A gymnast needs Myfibrillar more the sarcoplasmic. We are an explosive sport so it is better for a gymnast to be able to lift 1000 lbs 3 times then 100lbs 50 times. Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy simply increases the energy system abilities as we have discussed in this series and Myfibular Hypertrophy increases the force of the contraction.

Figure 4: The difference between Sarcoplasmic and Myofibrillar