“Had your protein, dude?”
Well, a very famous tagline among fitness freaks, isn’t it? Proteins are perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when we think of fitness and nutrition. Whenever someone starts to plan a diet, the first question that pops up is what kind of protein foods should be included? But then comes the festive season and a typical Indian mindset that says, “I can’t eat eggs or meat for a month now, where will I get my protein from?”
The solution also pops into mind – protein shakes! There are so many of those in the market, you’re simply spoilt for choice. Soy protein, isolates, Albumen protein from eggs, and the list goes on and on. Yes, lots of choices, but a lot more misinformation and lack of knowledge about this vital macronutrient that is so important for health and fitness – Protein.
More protein, more muscle?
The latest nutritional trend is to go on high protein diets. The reason? Since proteins build muscle, more protein should mean more muscle, right? Well, that is most fitness enthusiasts go completely wrong.
People into hardcore weight training are mostly obsessed with protein. I remember an incident that had happened several years ago, after my workout session, when I realized that I forgotten to bring my customary whey shake bottle to the gym. The fact that I forgot to bring my protein shake to the gym on that day, made me feel like I was already starting to lose hold of that ‘anabolic window’ and thereby, bidding a goodbye to my gains that day! I’ve learned better since, but the question is, what leads to this obsession? To understand the hype, it is important to first understand protein itself and its crucial role.
What is Protein?
Protein is one of the three macronutrients which are required to complete our daily nutritional requirements, the others being carbohydrates and fats. Unlike carbohydrates and fats, which are utilized as the primary and secondary source of fuel for the body, proteins are found in every living cell and they are utilized as functional and structural contributors to the body. Proteins contain Amino Acids (Essential and Non-essential) and their requirements are dependent upon certain physical factors that body goes through during an extreme dieting/deficit phase or while experiencing a catabolic effect due to overloaded performance.
Simply saying the use of proteins towards cell building (synthesis) or repair, or for burning as fuel, depends on the extreme factors and conditions the body is put through with respect to time.
What decides how much is good or bad for the body?
There are many research level articles on the internet, many of which state that one should target an intake of 1 gm/pound (2.2gms/kg/day) of protein for your body, if your goal is to look like those muscular hunks on bodybuilding adverts. Then again, there is a different research (Eric Helms et al.) which states that an average level of protein intake should be as much as 0.82gm/kg/day. So, how do you know what is right, and what is wrong?
To begin with, you must take into account what is your specific fitness and health history, and what phase you are going through currently. Do not get carried away by the plethora of researches stating various facts about proteins, and advocating a hundred different methods of protein requirement analysis, like nitrogen balance, variation in calorific intake, and lean mass change in body.
Protein intake for optimal adaptation/caloric deficit condition:
For example, a research study (Philip and Van Loon-2011) states that the amount of protein needed is determined by endurance performance, leading to breakdown and protein synthesis (muscle building and repair), which is around 1.8 g/kg/day. However the exact requirement depends on the intensity of the resistance training. Also certain other collection of research and study (Eric Helms et al) also maintains that optimum consumption of protein even on a caloric deficit can still be placed at 2g/kg/day.
However a conflict of opinion arises when some of us here say “Hey, but I lift more, and I have been lifting for so many years now! So, how do I determine how much I need?”
The answer to that lies in simple logic: The more your body is adapted to lifting, there will be lesser muscle breakdown and increased protein synthesis when compared to a beginner. So anything more than 1.8grams/kg/day is nothing but a waste of hard-earned money.
What is the verdict?
This definitely is a topic riddled with controversy and lack of consensus. And that’s where the supplement companies take advantage, by using researches that advocate higher protein consumption, some of which state that even 3gms/kg/day is safe. Of course, there are no researches that conclusively prove that high protein intake is unhealthy per se, but we need to understand that saying protein advocacy by supplement brands need not guide us towards the exact amount required by our individual bodies! Getting swayed by what’s written on the container, may not be the ideal way of deciding how much protein is good for you.
So is there no way to determine the amount, after all?
That would totally depend on your fitness journey and your goals. As a thumb rule, the efficiency of your protein intake depends on choosing an optimal value of around 1.8g/kg/day for a beginner or intermediate, and lesser than that for an advanced trainer. However, a higher range can be considered when in a caloric deficit.
To help you decide, here are the normal ranges for protein requirements of an average individual (based on activity type):
|Group||Protein intake (g/kg/day)
|men and women (daily requirements)||0.8-1.0|
|Recreational endurance athletes||0.8-1.0|
|Resistance athletes (Beginners,Intermediate)||1.8-2.0|
|Resistance athletes (Advanced)||1.5-1.8|
Bottom line – Intake proteins wisely, and you will optimize your muscle-building in no time!
Author Credits – Vinodh V.