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Junior Nutrition
The Power of Protein

If you asked most athletes what the most important nutrient is for performance, they would answer protein. That answer is correct. Even the origin of the word protein speaks to its significance. It comes from the Greek word "Proteois" meaning "of first importance". There are many reasons why this is true, and the junior tennis player should take serious note of these.

Why is protein so vital? In a nutshell, protein, which is simply a folded string of small chemical units called amino acids, provides your body with the components it needs to create, maintain and repair every cell and tissue. These amino acids control things such as building hormones and antibodies. They also are components of enzymes, which facilitate necessary chemical reactions within the body. Protein is also an important component of muscle, skin, hair, nails, blood, organs, brain, nerves and even our genes. I hope that you are getting the picture. Protein is essential.

Another aspect to these amino acids being essential is the fact that our bodies cannot store protein, so we need a continuous supply from our diet. When we consume protein our body uses only what it needs for cellular building and repair; the rest is converted to fuel for metabolic energy. Once protein has converted to energy fuel, it is no longer available to the body as a cellular building block, no matter how great the body's need for protein.

To give you an idea why it is important to get adequate daily intake of protein, consider just this fact alone. Our body is on a continuous cycle of trying to create over 11,500 new cells every second of every day of our life. Considering all the life sustaining functions protein has, it is easy to understand how dietary deficiency wreaks havoc on the body. Metabolism slows, immunity becomes impaired, and the body will break down its own muscle tissue to try to supply the system with the protein it needs.

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