The Protein Conundrum

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Angshuman Dutta

Among the three macro nutrients (Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats) proteins are often the misunderstood ones; we know carbohydrates provide energy and the Indian subcontinent by and large have diets, based primarily on them. We are also aware the fats are not supposed to be consumed in large amounts, though we occasionally (for some regularly!) indulge in our guilty pleasure of butter chicken and deep fried fritters. But what about protein-do we really need them? The lay man notion of proteins being essential only for building muscles often relegates protein to a grey area; right from consuming egg yolks to protein shakes.

Proteins are the building blocks of life- this is the line we have all studied in our primary school text books. Unfortunately most of us seem to have forgotten about it or not understood the depth the line holds. Protein is life. Right from a virus to a complex organism like Man, protein is what makes it up. One cannot have life without protein. Protein makes up your cells, skin, tissues, hair, nails and muscles of course amongst other things. Besides that protein is crucial for building lean skeletal muscles mass as well as building a robust immune system. When you consume less protein over an extended period of time you are compromising vital aspects of your health and well being.

Now the moot question is how much protein is required to be consumed. As per the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), an adult requires at least 0.8gm of protein per kg of bodyweight. So roughly for a person weighing 80kg, the minimum daily requirement would be 64gms. Please note that this is irrespective of physical activity and to prevent protein deficiency only. Depending on physical activity protein requirements would increase.

Every sport has a peculiar energy demand; to put it simply depending on the nature of the sport, the macro nutrient proportions vary. The ratios of carbohydrates, protein and fat have to be altered to match the energy demand of the sport. In fact, protein requirements fluctuate with seasons of training- off season protein requirement may be different from in season. These permutations and combinations are crucial for optimum sports performance.

For people who are looking to lose fat, while preserving lean muscle mass a daily consumption of 1gm per kg of body weight would be a good place to start. Those who are looking to build lean muscle while losing body fat, 1.4-2 gm per kg of bodyweight should be sufficient depending on type of exercise, intensity and body composition.

There are myths surrounding protein consumption and its adverse effects on kidneys. There is no research to indicate that people with healthy kidneys, suffer from any renal problems in the above mentioned protein intakes. Athletes traditionally have seen good results with a relatively higher protein ratio. 

Having found out how much protein we need, where do we get it from? Animal source proteins are highly bio-available and contain the full spectrum of essential amino acids. Milk, Eggs, poultry and fish are great choices. People on vegan diets can also get in the required proteins without consuming animal proteins; the only thing to note is that while some plant proteins do contain all the essential amino acids, it is not in the optimum proportion. So, mixing and matching multiple sources of plant protein is crucial. Consuming beans, legumes, soy which is all good sources of protein would be helpful; combining vegan proteins like rice and beans will provide all the essential amino acids in optimum ratios.

Can supplements help? Yes they can; if you are unable to fulfill your requirement of protein from whole food, protein supplements will help. While, Whey protein is a great choice, vegans can opt for blended proteins like rice and pea. They key is to select a good quality protein and not go for the best “deal”; just like you would not buy rotten fruits or fish from the market, don’t buy substandard supplements.

While supplements can bridge the nutritional gap, it is imperative to have a mix of whole proteins from multiple sources. They would be naturally rich in amino acids and when you consume a variety of sources you give your body the complete array of essential aminos. Whether it is beans or poultry the choice should ideally be organic, local and wild.

The writer Angshuman Dutta is the Founder/CEO of Transformers Fitness Academy. You can follow him at

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