Increasing Protein for Athletes?
Protein, Protein, Protein…
How much protein do you need to get bigger, faster, stronger and have more energy? There’s a large misconception about the function of protein and how much your muscle tissues need to grow, develop, and recover. Much of this is due to the advertisement in body building magazines and the abundance of protein powders on the market making false claims that athletes need protein in abundance. Athletes do need more protein than someone who does not exercise or train at a high level, however, research has demonstrated that eating more than what your body needs does not result in larger muscle gains.
Functions of Protein
- Repairs and regenerates damaged and disrupted muscle tissue (i.e. post workout)
- Improves immune function
- Involved in muscle contraction
- Increase anabolic hormones (i.e. Insulin) to assist with muscle growth and recovery
How much Protein do I need? It Depends on:
- Frequency and Intensity of Your Strength Training
- Weight and Muscle Mass of the Athlete
Great Sources of Protein
Lean Ground Beef, Sirloin, Filet, Flank, Eye of Round, Beef Tenderloin, T-Bone, Lean Beef Jerky
Chicken/Turkey Breast (no skin), Turkey Sausage, Turkey Bacon, Extra Lean Ground Turkey
All fish that has not been fried
Lean Ham (Deli meat), Center cut Pork Chop or Pork Tenderloin, Center Cut Bacon
Bison, Venison, Duck Breast
Low Fat Dairy:
Skim or low fat milk, Low Fat Cottage Cheese, Low Fat Cheese, Low Sugar Yogurt
Non Meat Sources:
Protein Powder, Tofu, Veggie Burgers, Tempeh
Did you Know?
Average Protein in High School Meals
Breakfast 20 grams
Lunch 35 grams
8 oz LowFat Milk 8 grams
It is best to spread your protein out throughout the day. Focus on 5-6 smaller meals with a good source of protein at each meal and snack. Each ounce of meat equals 7 grams of protein so a 5-6 ounce chicken breast will have 35-42 ounces of protein.
Protein Needs by Gender
Female athletes – 20-30 grams of protein for main meals and 10-15 grams at snacks
Male athletes – 30-40 grams of protein for main meals and 15-20 grams at snacks
Post workout Protein Needs
There’s no need to over-spend on very high protein drinks post workout as the research has demonstrated 20-25 grams of protein post workout is ideal to maximize muscle protein synthesis and facilitate muscle recovery. Combining protein with carbohydrate enhances protein uptake into the muscle while also restoring your gas tank (i.e. Glycogen). Focus on a 3:1 or 4:1 Carbohydrate to Protein ratio post exercise. Some examples would include
1) 1 scoop whey protein, 2 pieces of fruit, 1 cup milk
2) Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, Glass of Milk, Fruit
3) 1-2 cups of Chocolate milk (avoid with overweight athletes or those trying to lose body fat)
4) 2 cups of Milk, Banana
The options mentioned above are examples and do not reflect the calorie needs of every type of athlete. Calorie needs will differ by sport and activity as well as height, weight, and body weight goals of athletes.
Tavis Piattoly MS, RD, LDN