Difference between Amino Acids and Protein

January 8, 2017 by Editorial Team

While proteins are basically chains of amino acids, it is easy to think they are the same. However, amino acids are more than just building blocks that result in a well-functioning protein. Let’s learn how the two are different.


Amino Acids vs Protein
The general structure of an amino acid

Amino acids serve many critical functions in the body. They are crucial in the formation of proteins in the body. Each protein is made up of its own sequence of amino acids, which results in various protein shapes. Imagine amino acids as letters of the alphabet that can be sequenced to create words and form different sentences.

Individual molecules of amino acids can transform glucose into fuel when there is excessive protein intake and less carbohydrates. There are some amino acids that turn into fatty acids that get stored in the adipose tissue when there’s an oversupply of protein and calories in the diet.

There are about 500 known amino acids. The body has what is called “20 standard amino acids,” nine of which are called “essential amino acids.” These amino acids taken are taken in through food as they cannot be created out of other compounds by the body. The non-essential amino acids are produced by the cells in the body. Both are needed for good overall health and can be obtained through a well-balanced diet.

An image of a primary protein structure

A protein is a long chain of amino acids joined together by peptide bonds. Proteins are essential to almost all cell processes. Some proteins have essential mechanical functions such as in cell division, immune responses, and cell signaling. Protein helps in cell growth and repair, strengthening bones, and tissue production.

There are four factors that determine how a protein can function. The first one is the sequence of the amino acids, followed by the small “twists” in the chain. The third is the way the whole chain is folded. The last factor is its composition of various sub-units.

Meat, milk, eggs, beans, nuts, and fish are important sources of protein and are complete sources of all the essential amino acids. Lean cuts of meat, low-fat dairy, and seafood are considered the best complete source of protein. When protein is taken in, it is processed into free amino acids. These amino acids, in turn, help produce new proteins the body needs. This is why protein is an essential part in our daily diet.

Amino Acids vs Protein

So what’s the difference between amino acids and protein? Amino acids function as the building blocks of protein in the body. Protein is a long chain of amino acids of various shapes and functions. While amino acids directly affect how protein is utilized in the body, proteins don’t usually affect the functions of amino acids. In addition, the body cannot produce proteins in the absence of amino acids, while the absence of dietary protein leads to the body being unable to access amino acids needed to produce these proteins.

Comparison Chart

Amino AcidsProtein
Building blocks of proteinLong chain of amino acids arranged in different sequences
Non-essential amino acids process glucose into fuelImportant in tissue building, cell growth, strong bones.
Directly affects protein functionDoes not usually affect the function of amino acids