Protein, Steroids & Muscles


Steroids and Protein Powder!! Is it bad for you???

You must have seen Arnold Schwarzenegger and The Rock in the movies! Those beefy muscles possibly in every part of their bodies must have made you awestruck and that was a huge talk in our school days especially after the movie terminator was released. That was when I began to notice those gyms in our locality with photos of massively muscled guys pictured as their promotion. And many of us must have joined one and after a lot of disappointing results the question about Protein Powder might have popped up in our head.

Here, I am addressing a lot of those questions with a scientific background a medical doctor!

1. What’s a muscle?

Muscle is a tissue in our body which helps in movement. Muscle contracts when we get a stimulus from our brain. These muscles are attached to bones by a string like structure called as tendons, which transmits the contractions and make the movements of the bones possible at joints. By this means, we are able to do activities like walking, running, weight lifting etc.

It is estimated that we have over 600 muscles of various sizes in our body for various movements. We have a fixed set of cells in each muscle. This is by birth and does not change in future. If in any case the cells get destroyed by an injury or by a loss of blood supply, they don’t have the capacity to regenerate the cell. The main mechanism of increase in muscle size for the muscles is to absorb more proteins and increase their size, which is called as hypertrophy. The male hormone testosterone which plays a major role in this process is the reason why males are tend to be more muscular compared to females, especially from teenage.

2. Is that why people inject hormones to increase muscle mass?

Yes. We do have indigenous muscles mass enhancers in our body, that is testosterone – the derivatives of which is called anabolic steroids. The body builders we see might have taken these hormones by injection or any other means to get their beautifully (or perhaps not?) carved body.

But this comes with a lot of side effects. We all know that the male hormone testosterone is produced in testes. We need interstitial cell stimulating hormone or Luteinizing hormone (ICSH/LH) from pituitary gland in our brain to stimulate testosterone production in testes. This testosterone which is produced inside the testes is what which helps in production and maturation of sperms in males. The testosterone or the derivatives we take cannot be taken into the testes by the body. But this exogenous hormones (injected from outside) can inhibit pituitary, there by decreasing the production of Luteinizing hormone by negative feedback mechanism (which is actually a protective mechanism by our body to avoid adverse effect of increased hormone secretion).

This will lead to decreased testosterone production in our testes and can lead to infertility. Only months after stopping the hormone injection, the cycles and fertility come back to normal. Though these hormonal preparations are useful in some medical conditions, it’s therefore not recommended to use these for body building.

3. So, does the protein powder come under these steroid hormonal drugs?

Protein powder is not a drug. It’s a dietary supplement. During the time of growth or during physical exertion, muscles get their strength and attractive shape by their own. This is a natural process and the protein requirements for this process is usually obtained from the diet. But generally Indian diet – especially Malayali diet, is not very rich in protein, which would result in no significant change in muscle shape and size even after days of workouts.

Read about steroid and its impact on body –

4. What is the protein requirement for a physically active adult?

A healthy adult needs approximately 0.8 grams protein per kg body weight of that person. That is, a person weighing 60 kg needs about 48 – 50 grams of protein per day for normal bodily requirements.

Experts  suggest that upto 100 gms per day is highly beneficial. That is,10-25% of total calorie intake must be obtained from proteins per day. Let me remind you that a hen’s egg contains approximately 6g of protein. Soybean is also rich in protein – approximately 40 gm protein per 100 gm of it. So it’s evident that, a better planning is required to meet daily demand of proteins from an average Malayali diet.

The requirement for an adult who is doing exercise is much more than that, which is estimated to be 1.5 – 2 gm of protein per kg of bodyweight. That is a 60 kg adult requires about 90 – 120g of protein per day for the optimal increase in muscle strength and size. This can be met from consuming protein rich diet or protein supplements.

5. Tell me about Protein rich food sources?

Proteins can be classified into plant based and animal based proteins. Even rice and wheat contains amino-acids (which are the building blocks of proteins).

But for a body builder, it’s not possible to meet the daily requirement of proteins from these food sources. Soybean is the richest source of plant based protein. But it is difficult for the body to absorb plan based proteins, and that’s why bodybuilders usually prefer animal based proteins, the most important of which are the eggs. An average egg weighs about 60 gms and out of which each egg gives about 6gm of protein. So as to obtain 30g of protein, one has to eat about 5 eggs per day. The protein from an egg is of higher quality and is almost completely absorbed by the body. The egg white contains rich source of the valuable protein called albumin and almost 2/3rd of all the proteins in an egg is found in egg white. It is not advisable to consume more egg yolks as it contains significant amount of cholesterol and can quickly add up calories due to the calorie dense fat it contains.

Another important source of protein is milk. Almost all protein powders are produced from milk derived proteins called ‘whey protein‘. But milk contains a lot of water, that it’s not easy to consume enough milk to meet the body requirements. Also it contains a lot of fat and calorie, that it’s not advisable to consume milk more than a limit.

Another rich source of proteins is meat. 100 gm of meat contains about 20 gms of protein. But unlike eggs, the protein in meat cannot be utilised completely, ss it’s difficult to digest meat when compared to an egg. It also contains significant amount of fats and is not advisable to consume it more than a limit.

If you are consuming proteins more than your requirements, it’s not going to be useful. Body breaks down excess protein into amino-acids in the liver and is excreted through urine!

6. What are protein powders?

So as to obtain enough protein, you may have to consume large quantities of food items that you don’t like. To overcome this difficulty, protein powders are made to obtain more protein from lesser quantity. Usually these are available in the market, as whey proteins. It is made from the left overs of milk after the production of milk solids. It is usually expensive, due to its high production cost. It is also available fortified with vitamins and minerals and also available in different flavours. An average cost for its production is ₹1000/kg and most of the times the MRP of which is more than double this amount.

7. Does protein powder damage our kidneys?

I have already told you that the excess amount of protein is broken down into amino-acids and excreted through urine by kidneys. So if your kidneys are diseased, this would give more load to the kidneys and there by causes more damage to it. But it’s proven from studies that protein powder will not cause any damage to a healthy adult with a healthy functioning kidneys. It’s okey to consume protein powder in calculated amounts in multiple times per day. But it’s better to avoid large quantities though…

Increased consumption of food items like red meat and some fish may raise serum uric acid levels and can exacerbate gout symptoms.Though it doesn’t require complete avoidance of such food items, it’s better to keep it under moderate quantities

So in a nut-shell, protein is important for building muscles. The amount of protein required by a person depends on many parameters including the activity/exercise pattern, weight, age, etc. It is possible to meet this requirement through both wholesome food or through protein powder supplements such as Whey protein. 

Protein and Steroids are two different things. Protein can be eaten, through wholesome food and supplements, in required quantities, as long as the person does not have any kidney related issues and

Wish you all the very best…

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Guest Article Contributed by – Dr. Jayakrishnan (Govt Vellore Medical College), Doctor @ CHC – Kalikavu


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