Spring Sports Series: Protein, The Building Blocks For Muscle Performance
Protein is necessary to build and repair muscle and to boost the immune system. Protein will be used as energy if the body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates or fats to use for energy. The need for protein in an athlete is increased, but many athletes overconsume protein and underconsume calories. Extra protein does not lead to extra muscle — muscle is 70% water and only 20% protein.
Protein is most commonly found in meat, beans, dairy, fish and nuts.
Make healthy protein choices:
- Choose lean meats (turkey, fish, sirloin)
- Use egg whites instead of whole eggs
- Choose low fat dairy products (skim milk, 1% milk, low fat yogurt)
- Avoid fried meats
The amount of protein needed for exercise depends on many different factors including type of exercise, duration and the individual. Calculating protein needs (for athletes): 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. The higher limit is needed for strength athletes.
2 to 4 hours before workout, a moderate amount of protein can be eaten with carbohydrates. The amount of protein will depend on what the athlete can tolerate. If the athlete eats adequate amounts of carbohydrates, protein during exercise may not be required.
Protein should be included in the recovery after a workout, but only a moderate amount. A 4:1 to 2:1 carbohydrate:protein ratio should be consumed within 30 minutes after exercise. Timing is critical — studies have shown that proper recovery will enhance an athlete’s immune system.
Eating protein from a natural source is always recommended. If food safety or convenience becomes an issue, bars and supplements are a great alternative. Supplements are a great way to increase recovery, but it’s important to make appropriate choices. For protein bars — avoid bars that contain protein only, and choose bars that have approximately 4:1 carbohydrate:protein ratio. For meal replacement drinks — choose drinks that have a 2:1 to 4:1 carbohydrate:protein ratio (such as low fat chocolate milk, instant breakfast or commercial recovery products).
For vegetarians, it’s sometimes difficult to get adequate amounts of protein. If you’re concerned you aren’t getting enough protein, meet with a sports dietitian to get proper guidance.