The Differences Between Vitamins and Proteins

Vitamins and proteins are very different nutrients that fulfill crucial functions in the human body. Learn the differences between the two.
The Differences Between Vitamins and Proteins
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 16 December, 2022

Vitamins and proteins are two types of essential nutrients for the body. If you experience a deficit in any of them, the functioning of many organs could be put at risk in the short and medium term.

However, there are many differences between these two elements. While it’s true that they can be found in various foods, both their chemical structure and their functions differ. In the following article, we’ll tell you what you need to know.

What are vitamins?

The term vitamin refers to a quite heterogeneous group of substances that participate in different physiological functions that are very important for development, growth, and the processes that take place inside our cells. There are 13 vitamins that are essential, that is, we need an exogenous contribution so that their levels are adequate within the body.

Furthermore, vitamins can be divided into two groups, depending on the medium in which they’re dissolved. On the one hand, there are water-soluble vitamins, which are transported in an aqueous medium.

On the other hand, we have fat-soluble vitamins. In this case, they need fats in order to be absorbed and stored.

As for water-soluble vitamins, there are hardly any reservoirs in the body, so their daily intake is key.

At the same time, it’s important to mention that the deficiency of certain vitamins, such as vitamin D, can cause serious health problems. This is evidenced by a study published in the journal Reviews in Endocrine & Metabolic Disorders. Despite this, half of the world’s population fails to reach the recommended values for this vitamin.

It’s also important to note that there are several vitamins that actively participate in the immune system, improving the body’s ability to defend itself. Among them, vitamin C stands out, a nutrient that can help reduce the incidence of infectious diseases, according to a study published in Nutrients.

Acute vitamin deficiency problems

We have commented that maintaining a deficit of vitamins in the body can promote the development of chronic pathologies. But it is also a short-term inconvenience.

Many of these nutrients participate in the absorption of minerals at the intestinal level, so an inadequate supply of vitamins can lead to a deficiency of certain elements, such as iron or calcium.

Specifically, vitamin C is responsible for increasing the availability of iron, a nutrient with a low absorption capacity. If both are administered together, the risk of anemia is significantly reduced.

Something similar happens with vitamin D and calcium. The levels of the first nutrient must be adequate in order to enhance the intestinal absorption of calcium and its subsequent fixation in the bones.

12 different vitamins.
Vitamins are micronutrients. Small daily amounts of each are needed.

What are proteins?

Proteins, on the other hand, are structures made up of units that are called amino acids. They’re decisive in terms of structure, as they’re responsible for being part of muscles and other tissues. In addition, they participate in the synthesis of hormones, the immune system, and metabolic processes.

It’s very important to meet the daily protein requirements to achieve good health. If you experience a sustained deficit of these nutrients over time, diseases such as sarcopenia will be more likely to develop, as stated by research published in the journal BioMed Research International.

Now, protein isn’t only important for muscles or physical performance, but also for overall nutritional status. In fact, the recommendations regarding its consumption have been revised in recent years. Currently, an intake of greater than 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight per day is indicated in sedentary people, according to an article published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism.

These needs can even be doubled or tripled in the case of athletes. Of course, it’s important to ensure that at least half of the administered proteins have high biological value.

Is taking vitamin supplements necessary?

One of the most frequently asked questions in nutrition consultations has to do with whether or not taking vitamin supplements is necessary. There’s evidence that the administration of some of these nutrients in doses above those included in the diet could produce health benefits. An example is that of vitamin C, as we already mentioned, which helps prevent colds.

The truth is that there’s a lot of disagreement around this issue. As a general rule, chronic supplementation with B vitamins isn’t recommended. However, maintaining an extra supply of nutrients that may be deficient, such as vitamin D, could help improve health. This is confirmed by a study published in the Journal of Infection and Public Health.

Although it’s difficult to experience an overdose of water-soluble vitamins, it becomes easier to suffer such a situation when it comes to fat-soluble vitamins. In fact, some of these nutrients could even lead to toxicity if administered in high doses, such as vitamin A.

However, it’s more common to suffer from a vitamin deficiency than an excess. In the latter case, the consequences aren’t too concerning either.

Are protein supplements necessary?

Science supports the consumption of protein supplements, as they don’t have side effects and they make it easy to meet daily needs. This happens especially in the case of athletes, as it’s sometimes difficult to administer almost 200 grams of protein per day through the diet.

By means of a nutritional shake of high biological value, this task becomes much easier. Moreover, the consumption of these products has been shown to improve the recovery processes in athletes, managing to stimulate muscle adaptations. They help to generate hypertrophy processes and promote increases in strength between different sessions.

When choosing a protein supplement, it’s important to look at the labels and ask for the appropriate quality certificates. Not only do you have to make sure that the purity is stated on the packaging, but it’s also essential to make sure that it doesn’t contain doping substances.

A man preparing a protein shake.
Athletes can take advantage of the benefits of protein shakes to improve their muscle mass gain.

How to ensure optimal intake of vitamins and proteins through diet?

To be able to cover the daily requirements of vitamins and proteins through the diet, you must follow a diet that’s as varied and balanced as possible. The larger the spectrum of foods consumed, the lower the risk of experiencing an inefficient intake of some essential nutrient.

As a general rule, it’s important for the diet to consist of fresh foods. These have a high nutrient density and don’t usually contain toxic or harmful compounds that can put the proper functioning of the organs at risk.

At the same time, eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis will be decisive. At least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables must appear in the diet each day. These foods are capable of providing a good amount of vitamins.

Likewise, it’s a good strategy to consume more fish than red meat. Another very wise tip has to do with including eggs and dairy on a regular basis.

Vitamins and proteins: Two very different nutrients

Vitamins and proteins are very different nutrients. They’re not alike in their chemical structures and, although they share some functions, they have essentially different roles.

However, it’s important to meet the requirements of both elements to achieve good health in the medium and long term. Otherwise, complex diseases could be promoted.

If you’re considering the possibility of including a vitamin or protein supplement in your diet, we recommend visiting a nutritionist first. You’ll have to start by adjusting your diet. Then, it will be important to choose the most suitable supplement for each particular case.

  • Holick M. F. (2017). The vitamin D deficiency pandemic: Approaches for diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Reviews in endocrine & metabolic disorders18(2), 153–165.
  • Carr, A. C., & Maggini, S. (2017). Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients9(11), 1211.
  • Martone, A. M., Marzetti, E., Calvani, R., Picca, A., Tosato, M., Santoro, L., Di Giorgio, A., Nesci, A., Sisto, A., Santoliquido, A., & Landi, F. (2017). Exercise and Protein Intake: A Synergistic Approach against Sarcopenia. BioMed research international2017, 2672435.
  • Richter, M., Baerlocher, K., Bauer, J. M., Elmadfa, I., Heseker, H., Leschik-Bonnet, E., Stangl, G., Volkert, D., Stehle, P., & on behalf of the German Nutrition Society (DGE) (2019). Revised Reference Values for the Intake of Protein. Annals of nutrition & metabolism74(3), 242–250.
  • Ali N. (2020). Role of vitamin D in preventing of COVID-19 infection, progression and severity. Journal of infection and public health13(10), 1373–1380.
  • Davies, R. W., Carson, B. P., & Jakeman, P. M. (2018). The Effect of Whey Protein Supplementation on the Temporal Recovery of Muscle Function Following Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients10(2), 221.

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