Athletes and Protein – The Building Blocks


Protein is necessary to build and repair muscle and to boost the immune system. Protein will be used as energy if the body does not have enough carbohydrates or fats to use for energy. The need for protein in an athlete is increased, but many athletes over consume protein and under consume calories.

Where is protein found?

Protein is most commonly found in meat, beans, dairy, fish and nuts.

Protein per Serving


Serving Size



6 oz

40 grams

Chicken breast

4 oz. (roasted)

35 grams


4 oz. (broiled)

30 grams

Baked beans

1 cup

14 grams


1 cup

11 grams


3.5 oz.

11 grams

Milk 1%

1 cup

8 grams


1/2 cup

6 grams


1 large

6 grams

Peanut butter

1 tablespoon

4.5 grams


12 nuts

3 grams

Make healthy protein choices

• Choose lean meats (example: turkey, fish, sirloin).

• Use egg whites instead of whole eggs.

• Choose low fat dairy products such as skim milk, 1% milk and low fat yogurt.

• Avoid fried meats.

How much protein does a child athlete need?

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.

Before exercise: A moderate amount of protein can be eaten with carbohydrates 2 to 4 hours before workout. 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.

After exercise: 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.

About protein and powder bars

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 is important to make appropriate choices.

Protein bar guide

  • Avoid bars that contain protein only.
  • Choose bars that have approximately 4:1 carbohydrate/protein ratio.

Meal replacement drinks

  • Choose drinks that have a 2:1 to 4:1 carbohydrate/protein ratio (e.g., low fat chocolate milk, instant breakfast or commercial recovery products).

The vegetarian

It is sometimes difficult for vegetarians to get adequate amounts of protein. If you are concerned you are not getting enough protein, meet with a sports dietitian to get proper guidance.

Related Topics