Protein has received undue publicity in health literature in the past few years. “Some protein” is necessary at every meal and snack, eat protein for gym workouts, protein supplements are necessary for gym goers are some of the harangues we have been hearing lately.Do we need more protein? Does protein make us fuller? Can vegetarian athletes compete with the non-vegetarian ones? – Common questions that have arisen.

Protein is an essential nutrient for the body. Comprising of a mix of essential amino acids protein is necessary for muscle building, tissue repair and immunity boosting so it is important we get enough of it, but we should not be measuring and counting grams. To avoid numbers and calculations I will not mention exact amounts of protein, but just keep in mind this simple rule: 2 large katoris of pulses such as dal, matki, masoor, moong, etc. and 2 servings of dahi or milk is sufficient protein. If milk is not to your liking, then have more dahi or lassi. The protein should be eaten with some type of carbohydrate such as rice or roti. The Indian staple dubba usually has only roti and sabji. To get your serving of protein add soya beans when grinding your roti atta. Soya beans are high in protein and eaten along with various vegetables will boost your protein intake at lunch time.

In addition to eggs, meat and pulses a few high sources of protein are tofu, nuts and seeds. Include some of these in your diet.

FAQs on protein:
1. Do I need protein at every meal and snack to feel full?
“Fullness” can be determined by how quickly you feel full and how long that feeling lasts. It is a common misconception that protein is essential to feel full. Apples have a miniscule amount of protein but they will make you full, as will other fruits and vegetables. One apple will fill you up the same as a handful of nuts or one egg. From a weight loss point of view, it doesn’t matter which one you have as long as you are full. From a nutritional point of view if you are not getting your katoris of pulses then eat some high protein snacks such as peanuts and roasted channa so you do get enough.

2. What is the difference between animal protein and vegetable protein?
Animal proteins are complete proteins. This means they have all the essential amino acids the body requires for proper functioning. Dals, pulses and milk products (vegetable proteins) are incomplete when eaten alone. When combined with a carbohydrate then the protein becomes complete. Many Indian vegetarian meals are rich with complete protein. Combined perfectly with grains to give you the well-formed diet – chole batura in the North, idli- sambhar in the South, pitla-bhakri in our home state and the universal dal-chawal are all complete proteins.

3. I am vegetarian. Am I getting enough protein?
A vegetarian diet consisting of a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and pulses gives you all the nutrients you need. Although small amounts, other food products have protein. Remember the simple rule of eating 2 katoris of dals/pulses and 2 servings of milk products and you will get sufficient protein.

4. Am I getting too much protein?
Unless you are eating 2 servings of red meat everyday then chances are you are not getting too much protein.

5. I am a vegetarian athlete. Can I compete with a non-vegetarian one?
Sushil Kumar, the wrestler who recently won a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics is vegetarian. Dalip Singh Rana, a.k.a the Great Khali is vegetarian. Mike Tyson, Martina Navratilova, Carl Lewis — the list of veggie athletes is long. You can become strong and have endurance with a wholesome vegetarian diet (and no, I do not work for PETA).

6. Do I need more protein if I work out at the gym?
The majority of gym goers are looking to build lean body mass to increase their resting metabolism. This will help you burn more calories and lose weight. In this case you do not need extra protein. There is no need to make an effort to eat meat or take protein shakes. A bit of cardio and some weight training does not warrant any extra protein or food for that matter – your one hour of workout will be wasted if you compensate with extra calories. However if you are looking to increase muscle bulk, then you need additional proteins.

7. Are protein supplement and shakes are bad for me?
Used properly – no. The trainers at the gyms, Bollywood stars such as Salman Khan and Amir Khan all take some form of supplements to aid muscle building. They do not take steroids — there are plenty of safe and tested products in the market that help with muscle development. If you are thinking of doing some serious body building then learn of the pros and cons of taking supplements (stay tuned in this space) and consider why you want to build muscle. Remember that it is a professional requirement for Amir, Salman and the trainers at the gym.

Published in Pune Mirror, April 25, 2011

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