Protein is arguably the most important, yet most often overlooked, of the macronutrients. It is not a primary energy source like carbs and fats; instead, protein is what makes humans, literally. Everything from muscles and bones to microscopic cellular machines, hormones, and neurotransmitters are derived from protein. With so many bodily functions dependent on it, it is clear that practically everyone could benefit from getting a bit more in their diets.

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It is the second-most abundant molecule in fat-free bodily tissues (water being the greatest). It plays a pivotal role in exercise recovery, and it is involved in nearly all bodily functions and processes. Proteins are responsible for many functions throughout the body, including acid-base balance, energy production, cell signaling, and nutrient transport. For these reasons and many more, protein is an essential dietary nutrient for healthy living.

Essential amino acids (EAA) must be consumed in the diet because they are necessary for bodily functions and cannot be synthesized within the body. There are nine EAAs, including three branched-chain amino acids.

 

There are also six conditionally essential amino acids. Unlike EAAs, conditionally essential amino acids are considered nonessential under normal circumstances and can be synthesized in the body; however, requirements can outweigh their availability or rate of synthesis under certain physiological conditions, making them essential for some individuals. 

 

When this occurs, the conditionally essential amino acid must be obtained in the diet. Healthy adults typically do not need to be concerned about consuming enough conditionally essential amino acids as they only become crucial during infancy, injury, disease, or trauma. Nonessential amino acids can be synthesized in the body from other amino acids, typically the EAAs, so they do not need to be consumed in the diet.

All proteins are composed of amino acids. There are hundreds of amino acids in nature, yet there are just 20 amino acids that the human body requires to perform its various functions. 

Essential Amino Acids

  • Histidine

  • Lysine

  • Methionine

  • Phenylalanine

  • Threonine

  • Tryptophan

Conditionally Essential Amino Acids

  • Arginine

  • Cysteine

  • Glutamine

  • Glycine

  • Proline

  • Tyrosine

Nonessential Amino Acids

  • Alanine

  • Asparagine

  • Aspartic acid

  • Glutamic acid

  • Serine