Protein is one of the three macronutrients present in foods that the body requires in large quantities.
It is important for the maintenance and development of body tissues and muscles. Proteins include amino acids that form long chains together.
There are 20 amino acids that help make different proteins.
However, proteins do most of their cell work and other functions inside the body.
Here are eight crucial functions of protein in the human body.
Table of Contents
1. Protein Provides Energy
Proteins provide energy for your body.
One gram of protein contains four calories, the same amount of energy provided by carbs.
Fats give the most energy, nine calories per gram.
As we commonly use carbs and fat for energy, the last thing the body wants to use for energy is protein.
Carbs and fats are much better suited for energy supply, as your body has a reserve for them.
In fact, they are more easily metabolized compared to proteins (1).
Under normal circumstances, protein provides the body with very little of its energy. Your body breaks down the skeletal muscle in a state of fasting so that the amino acids can provide you with energy (2, 3).
2. Provides Structure
Some proteins are fibrous, giving rigidity to cells and tissues.
Such proteins include keratin, collagen, and elastin, which help to shape the connective tissue within your body of certain structures (5).
Keratin is a protein found in your skin, hair, and nails (6).
Collagen is your body’s most abundant protein in your bones, tendons, ligaments, and skin.
Elastin is a hundred times more flexible than collagen.
Upon stretching or contracting, most tissues in your body will return to their original forms, such as your uterus, lungs, and arteries (7).
3. Boosts Immune Health
Antibodies are blood proteins that help protect the body from dangerous invaders such as bacteria and viruses.
Your body produces antibodies for the elimination of these invaders inside your cells (10).
Bacteria and viruses multiply and overwhelm your body without these antibodies.
Once your body produces antibodies against a specific bacterium or virus, your cells will never forget how to make them.
This enables the antibodies to respond if a specific virus or bacteria invades the body (11).
As a result, the body develops immunity to the diseases it is exposed to (12).
4. Muscle Growth and Maintenance
Your body needs protein for many functions, such as muscle growth and maintenance. Yet the proteins in your body are in constant turnover.
The body breaks down the same amount of protein it uses to build and rebuild tissues under normal circumstances.
Sometimes your body breaks down more protein than it can produce, thus increasing the needs of your body.
5. Proper pH Levels
It is between 0 and 14, with 0 being the most acidic, 7 being neutral, and 14 being the most alkaline (21).
Several buffering systems can preserve normal pH levels for your body fluids.
Proteins are one way to control the body’s pH level. Hemoglobin, a protein that shapes red blood cells, is an example.
Hemoglobin binds small amounts of acid to help maintain the blood’s usual pH level. Phosphate and bicarbonate are the other buffer structures in your skin (24).
6. Transports Nutrients
Transport proteins carry molecules throughout the bloodstream, into, out of, or inside cells.
Hemoglobin, for example, is a protein that carries oxygen to body tissues from your lungs.
Glucose transporters (GLUT) carry glucose to your cells, while lipoproteins carry cholesterol and other fats in your blood.
Protein carriers are unique, so they only bind to particular substances.
For instance, ferritin is a protein that makes iron available for vital cellular functions while shielding lipids, DNA, and proteins from potentially toxic effects of iron (30).
Another protein that is processed is casein, which is the key milk protein that helps babies grow.
7. Balances Fluid Levels
Protein regulates the body to maintain fluid balance.
If you don’t consume enough protein, your albumin and globulin levels will fall. As a result, these proteins can no longer hold blood in your blood vessels, and the fluid is pushed into the gaps between your cells.
The fluid keeps building up in the spaces between your cells. Swelling or edema will occur in the belly region (33).
Kwashiorkor is rare in developed countries and is present in countries where poverty is at its peak.
8. Biochemical Reactions
Enzymes are proteins that support millions of biochemical reactions occurring inside and outside the cells (35).
The enzyme structure allows them to interact inside the cell with other molecules called substrates, catalyzing reactions important to your metabolism (36).
However, enzymes may function outside the cell, such as digestive enzymes, lactase, and sucrase, which help digest sugar.
Many enzymes require other molecules for a reaction, such as vitamins or minerals.
Bodily functions depend on enzymes such as digestion, energy production, blood clotting, and muscle contraction. (37).
The lack of these enzymes may lead to disease (38).
Protein has many functions inside the human body. This helps stabilize and build the tissues of your body, enables metabolic reactions to occur, and regulates body functions.
Besides providing a structural foundation for your body, proteins also maintain proper pH and fluid balance in the body.
They keep your immune system healthy, carry and store nutrients, and can serve as an energy source.
However, proteins are the building blocks of life and the most important nutrients.