Friday, March 4, 2011

Protein? Do Athletes Need More?


If you hang around with athletes long enough, you will always hear them discussing certain topics, and protein is one of them. Male bodybuilders will obsess over everything from what types or amounts of protein are the best to the timing of their protein intake. Endurance athletes won't talk about it quite that much. However, they certainly pay attention to it, and rightfully so! Making sure you have enough protein as part of an overall healthy diet is important to help rebuild muscle tissue that sustains tears during intense physical training.

What is protein for? Here are a few key things:
  • It provides essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of cells.
  • It aids in the development of new tissues, and allows the growth and repair of damaged tissues.
  • It helps produce important enzymes that are essential for rebuilding our system, not to mention hormones and other antibodies to keep our immune system healthy.
  • It transports substances in the blood
  • It keeps the fluid balance of our bodies in check
  • It provides very minute amounts of energy during exercise (especially endurance exercise)
Are the needs of athletes higher than the general population?

YES! Athletes do need more protein than those who are not training for an event. Certain phases of training may even require more than others. If you are trying to build more muscle during the off-season, this could be a time of heavy strength training and therefore, increased protein needs. However, while getting enough protein is certainly important to do all the functions mentioned above, protein in excess is still excess calories, and therefore, will be stored as fat if it is not able to be used to build or repair muscle tissues etc.

Calculating Your Protein Needs

Daily protein needs are dependent on two things, your body weight and your amount / type of training. If you participate in a moderate aerobic exercise routine (e.g., you work out for fitness, workout 3-4 days per week for 30-60 minutes per day), then your protein needs are at least 0.5 grams of protein per pound. This would produce a need of around 100 grams per day for a 200 pound athlete.

However, as you start working out harder, your needs also increase. During a competition phase, where you are both training and competing, you may have longer workouts of 60 mins+ on more days of the week than not. Your body needs additional protein in this phase for building new muscle and maintaining current muscle mass. Protein needs during this phase can be as high as 1.0 grams per pound. For that same 200 pound athlete, this would be closer to 200 grams per day. Intakes higher than 1.0 grams per pound have not be shown to be beneficial for athletes, and should be avoided due to additional stress on the kidney / excess possible weight gain.

Using a number somewhere in the middle of these two (0.5 grams per pound and 1.0 grams per pound), depending on your phase of training, is a good place to start.

What are good sources of high quality protein?

There are plenty of options when it comes to high quality protein, and they don't have to be expensive or hard to find. Below you will find some great examples of items to include in your diet.

Protein Sources:

  • Eggs
  • Skim or Low fat milk
  • Beans
  • Lean Meats (look for ground beef that is 90% lean)
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Canned Tuna or chicken
  • Textured Vegetable Protein
  • Peanuts, Almonds or other nuts
  • Low fat cheeses, like mozzarella or cheddar

When choosing meats, always go for the lower fat versions with less marbling and skinless turkey or chicken breast. Protein can also be found in grains and vegetables, but the amount is smaller. In addition, iron from meat sources is more available to our bodies, so it is a good idea to consume meat sources for that reason as well. The best idea is to vary your protein sources to allow you to obtain many different nutrient sources, vitamins and minerals. By including different types of proteins in your diet you have a better overall protein balance, not to mention you don't get sick of any one type.

Staying at your best involves attention to detail and some planning, but it certainly is worth it in the end. If you have additional questions, I suggest you contact a Registered Dietitian who can help you design a more specialized protein plan to fit your needs.

Feel free to leave comments! I would love to hear from you!

1 comment:

Ryan Diehl said...

Great article Kim! There is such a big misconception when it comes to protein intake and endurance athletes.