Cruical role of Proteins in COVID-19 Recovery

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Rohit Jadhav Founder - M2PROTEINS

Role Of Proteins In Covid-19 Recovery

Crucial role of proteins in Covid-19 recovery

This COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives like never before. Many of my relatives, family members, and friends were infected with the Coronavirus and most of them have recovered. As a health professional, I spoke with them regarding the recovery process, and I noticed that most of them have been asked by their physician to increase protein intake in their daily diet.

I wondered about it and decided to find out what is the role of proteins in COVID-19 recovery.

Proteins in patients recovering from a health condition play an important role. It can help build immunity, maintain muscle mass, maintain positive nitrogen balance, avoid malnutrition, and improve general nutrition in COVID-19 Patients (1) (2).

Protein is an important macro-ingredient that we need daily. It plays several important roles in our body such as producing hormones, antibodies, enzymes, building muscles, providing structural support, cell growth, and helps transport important chemicals within the body and cells.

Did you know hemoglobin is a protein in our red blood cells, and it carries oxygen to our tissues and organs, and transport carbon dioxide from them back to our lungs?

In this article we will take a look at the significant role proteins play in patients recovering from Coronavirus infection.

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Things to consider for a patient recovering from COVID-19

Millions of people have been infected with the novel coronavirus so far and a majority of them have recovered. A significant portion of patients needs to be admitted to the hospital for treatment. A prolonged hospital stay or admission in ICU affects the nutritional status of patients due to the factors below.

• Decreased physical activity

A prolonged stay at a hospital or being bedridden for days decreases the physical activity of the patient to a greater extent. A decrease in physical activity can slow down our muscle protein synthesis and decreases muscle strength and endurance.

Reduced physical activity also leads to decreases in the cross-sectional area of muscles in other words muscles become smaller, increase fatigue and, decrease in the muscles capability to use oxygen which can deteriorate muscle health (3).

• Malnutrition

An extended stay at the hospital can be difficult for many patients, the constant smell of medicines, various noises, the distinct smell of spirit, consumption of medication can result in decreased food intake. Also, several diets or food restrictions can further worsen the condition. It’s rarely possible for a patient to consume a good meal at a hospital.

Providing proper nutrition to the patient can be a huge task itself.

• Decreased muscle mass

Reduced physical activity and poor nutrition can result in a decrease in muscle mass or atrophy. Due to insufficient proteins in the diet, the net nitrogen balance of the body can turn negative leading to loss of muscle mass or muscle wastage (4).
Loss of muscle mass can lead to general weakness, increased fatigue, loss of muscle strength, and difficulty in balancing the body.

• Protein metabolic disorder

The imbalance between energy consumption and energy expenditure leads to metabolic disorders. Protein metabolic disorder can result in decreased protein synthesis and an increase in muscle catabolism. The increased muscle catabolism leads to muscle loss and negative nitrogen balance (5).

• Decreased food intake due to nausea and vomiting

Several medications can cause nausea and vomiting in recovering patients. Due to this many patients show unwillingness to consume the proper amount of food. The decreased nutritional intake can result in malnutrition and several nutritional deficiencies if not properly taken care of.

Role of proteins in COVID-19 Recovery

Special nutritional care must be taken with regards to a patient recovering from a coronavirus infection. Protein intake for a patient recovering from COVID-19 needs to be increased. Proteins can help improve the general nutritional status of the patients. European society for clinical nutrition and metabolism has recommended 1.3 grams of protein/ kg body weight/ day.

• Proteins help increase immunity

Immunity is known as our body’s capability to fight foreign substances, toxins, and viruses. Our immune system is a huge network of cells and tissues that work together to fight against external viruses or toxins.

When a foreign substance or antigen enters into the body, our body releases antibodies to fight against it, without these antibodies or immunoglobulins body can’t fight against the attack of antigens. These immunoglobulins block the action of viruses or toxins (6).

Milk proteins contain various fractions or bioactive components that help improve our immunity. Especially fractions found in milk proteins can offer immunity against various infections and viruses.

Three fractions found in milk proteins α-Lactoalbumin, β-Lactoglobulin, and Lactoferrin are known to boost immunity by increasing the production of an antioxidant known as Glutathione (6). These three fractions are known to modify immunity.

Besides these fractions protein also contain antibodies or immunoglobulins, the major portion of them being IgG. The IgG constitutes about 75% portion of the antibodies in an adult. Milk contains about 0.15-0.8 grams/ liter of these IgG antibodies (6). Proteins play an important role in the formation of these antibodies in the body.

Indian diet is mostly comprised of cereals and beans, both of which are a poor source of proteins, according to a recent report about 73% of the Indian population is protein deficient. So special care must be exercised while choosing food products to provide specific nutrients. Consuming high protein food during these challenging times can help to boost and improve immunity.

• Proteins maintain a positive nitrogen balance in the body

When consumed in adequate amount proteins maintains a positive nitrogen balance of the body. Positive nitrogen balance refers to consuming a higher amount of protein than excreted or broken down. When an adequate amount of proteins are not consumed our body breaks down existing proteins present in the body, this protein breakdown results in muscle catabolism and loss of muscle mass (7).

Negative nitrogen balance can result from poor diet, low amount of proteins in the diet, and malnutrition. Increasing the amount of proteins can restore the nitrogen balance.

• Increase and maintain muscle mass

Proteins besides playing different important roles in the body are vital to maintain and increase muscle mass. Proteins are a potent stimulator of muscle protein synthesis. Amino acids which are obtained from the breakdown of proteins are involved in the strengthening and growth of muscles (7).

Research shows that the essential amino acids are primarily responsible for stimulating muscle protein synthesis, our body cannot synthesize these essential amino acids hence should be obtained from diet or external sources.

• Helps increase calorie intake

Consuming adequate calories daily is required to support various bodily processes. Due to increased energy expenditure, the caloric requirements of patients are considerably higher than a healthy adult.

Proteins can help increase calorie intake which is required to provide energy. Proteins although expensive, but are a better source of calories than simple carbohydrates or fats.

During hospitalization or recovery, it may not be always possible to consume enough food to fulfill caloric requirements.

Protein-rich food or a simple protein shake can act as a source of calories. Oral nutrition supplements can provide an energy-dense source of calories and nutrients as an alternative to regular meals.


• Proteins and oral nutritional supplements

The European Society for clinical nutrition and metabolism recommends consuming 1.3 grams of protein/ kg of body weight/ day during illness.

Our daily protein intake can be easily increased by incorporating protein-rich vegetarian and non-vegetarian sources. As an alternative or in addition to regular meals an oral nutrition supplement that can provide 400 calories and 30 grams of protein is recommended.

A protein supplement such as whey protein is a high quality, highly digestible, and a complete source of amino acids. A protein supplement can help fulfill daily protein requirements conveniently.


Adequate consumption of protein and as per guidelines can help alleviate various post-hospitalization effects, it can also help towards strengthening the immune system. Being aware of the nutritional needs of the patient and selecting a proper food source to fulfill those needs can aid in faster recovery. If nutritional needs can’t be fulfilled with a daily diet then suitable nutritional supplements should be considered to supplement the diet.

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