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Sports Nutrition - Protein Needs for Athletes

How much protein do athletes need for strength and endurance sports

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Updated May 29, 2014

Dinner Food
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All the energy we need for life as well as for exercise comes from the food we eat and the fluids we drink. These nutrients are commonly broken into three classes:

Each category of food is important for health and we should all consume foods from each category. The ratios in which we need to consume these foods, however, is often the topic of a debate.

Sports Nutrition - Protein

Proteins are often called the building blocks of the body. Protein consists of combinations of structures called amino acids that combine in various ways to make muscles, bone, tendons, skin, hair, and other tissues. They serve other functions as well including nutrient transportation and enzyme production. In fact, over 10,000 different proteins are in the body.

Adequate, regular protein intake is essential because it isn’t easily stored by the body. Various foods supply protein in varying amounts with complete proteins (those containing 8 essential amino acids) coming mostly from animal products such as meat, fish, and eggs and incomplete protein (lacking one or more essential amino acid) coming from sources like vegetables, fruit and nuts. Vegetarian athletes may have trouble getting adequate protein if they aren’t aware of how to combine foods.

Learn More:
Tips for Vegetarian Athletes

Protein Needs for Athletes

Athletes need protein primarily to repair and rebuild muscle that is broken down during exercise and to help optimizes carbohydrate storage in the form of glycogen. Protein isn’t an ideal source of fuel for exercise, but can be used when the diet lacks adequate carbohydrate. This is detrimental, though, because if used for fuel, there isn’t enough available to repair and rebuild body tissues, including muscle.

Recommended Daly Protein Intake

  • The average adult needs 0.8 grams per kilogram (2.2lbs) of body weight per day.
  • Strength training athletes need about 1.4 to 1.8 grams per kilogram (2.2lbs) of body weight per day
  • Endurance athletes need about 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram (2.2lbs) of body weight per day

How Much Protein is That?
Not much, as it turns out. Here is a list of some high protein foods.

Food, Amount, Protein

Fish, 3 oz, 21 grams
Chicken, 3 oz, 21 grams
Turkey, 3 oz, 21 grams
Beef, 3 oz, 21 grams
Milk, 8 oz, 8 grams
Tofu, 3 oz, 15 grams
Yogurt, 8 oz, 8 grams
Cheese, 3 oz, 21 grams
Peanut butter, 2 tbsp, 8 grams
Eggs, 2 large, 13 grams

Strength athletes believe more protein is important to build muscle. It turns out that strength athletes actually require high carbohydrate intake and adequate glycogen stores to fuel their workouts. It is the strength training workout that leads to increased muscle mass and strength. This is because all high intensity, powerful muscle contractions (such as weight lifting) are fueled with carbohydrate. Neither fat nor protein can be oxidized rapidly enough to meet the demands of high-intensity exercise. Adequate dietary carbohydrate must be consumed daily to restore glycogen levels.

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Source:

The Position Statement from the Dietitians of Canada, the American Dietetic Association, and the American College of Sports Medicine, Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research in the Winter of 2000, 61(4):176-192.

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