Athletes expend more energy than the average person and their body needs additional nutrients to build endurance and strength, and to recover from intense physical activity. Protein plays a critical role in their diet but how much is really necessary?
The Right Amount is Crucial
Protein is a nutrient with many functions, one of them is helping repair, strengthen and maintain muscles. A high-protein diet is popular when seeking a lean and defined body optimized for performance. While protein builds muscle mass, more is not necessarily better. In fact, large dietary amounts might even harm your body as a protein surplus needs to be broken down and discarded as ammoniac through urine, causing more work and stress for the kidneys.
Protein as Integral Part of Your Diet
Dietary protein can go towards building and maintaining lean body mass when consumed in combination with carbohydrates and fats. About 10 to 15 percent of the total calories should come from protein, about 30 percent from fat and the rest from carbohydrates. Athletes who consume a diet adequate in all three nutrients using carbohydrates and fat for energy and protein for building muscle tissue. Diets higher in protein result in using more protein for energy and less for lean body mass.
While protein needs of both endurance and power athletes are greater than that of non-athletes, they’re not as high as commonly perceived. Based on body weight, the following amount of protein is recommended:
- Fitness-oriented athletes: 0.8 to 1.2 grams/kilogram a day
- Power athletes (strength/speed): 1.2 to 1.7 grams/kilogram a day
- Endurance athletes: 1.2 to 1.4 grams/kilogram a day
Example 1: an athlete weighing 176 lbs (80 kg) needs 64 – 136 g of protein per day
Example 2: an athlete of 130 lbs (60 kg) needs 48 – 102 g of protein per day
Timing is Important
Muscle growth only happens when exercise and diet are combined. Research shows that eating high-quality protein (such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy or soy) within two hours after exercise — either by itself or with a carbohydrate — enhances muscle repair and growth.
Should I Use Protein Powder?
Most athletes, even professionals, can get the required amount of protein through regular whole foods. Powders and supplements are mostly used for their convenience when there is simply not enough time to prepare, sit down and eat a balanced meal. When using protein powders, make sure to count it towards your daily protein intake.