Written By: Leah Perrier, RD
Last Updated on:
Eating the right foods is essential to athletic performance. Most people know that food provides athletes with the energy and nutrients required to reach their peak performance, but the variety of misinformation on the amount of protein an athlete needs is staggering.
Protein is only part of the power
Traditionally eating a protein rich diet was thought to be synonymous with building muscle. We now know that this is misguided information, and that the best sports diet contains adequate but not excessive protein to build and repair muscle tissue, produce hormones, boost immune system and replace red blood cells. During exercise the muscles use carbohydrates as their primary energy source – not protein. Thus it is important that athletes, including athletes in explosive sports, eat adequate carbohydrates before, during and after exercise. Protein, while vital to a healthy diet, will not bring them to victory on its own.
Protein Needs for Athletes
Protein needs are slightly increased in highly active people. Protein need recommendations include:
Endurance Athletes: 1.2 to 1.4 g/kg body weight per day
Resistance and Strength-Trained Athletes:1.6 to 1.7 g/kg body weight per day
These protein needs are easily fulfilled through diet alone without the use of protein supplementation if energy intake is adequate to maintain body weight. Aim to include a source of protein such as eggs, beef, chicken, turkey, fish, cheese, milk, yogurt, nuts, soy and protein-rich vegetables such as lentils, baked beans, black beans and kidney beans at each meal. The protein in these foods will act as an anchor for your carbohydrate energy so that your meal lasts you longer. Ensuring there is protein at each meal will help stabilize blood sugars and enhance satiety.
Protein Need for Recovery in Athletes
It is known that carbohydrates are the most efficient source of energy pre-exercise, and for the storage of energy post-exercise. Recent research suggests that protein may also aid in enhancing glycogen replacement after exercise by stimulating the action of insulin, a hormone that transports glucose from the blood into the muscles. In addition, the availability of amino acids from protein may enhance the process of building and repairing muscles. Therefore, there is no need to shy away from a source of protein after a workout!
The Bottom line
Adding protein to your meals can be easy. Here are some examples of protein sources:
Breakfast protein foods include: Nuts and nut butters like almond or peanut butter, seeds, tofu, egg, ham, yogurt, milk, soymilk, cheese.Lunch and dinner protein foods include: beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, eggs, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, poultry, milk, yogurt, soymilk, cheese.
Action: Aim for two to three servings of meat and alternatives per day and two to four servings of milk products or soy products per day in order to meet your protein needs.
Leah is an advocate for health and wellness and believes in providing practical nutrition advice to people and communities. Leah brings a varied background in community and clinical nutrition to the Healthcastle team. Her experiences have provided a focus on family nutrition with experienced working at Children’s and Women’s Health Center of BC and sports nutrition and disease management from work as a private practice dietitian. She is involved in the sports nutrition community providing nutrition seminars to various sports teams and clubs in Vancouver and the lower mainland. Her writing experience stems from writing nutrition articles for local grocery store company as part of their wellness program.