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What Is Protein Turnover?

Helen Akers
Helen Akers

Protein turnover refers to the biological process that breaks down protein within the cell. Human and animal cells rely on protein in order to divide, multiply and grow. In order to use protein, cells constantly work at synthesizing and degrading it.

Whether a cell is bringing protein molecules together or breaking them apart, the process is considered to be protein turnover. Essentially, the body is processing a certain amount of protein within a specified time frame. Protein does not usually remain stagnant once it enters the body, although some forms may last longer than others.

Proteins that are comprised of components, such as serine, generally get digested first.
Proteins that are comprised of components, such as serine, generally get digested first.

Organs within the body rely on protein turnover in order to regenerate tissue. Muscles use the process to repair and strengthen themselves. When protein is ingested through food sources, the cells are able to isolate and break down the protein. Any unused and excess protein may be eliminated from the body.

Even cells that are not in a reproduction or growth stage participate in the protein turnover process. These cells still need the nutrient in order to maintain stability and survive. Some forms of protein are digested and broken down rather quickly to ensure this happens. Changes within the body or the type of environment it encounters can speed up turnover.

There are a few factors that might affect the body's ability to break down and synthesize protein. One of those factors is free radicals that result from the oxidation process. When cells are exposed to oxygen, it creates free radicals that can also lead to oxidized amino acid residues. Certain types of amino acids or proteins, such as lysine, are more vulnerable to oxidation.

Other types of proteins tend to live under two hours, due to their composition. Proteins that are comprised of components such as serine and glutamate generally get digested first. Sometimes referred to as a PEST sequence, proteins that contain certain terminal components are often broken down first since they tend to be more susceptible and vulnerable. N-terminal proteins are another type of amino acid that break down rather quickly.

During the protein turnover process cells tend to take advantage of protein types that have undergone some sort of chemical transformation. Modified or mutant proteins are more vulnerable to being broken down. Certain types of proteins and enzymes are processed for specific functions, such as blood clotting, cellular responses to stress, and DNA expression.

Discussion Comments


There are an array of healthy foods to help your body with the protein turn over process. What makes these foods even better is that many of them are quite tasty. Most people like peanut butter, which is high in protein. Of course, there are those dreaded peanut butter allergies (which are becoming more popular) to consider.

Other foods providing healthy protein include chicken breasts, tuna, eggs, milk, yogurt, nuts, salmon and the list goes on. Also, turkey is a healthy, protein packed food that can be substituted for red meat in many recipes.


In an effort to improve health, individuals may decide to cut meats, especially red meat, from their diets. The problem with this approach is that meats account for much of the protein we consume, and when we take this food out of our diets, we need to replace it with other protein rich foods.

Simply cutting meat from a diet doesn't automatically lead to better health. In fact, this act could prove to be harmful if not accompanied by some protein regulation program.


When I was playing sports and lifting weights as part of my conditioning program, other weight lifters would tell me about the importance of eating plenty of protein and drinking plenty of water. As it was explained to me, when I lifted weights, I tore muscles and by performing this tearing process I was providing my body with an opportunity to grow new muscles from the splitting old muscles.

Reading this article helps me understand why when I didn't take in enough protein I didn't build muscle. Without the protein, all the workouts were not bringing about the desired outcome, more and larger muscles. I wish I had known more about protein turnover rate back then when I was spending all those hours in the weight room.

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    • Proteins that are comprised of components, such as serine, generally get digested first.
      By: logos2012
      Proteins that are comprised of components, such as serine, generally get digested first.