Protease is not just one ingredient. Rather, it is a group of ingredients that all do the same thing and so are grouped into one category. Within this article, we will explore exactly what protease is, what it does, how it does it, and how you can benefit.

What Is It?

Protease [1] is a general terms used to refer to a group of enzymes that help our body break down proteins during the digestion process. Other names for this group of enzyme are proteinase, peptidase, or proteolytic enzymes.  The three most common protease enzymes are called pepsin, trypsin, and chymotrypsin.

What Is Its Biological Role?

When we eat, different elements of our food are broken down by different enzymes at different stages of the digestive process. Proteins are very molecularly complex--typically long chains of individual peptides joined together, which are themselves formed from even smaller amino acids.

With simpler compounds such as starches, the saliva in our mouths starts digestion; because of how complex these bonds are, protein breakdown does not begin until food actually reaches our stomach. This process starts with specialized cells in your stomach lining that produce an inactive form of protease called pepsinogen.

When pepsinogen is exposed to the stomach’s acidic environment it undergoes a biochemical reaction that transforms it to pepsin, the first protease enzyme to affect the protein in our food. Pepsin takes care of the first in a multi-step process to properly breakdown the proteins. It severs certain bonds which then separates the long and protectively folded protein into more manageable pieces called peptides.

The peptides are then passed to your small intestine to complete the final stages of digestion. Here they are met by trypsin and chymotrypsin, two proteolytic enzymes that are produced by the pancreas before making their way to the small intestine to complete this special function.

They work synergistically to take the peptide and break them down completely into the individual building blocks of proteins known as amino acids [2]. Amino acids are then able to be absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal lining, where they can be put to good use.

How Does It Help Bodybuilders and People Who Work Out?

Protease enable your body to do something useful with the protein you ingest. Every fitness enthusiast knows that in order to maintain muscle tone or increase muscle mass, it is important to get enough protein.

The problem is that protein is so complex on a molecular level that without specialized enzymes such as the protease group, the protein would never make it out of our stomach to be able to help our muscles in the slightest. It is for this reason that, even though we make protease ourselves naturally, some bodybuilder and competitive athletes supplement with digestive enzyme blends that include protease.

The idea is that it boosts the level of nutrition you are able to glean from every calorie you eat, giving you an extra boost in results for your hard work put in at the gym.

What Foods Contain It?

While our bodies naturally produce the protease enzymes mentioned above, there are certain foods that contain other varieties of protease. These include pineapple, papaya, and whole grains. These foods are often used to isolate and concentrate protease for use in digestive enzyme supplement blends [3].

How Much Of It Do You Need?

Our body produces all the protease we need. However, if you decide to try supplementing with digestive enzymes for their supposed help with a variety of conditions or even just to help give you an edge at the gym, the best recommendation is to simply follow the dosing directions given by the particular product you choose.

This is because the proprietary blends of enzymes in these supplements differ such that a generic dose recommendation would not be at all useful.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Much Of It?

While you’re body will not produce more protease than you need, supplementing with label recommended dosage of protease has not been shown to harm users.

Supplementation may provide some benefits in terms of additional protein absorption; however, many enzymes are acid-sensitive and cannot survive the harsh environment of our stomach long enough to do much good.

Therefore, supplementing when you do not have a true deficiency will simply be an ineffective investment; unless your fitness goals call for it.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Little Of It?

As your body produces all the protease it needs as a natural part of the digestive process, ingesting little or no protease will not have an effect on your health.

Final Take

Taking the time to learn more about how your body reacts to the foods you eat, and get a more detailed picture of the digestive process, can help you take charge of your own health. After all, food can have a profound effect on our well-being!


[1] Crosier, Michael. Functions of Proteases., 2013.

[2] Wikipedia. Amino Acids. Wikipedia, 2017.

[3] Hendrickson, Kirstin. Protease Supplements., 2015.