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Uncloaking the folly around protein supplements  
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Uncloaking the folly around protein supplements  

When looking at adequate protein requirements, sources from the kitchen surpass the need for supplements, if taken adequately via diet 
protein supplements
Representational image | Shutterstock

Sanjay Rakshit, 28, a senior software developer from Kolkata recalls, “As I started hitting the gym daily, I got hooked onto a scoop of whey protein as a pre-workout meal. I used to stay bloated and thought that it was a normal phenomenon. However, when I skipped the shake on days I skipped the gym, the bloating used to go away.” After realising this, Rakshit discontinued having his scoop of whey protein and started compensating with food instead. 

Proteins play an important role in maintaining the body, from repairing and strengthening the muscles, refuelling hormones, boosting our mood, fighting infections, and more. However, fast-paced millennials often rely on protein shakes to meet these requirements and up their protein intakes. Among gym enthusiasts, “the more the merrier” is often misconstrued as synonymous to muscle gain, and a high-protein low-calorie diet is the latest fad.

Protein powders were initially recommended for competitive athletes whose requirements are above the normal range (0.8g per kg body weight per day). The craze to consume protein powder as part of the daily routine became a short cut to reach our health goals. However, as the markets are flooded with innumerable variants of protein powder, how much is too much comes to mind. Do we really need to rely on supplements or are kitchen resources more than enough to meet the goals? 

Proteins are digested slower than other macro-nutrients, and therefore, keep us full for longer. By suppressing hunger pangs and late-night cravings, protein intake could help avoid overeating. However, they are also known to cause bloating and flatulence and several people have trouble digesting the same.

WHO suggests 0.8g/kg body weight per day of protein is enough to meet the daily requirements of adults. When looking at protein intake from food sources, eggs, meat, fish, milk and milk products, soy and soya chunks, lentils, millets and the likes are good examples.   

While optimal intake of protein is crucial in maintaining a balance in our body, a study published in the International Scholarly Research Notices in 2013 indicates the dangers of being on a high protein diet that are above the recommended limits. The study warns, consuming high quantities of protein, that are often promoted by the fitness industry, for a prolonged time puts your kidneys, liver, and bone health at risk specifically for the non-athlete population.

Protein powders in the fitness industry 

In a discussion with Sheela Krishnaswamy, a dietitian and wellness consultant from Bengaluru, we found something interesting about supplements and fitness enthusiasts. She said that fitness enthusiasts should move away from commercially available high protein powders and pay more attention to their regular meals to meet protein requirements. She added that it is easily achievable with foods available in your kitchen.    

*Please note that fitness enthusiasts do not equate to professional athletes.  

Gym enthusiasts carrying bottles of protein shake as peri-exercise (pre-intra-post exercise) meals is a style statement now. As people keep looking for quick fixes to meet their fitness goals, the frenzy around high protein concentrates has reached an all-time high. 

Krishnaswamy further added, “I would first try to rectify any inadequacy with better meal choices. If that does not work, then homemade protein powder could be included to meet the protein requirements even for a person who is trying to lose weight.”  

Protein requirements increase with increasing activity levels, but even for regular gym goers, protein supplementation is rarely a necessity. Furthermore, a study published in an open access journal from MDPI in 2019 suggests a single protein supplementation is not a magic potion to enhance performance. To get the best results, you need a full spectrum of essential amino acids from dietary sources as well throughout the day.

Nafisa Iqra, senior dietitian from Gleneagles Global Hospital, Hyderabad added, “Most food plates in our homes are deficient in protein. Soy and soy products such as defatted soy flour, soy granules can be used to improve the protein in one’s diet.”   

She adds, Lentil powder, gram flour powder (sattu), nut flours or powders can also be used while making a homemade protein powder.  

The requirements differ 

BCAA or Branched Chain Amino Acids are another group of amino acids that has proved beneficial to professional athletes in muscle recovery and averting fatigue. BCAA contains three of the nine essential amino acids our body needs to build protein, which are included in peri-exercise meals.  

A regular gym goer, however, should look at foods such as soy chunks, milk products, legumes, lentils along with complex carbs and fats for BCAA for their pre and post work out meals. A professional athlete may need to add certain elements via supplements along with a balanced diet, solely under the guidance of certified professionals.

Power of protein in weight loss

As we delve into high protein diets for weight loss, a homemade protein powder with ingredients from the kitchen could help avoid the side-effects of consuming protein powders on a regular basis. “This idea can be taken into consideration as it might help to keep up with the requirements of a person who is on a weight loss spree, but definitely with proper meal plan and not solely on supplementary feedings,” says dietitian Ankita Debbarma, from the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Puducherry. 

Sourav Biswas, a 28-year-old data scientist from Kolkata, has been using whey protein since 2019 as recommended by his gym trainer. He said, “It’s my routine to take one scoop of whey in the morning for my breakfast, and one in the evening before workout.” Biswas adds that he has been taking the morning protein shake as a meal replacement for breakfast for its ease rather than as a bulking agent.  

The trend also goes for people replacing their entire meals with concentrated shakes, that end up compromising on other macro nutrients. While discussing protein supplements for weight loss, Debbarma says that for weight loss, both diet and exercise go hand in hand and no fancy diets can achieve long lasting outcomes.  

On a similar note, Krishnaswamy said, “Seeds, nuts, dals and whole grains can be used in different combinations to prepare DIY protein powders.” Dry roasting and grinding a mix of flax seeds, sunflower seeds, Bengal gram (chana), chia seeds and pumpkin seeds can be substituted as a healthy homemade protein mix.  

DIY protein powders 

If you are looking to ditch the commercial protein powder and transition to a simple recipe from kitchen ingredients, here’s something to try: 

  • You will need Bengal gram, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds and almonds. 
  • Next, dry roast equal amounts of everything separately and blend them together into a powder. 
  • Keep them in an airtight container to use two scoops every day. 
  • Use it with milk, water or soy or nut milk for a source of healthy protein but keep within limits – 150kcal and 6g protein per scoop.  

However, remember, balance is the key to a healthy diet. 

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  1. Very insightful article!
    Never did i thought that there could be a homemade solution to those protein shakes. Amazing!

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