Proteins are broken down in the stomach during digestion by enzymes known as proteases into smaller polypeptides to provide amino acids for the organism, including the essential amino acids that the organism cannot biosynthesize itself. Aside from their role in protein synthesis, amino acids are also important nutritional sources of nitrogen.

Proteins, like carbohydrates, contain 4 kilocalories per gram as opposed to lipids which contain 9 kilocalories and alcohols which contain 7 kilocalories. The liver, and to a much lesser extent the kidneys, can convert amino acids used by cells in protein biosynthesis into glucose by a process known as gluconeogenesis. The amino acids leucine and lysine are exceptions.

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