The debate over how much protein does one need is never ending. With experts giving diverse theories on how much is enough and how much is too much, you find yourself questioning your understanding often. The very first thought that hits our mind when we experience a plateau or see slow results is “Am I hitting the right quantity of the protein” and try to intake more protein. Various nutrition bodies recommend 0.8 to 1.2-1.8 grams of protein per kg body weight as daily protein intake while fitness experts’ recommends of 2.2 to 4.4 grams per kg body weight.
Well, what if we told you that you are missing an important loop when it comes to protein intake? Forget how much you are eating. How much are you absorbing is the right question to think about? What if you aren’t absorbing even half of the protein you are eating. Protein absorption is dependent on many factors, identifying what hinders or slows down the absorption is a crucial step which is often ignored. Let’s check them out –
Enzymes – Protein digestion occurs when it is broken down into individual amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) for absorption in the body. This process is carried out by enzymes called proteases which play a critical role. To name a few, pepsin, chymotrypsin, trypsin, carboxypeptidase, elastase, lipase. For adequate protein digestion, it is necessary that the protein is available for the enzymes to act. This is achieved outside the body through cooking of food (when it is not excessive) which makes the protein molecule more accessible to the action of digestive enzymes and within the body by the acid environment in the stomach.
PH balance – Gastric juice in the stomach starts protein digestion. Gastric juice mainly contains hydrochloric acid and pepsin. The acid plays a key role in digestion of proteins, by activating digestive enzymes and making ingested proteins unravel so that digestive enzymes break down the long chains of amino acids. Enzyme pepsin is only active within the pH range of 3.0 to 5.0 and requires the acid to maintain that pH. A low stomach acid disturbs the process making less protein to be further broken down into amino acids for absorption. In addition to this, water consumption dilutes the acid levels of food and in the stomach further reducing the efficacy of protein absorption.
Gut health – Protein absorption also happens in the small intestine, which contains microvilli. These are small, finger-like structures that increase the absorptive surface area of your small intestine. This allows for maximum absorption of amino acids. Spicy food, refried foods, consumption of foods that irritate your gut such as Junk or packaged foods, antacids (over-the-counter drugs), alcohol, stress damage these microvilli further affecting absorption