It's the hottest mantra for weight loss. Said to aid weight loss, muscle gain and a greater sense of fullness, here's putting the spotlight on how the high-protein diet works.
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Your gym trainer swears by it for your weight-training-cum-exercise programme—your friends recommend it to push those stubborn kilos—and it seems easy enough to practice given the relatively easy availability of assorted sources of protein, both animal and plant.

The question is: Is a high-protein diet necessary?

Protein at a glance

Proteins are the building blocks—the food group essential for growth, brain development, healthy bones and the production of hormones. Proteins are divided into two groups: animal and plant. Plant foods rich in proteins are pulses, legumes, lentils, tofu and other soya products.

As delicious and nutritious as these foods are, they are referred to as incomplete proteins because they don’t contain all the essential amino acids. On the other hand, meat, milk and milk products—egg poultry, and fish—are rich in protein and contain balanced level of amino acids. If you’re a vegan, the sheer volume of the plant-based protein has to be higher.

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So how much protein do you need?

"It's largely individualised depending upon one's age, sex and lifestyle," says nutritionist Amita Thakur, Slimming Head, VLCC. "But broadly speaking, you need about 0.6 per cent per kg of your body weight—something achievable even with a healthy, balanced diet."

So why do people go on a high-protein diet at all?

Well, there are these life events that necessitate extra protein—ranging from your adolescence years to weight training, pregnancy and lactation. "Having been a fitness coach for over a decade, I have observed that a diet high in refined carbs is the leading cause of weight gain," says Durvesh Shinde head trainer, Gold Gym, ACE Certified Fitness Expert. "So when you shift the responsibility of majority of the nutrition to protein, the results are faster. We also add some veggies and ghee (a source of good fat) to the diet and the person loses weight soon."

A typical high-protein diet would consist of a breakfast of omelette/lentil pancakes, a lunch of fish and veggies, a snack of cheese and a dinner of meat/fish and veggies. "It is boring at first," admits Shinde. "But with a little imagination and preparation, the diet yields rich dividends. It also keeps you from night-time binges." He adds, “High protein consumption leads to increased muscle protein synthesis. Post workout, eat a protein rich snack, add lean meat, beans, lentils and other high-protein foods to your diet."

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Businessman Akash Sharma (44) lost 25 kilos in 5 months on a high-protein diet, which he gradually altered to include veggies and fruits. "It helped me get the most out of my exercise programme, helping me retain muscle, even as I lost the body fat. I did what I could realistically manage,” he says.

Thakur cautions against going on such a diet, stressing on the need to include all food groups in your daily meals. Unless your fitness trainer is also a certified nutritionist, his/her advice may be based on individual experiences or hearsay. So if you’re planning drastic changes to your diet, for instance removing carbs or amping up the protein intake, follow it up with advise by a certified nutritionist, and keep your family physician in the loop as he/she will be aware of your medical history and will alarm you if this diet is not suitable for you.

He adds, "Personally, I don't recommend a fully protein diet beyond a short period, not only is it difficult, monotonous and tough to digest, but without adequate fibre and roughage, it could cause metabolic disorders. Anything in excess is bad and a high-protein diet is no different. Such a diet can be tough on the kidneys. In my opinion, in the long term, only one thing works: a balanced diet comprising fresh, locally available ingredients in tandem with complex, unrefined carbohydrates and regular exercise."

Image courtesy: Shutterstock

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