Increasing Protein for Athletes?

healthy proteinProtein, 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

Beef:
Lean Ground Beef, Sirloin, Filet, Flank, Eye of Round, Beef Tenderloin, T-Bone, Lean Beef Jerky

Chicken/ Turkey:
Chicken/Turkey Breast (no skin), Turkey Sausage, Turkey Bacon, Extra Lean Ground Turkey

Fish:
All fish that has not been fried

Pork:
Lean Ham (Deli meat), Center cut Pork Chop or Pork Tenderloin, Center Cut Bacon

Game:
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.

Find out how much you need >>

Tavis Piattoly MS, RD, LDN
Sports Dietitian
tpiattoly@mysportsd.com

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26 replies
  1. Chrissy Cooper
    Chrissy Cooper says:

    Great resource for finding out the FACTS on protein needs for athletes. The post-workout protein ideas are tasty and quick meals to put together to refuel quickly and optimally. Check out the awesome calculator resource at the end, too!

  2. Chrissy Cooper
    Chrissy Cooper says:

    Great resource for finding out the FACTS on protein needs for athletes. The post-workout protein ideas are tasty and quick meals to put together to refuel quickly and optimally. Check out the awesome calculator resource at the end, too!

  3. Lisa Hansen
    Lisa Hansen says:

    Perfect straight to the point information that can be incorporated into any athletes training regimen. It can be tough to know exactly how much fuel your body needs, but all of that frustrating guesswork is eliminated with the easy to use calculator!

  4. Lisa Hansen
    Lisa Hansen says:

    Perfect straight to the point information that can be incorporated into any athletes training regimen. It can be tough to know exactly how much fuel your body needs, but all of that frustrating guesswork is eliminated with the easy to use calculator!

  5. Dan Preiato
    Dan Preiato says:

    Great article debunking some common protein myths and providing easy to digest (no pun) protein sources and guidelines. The calculator tool at the bottom is really helpful to get an idea of your personal requirements.

  6. Dan Preiato
    Dan Preiato says:

    Great article debunking some common protein myths and providing easy to digest (no pun) protein sources and guidelines. The calculator tool at the bottom is really helpful to get an idea of your personal requirements.

  7. Jenni Hamlin
    Jenni Hamlin says:

    Very factual information and clear recommendations about protein! All too often, you see someone chow down on giant steaks to try to get “gains”. However, using the information above is a much more efficient plan! The food options make it easy to grab wherever you are as well- refrigeration available or not!

  8. Jenni Hamlin
    Jenni Hamlin says:

    Very factual information and clear recommendations about protein! All too often, you see someone chow down on giant steaks to try to get “gains”. However, using the information above is a much more efficient plan! The food options make it easy to grab wherever you are as well- refrigeration available or not!

  9. Katie Pawelczyk
    Katie Pawelczyk says:

    Protein can be a tough topic for athletes to navigate because of the magazines, companies, etc that promote it, as well as the supplements that boast it. This article is clear and to the point, simple and easy to read, and gives athletes the “need to knows” about protein, its benefits, and sources. This is an easy source to print out and take with you to the grocery store when shopping for your whole food sources of protein. The calculator is also a fantastic resource to help athletes determine their own needs based on evidence and research.

  10. Katie Pawelczyk
    Katie Pawelczyk says:

    Protein can be a tough topic for athletes to navigate because of the magazines, companies, etc that promote it, as well as the supplements that boast it. This article is clear and to the point, simple and easy to read, and gives athletes the “need to knows” about protein, its benefits, and sources. This is an easy source to print out and take with you to the grocery store when shopping for your whole food sources of protein. The calculator is also a fantastic resource to help athletes determine their own needs based on evidence and research.

  11. Cathy Joens
    Cathy Joens says:

    This is a great resource all about PROTEIN! Protein is such an important yet sometimes confusing topic for athletes. How much do I need? What types are best? This is a great article that addresses protein concerns. It also has a great Calculator link at the end to see how much protein you need. It actually breaks down your overall caloric, protein, fat and water needs. It even gives a suggestion for caloric breakdown for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. The article is simple, straight forward and to the point- a must read for athletes looking for some info about protein and workouts!

  12. Cathy Joens
    Cathy Joens says:

    This is a great resource all about PROTEIN! Protein is such an important yet sometimes confusing topic for athletes. How much do I need? What types are best? This is a great article that addresses protein concerns. It also has a great Calculator link at the end to see how much protein you need. It actually breaks down your overall caloric, protein, fat and water needs. It even gives a suggestion for caloric breakdown for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. The article is simple, straight forward and to the point- a must read for athletes looking for some info about protein and workouts!

  13. Chelsea Rae Smyth
    Chelsea Rae Smyth says:

    I am so grateful that this information is available to athletes looking to perform at their best. It explains protein needs in a clear, succinct manner leaving no room for confusion! Protein needs are often overestimated due to the promotion of supplements and “gains.” This easy to follow breakdown of protein’s role in the body followed by the handy calculator tool is essential for all athletes looking to fuel their body the right way!

  14. Chelsea Rae Smyth
    Chelsea Rae Smyth says:

    I am so grateful that this information is available to athletes looking to perform at their best. It explains protein needs in a clear, succinct manner leaving no room for confusion! Protein needs are often overestimated due to the promotion of supplements and “gains.” This easy to follow breakdown of protein’s role in the body followed by the handy calculator tool is essential for all athletes looking to fuel their body the right way!

  15. Olivia Brant
    Olivia Brant says:

    Great information provided in a succinct post. Protein is a very misunderstood nutrient for both athletes and non-athletes. I love the examples given as great sources of protein. Cuts of meat are very important since many not only are high protein but also high fat. Glad there was attention called to the specific cut of meat that should be consumed.

  16. Olivia Brant
    Olivia Brant says:

    Great information provided in a succinct post. Protein is a very misunderstood nutrient for both athletes and non-athletes. I love the examples given as great sources of protein. Cuts of meat are very important since many not only are high protein but also high fat. Glad there was attention called to the specific cut of meat that should be consumed.

  17. Jessica Bichler
    Jessica Bichler says:

    Very cut and clear to the point on protein needs for athletes. My professors at the University of Arizona have always stood by chocolate milk as a great post-work option as well! The other suggestions are great as well for many people do not understand how important this carbohydrate to protein ratio is in the muscle recovery process. The calculator is really useful for creating meal plans and counting macros!

  18. Jessica Bichler
    Jessica Bichler says:

    Very cut and clear to the point on protein needs for athletes. My professors at the University of Arizona have always stood by chocolate milk as a great post-work option as well! The other suggestions are great as well for many people do not understand how important this carbohydrate to protein ratio is in the muscle recovery process. The calculator is really useful for creating meal plans and counting macros!

  19. Jay Short
    Jay Short says:

    Very informative and useful article. Most people now-a-days understand they need to have protein after workouts but fewer people realize how much they actually need. The normal answer for people who are unsure tends to be that more is better and load up on the protein. They also may tend to completely disregard the importance of having carbohydrates as well now that low carb diets are gaining more publicity. The ratio provided helps to explain that concept for people and why they need carbs unless they happen to be keto-adapted. This is a great article to send to someone curious and/or confused about how much protein they need to be consuming.

  20. Jay Short
    Jay Short says:

    Very informative and useful article. Most people now-a-days understand they need to have protein after workouts but fewer people realize how much they actually need. The normal answer for people who are unsure tends to be that more is better and load up on the protein. They also may tend to completely disregard the importance of having carbohydrates as well now that low carb diets are gaining more publicity. The ratio provided helps to explain that concept for people and why they need carbs unless they happen to be keto-adapted. This is a great article to send to someone curious and/or confused about how much protein they need to be consuming.

  21. Nikki Jupe, MS, RD, LD
    Nikki Jupe, MS, RD, LD says:

    This is a great resource for those that don’t have time to read long articles that get lost in definitions and calculations! I love that the article adds such basic facts that are easy to comprehend, and the ration idea is such a great way to balance BOTH carbohydrate and protein! Thanks for teaching this!

  22. Nikki Jupe, MS, RD, LD
    Nikki Jupe, MS, RD, LD says:

    This is a great resource for those that don’t have time to read long articles that get lost in definitions and calculations! I love that the article adds such basic facts that are easy to comprehend, and the ration idea is such a great way to balance BOTH carbohydrate and protein! Thanks for teaching this!

  23. karinacocina
    karinacocina says:

    No mention of beans, peas and other legumes in the non-meat protein source section?!! Booo!

  24. karinacocina
    karinacocina says:

    No mention of beans, peas and other legumes in the non-meat protein source section?!! Booo!

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