Proteins- which? How much? When?
Diet – Metabolism-Energy-Activity, this forms the basic paradigm of human existence. The individual aspects though may vary within limits from person to person. Diet, in its content is comprised of the same macro and micro nutrient albeit offered and consumed in different forms. The former taken in as carbohydrates, proteins and fats or lipids and the latter forming a host of vitamins and minerals essential for sound health. The food is then metabolized to generate energy to allow for activity. Of these diet and activity are within the control of the individual while his or her metabolism is dictated by the diet and activity of the person. A simple example is a higher protein content along with more muscular activity results in higher lean mass leading to an increase in metabolism.
Irrespective of individual metabolic activity, every individual has a Basic Metabolic Rate or the energy needed by the body at complete rest. This may vary within limits from person to person but it’s the minimum amount of energy needed by the body. For a minimally active lady this may be as low as 1500 calories going up to 2200 calories for an athlete or a professional body builder. Around 20% of this calorie intake should ideally be by way of a protein source. One gram of protein gives 4 calories of energy. For the incremental energy expended during daily activity by an individual, 25 to 30% should be by way of a protein source. So a back-of-the envelope calculation tells us that for a minimally active lady with a BMR of 1500 calories who expends about 500 to 600 calories for her daily chores and activities would need at least 110 to 115 gms of protein per day in her diet as an ideal case scenario. This is a scientific way for the computation of minimum protein needs of a regular person who is not into heavy sports or rigorous activity. A slightly crude estimate is one gm protein per Kilo gram of body weight. Each of us can do the math for our individual needs based as shown above.
Now let’s consider the intake side – diet. India is home to over 350 million vegetarians whose major source of dietary protein is through dairy and a few plant based proteins such as lentils. Clearly there is a mismatch here with the ideal protein requirements. How much? Let’s do a calorie count. A typical vegetarian diet which consists of Indian breads or rotis, lentils, rice and vegetables delivers roughly 40 gms of dietary protein for a normal sized meal. Even if you add up for two meals a day we can see that there is a shortfall of at least 30 to 40 gms of dietary protein per day for someone with minimal daily activity. With rising awareness for physical activity more and more people are indulging in some form of exercise based on age and physical conditioning. As activity levels increase the gap between the minimum dietary protein requirement and the consumed amount increases. It then becomes imperative to bridge this gap by way of daily consumption of protein supplements. Supplements have three main sources, milk or casein, soya and whey. Of these whey is the preferred choice due to better amino acid (the building blocks of protein) availability and better absorption by the body.
So what are proteins and why are we emphasizing on adequate amounts to be consumed. Proteins are the fuel that motivates and supports the body in building healthy tissues and cells. As mentioned earlier proteins are long chain amino acids got from the diet. They are needed for the replenishment of tissues of skin, hair to the digestive enzymes. Vital organs, muscles, tissues and some hormones are made from proteins. Proteins are needed for bodily functions from controlling blood sugar levels to healing wounds to fighting bacteria. That’s how important proteins are. Along with other clinical aspects one can check the following list of symptoms to determine protein deficiency in diet if any:
- A sluggish metabolism
- Trouble losing weight.
- Low energy levels and fatigue.
- Trouble building muscle mass.
- Poor concentration and trouble learning.
- Moodiness and mood swings.
- Muscle, bone and joint pain.
There is a plethora of brands which deliver anywhere from 10gms of protein per scoop up to 25gms. Based on the concept we began with i.e. diet-metabolism-energy-activity one needs to choose. Given the choices of brands and variants it is advisable to choose wisely with discretion as one’s choice will determine the results. It has been established that when consumed in moderation, protein supplements are safe and all hitherto held myths about any adverse impact have been busted.