The primary connection between amino acids and protein is that amino acids are the elements that make up the protein structures. The amino acids are linked together by peptide bonds to form chains of complete proteins. Plant-based foods contain amino acids, and animal foods are good sources of complete protein. The human body has the ability to use both amino acids and protein, and both are important for good health.
The process that forms the amino acids into protein is known as dehydration synthesis, which produces both short and long amino acid chains. A short chain is referred to as a peptide, and a long chain is referred to as a polypeptide or protein. The body's deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) dictates how the amino acids and protein will be used by the body. Depending on what the DNA determines, the polypeptides can potentially fold and form into complicated structures of protein.
Although there are around 500 different amino acids, only 22 are required for the construction of all the various proteins that the body needs. These are known as the proteinogenic amino acids, of which nine are essential and must be obtained from the diet. They include tryptophan, valine, and lysine and can be obtained either from an incomplete or a complete source of protein.
Typically, all whole foods contain a form of either amino acids or protein. Amino acids are found in plant foods, such as fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. They are readily absorbed by the body and transformed into complete protein via the dehydration synthesis process.
The protein from animal sources, such as meat, fish, and eggs, takes longer for the body to digest. This is because the body is unable to absorb complete proteins from another source. Therefore, the body uses enzymes to break the protein apart and reduces the chains back down to the amino acids that they once were. Once broken down into amino acids, the body is able to utilize them to build its own complete proteins.
Both amino acids and protein are important for healthy body function. They work together to build enzymes, which are important for the metabolism of food and many nutrients. When combined with a moderate amount of physical exercise, they help to build strong and healthy muscle tissues. In addition, amino acids and protein help to provide and retain moisture in the skin and hair.