Protein: The vital nutrient for active lifestyle

Protein is one of the macronutrients needed by the human body to survive, and is contained in different combinations and quantities in the food people consume. Dr David Heber, chairman for Herbalife Nutrition Institute, writes more on the importance of necessary dietary support, including an ideal meal plan and consumption of protein for both health and sports enthusiasts alike.

As the world slowly eases out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become even more crucial to maintain a strong immunity and healthy body through an active lifestyle coupled with balanced nutrition.

In a survey conducted by Herbalife Nutrition in Asia-Pacific with 5,500 consumers, respondents indicated that they were more knowledgeable about dietary carbohydrates and fats, and significantly less informed about protein. In addition, more than a third of the respondents in the Herbalife Nutrition survey said they were most interested in credible advice on enhancing sports and physical performance through nutrition.

The survey also highlighted the fact that healthcare professionals (HCPs) were the most trusted source of nutritional information for consumers in the region.

Physically active individuals, as much as athletes, need a balanced diet and healthy active lifestyle. A good balance needs to be maintained to ensure bodies are well fed, nourished and prepared for immune challenges. There is where HCPs can advise and help with the necessary dietary information that can fuel a healthy and active lifestyle.

There is no one size that fits all
For an average person, the daily caloric intake ranges between 1,800 and 2,000 calories. On the other hand, a typical marathoner could consumer additional 2,500 calories on top of those needed to power basic metabolism, implying some runners will need to eat 5,000-6,000 calories a day. Even more, an elite cyclist might consume 8,000 calories a day on a long-distance ride.

According to world swimming champion Michael Phelps, his workouts are powered by drinking energy-dense nutritional shakes and mind-boggling quantities of food. Based on his self-reports, his diet racks up about 12,000 calories a day, to power his five-hours-a-day, six-day-a-week training regimen. On the contrary, the ideal diet for a gymnast is a mere 2,000 calories; low in fat, high in complex carbohydrates and high in fibre, according to USA Gymnastics. In other words, to power those gravity-defying tumbling passes, a gymnast does not eat much more than an average individual.

The lean body mass, which includes organ and muscle proteins, determines the number of calories burned at rest and the number of grams of protein required per day to maintain the lean body mass. Protein is the most abundant substance in the body other than water.

One kilogram of lean body mass burns about 30 kilocalories per day at rest. For very active athletes such as elite cyclists, additional calorie burn due to exercise can be highly significant or even greatly exceed the resting calorie burn. For most individuals, the resting energy burn represents about 75% of the total calories burned. For both athletes and average individuals, the protein in the body must be maintained daily as it is a dynamic nutrient that is broken down and rebuilt between meals and after exercise.

When adequate protein has been consumed to maintain the lean body mass, additional calories for intensive exercise can be supplied by fats and carbohydrates. Whenever more calories are consumed than burned, the excess will be stored as fat. Protein not only helps to build muscle when combined with resistance exercise but also helps to control hunger for overweight and obese individuals who need to lose excess body fat. Therefore, when restricting calories, it is important to maintain protein to support lean body mass.

The full article is published in the latest edition of FBA Dec 20/Jan 21 issue. To continue reading, click here.