Contributed by PNG Trainer Kyle McFarland- White Pine Athletics Head Coach
As athletes, we are all aware of the overall importance of protein in regards to our daily diet. Though the notion of protein intake for athletes is, at this point, pretty mainstream- the details, benefits, and sources are often clouded somewhere between valid research and pseudo-bro-science.
There is a pretty good chance that some of you have all seen the hulked up guy in the gym locker room shoveling scoops of dry protein power down his throat, followed by some Tarzanian chest pounding, then heading into the gym to “get them gainz”. Is this guy doing it right? Is this the optimal way to intake protein? Do I follow suit and just pound 5 scoops of protein powder, sans liquid?
As a coach I often encounter athletes who have more questions than answers regarding protein intake. And sadly, I encounter even more athletes who neglect this important nutrient all-together. So, let’s start with the most basic questions I get regarding protein intake for athletes.What is protein?Why do I need it?How much do I need? And,when do I need it?Where should I get it?
What is Protein?
Simply put, protein is the building block of life as we know it. Every cell in the human body contains protein, which is a structure built from a chain of amino acids. Many of these amino acids cannot be made in the body, but must be supplied via dietary protein intake. Meat, dairy, nuts, grains, beans, and supplements such asPNG’s Whey Protein Isolate are all sources of dietary protein.
There are three types of amino acids: Essential, nonessential, and conditional. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body, but must be supplied by food throughout the day (this is important, we will come back to this). Nonessential amino acids are formed within the body, either with assistance from essential amino acids, or through the breakdown of proteins in the body. Finally, conditional amino acids are needed primarily in times of illness and stress- we won’t talk much about these.
Why Do I Need Protein?
The short answer, you’ll die without it.
More specific to you as an athlete, protein is crucial to the exercise and recovery cycle. There is a window of time following a bout of exercise where the body experiences an increase in amino acid availability, which allows for a greater stimulation of muscle protein synthesis- even more so when greater amounts of dietary amino acids are present. Simply put, following exercise, your body is more efficient at repairing and building muscle when it has access to protein.
Furthermore, protein plays a critical role in balancing fluid/water balance, is necessary for the creation of hemoglobin (which allows for greater oxygen carrying capacity), and in some cases can be utilized as a fuel source if carbohydrate stores become exhausted.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
The typical active adult needs around 12%-15% of their daily calories to be comprised of protein. However, if you’re reading this you most likely fall into the category of athletes who train at a greater volume and intensity than the average active adult.A recent position statement from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dieticians of America, and the American College of Sports Medicine concluded that athletes should consume 1.2g-2g per kilogram of body weight per day. These guidelines are valid for both strength and endurance athletes, with the upper end of that figure recommended for those training at a higher level of intensity or volume.
150lb athlete who trains 5-6 days per week at moderate to vigorous intensity.
150lb / 2.2 = 68kg
68kg * 2g = 136g of protein per day
When Should I Take/Ingest Protein?
In the same position statement, it is recommended that athletes take in 0.25-0.3g of protein per kg of body weight within 2 hours after the completion of exercise to maximize protein synthesis and aid in recovery. Though, it should be noted that some studies point to a smaller window for post-exercise protein intake, roughly 30-60min. For most adults, this comes out to be roughly 15-25g of protein. Because the human body can only absorb small amounts of protein at a time, it is recommended that the remainder of your daily protein intake be spread out throughout the day, roughly every 3-5 hours using the same 15-25g per kg body weight formula. This allows for complete absorption and greater muscular adaptation.
It should also be noted that for higher intensity sessions, or sessions of greater volume, research suggests an intake of roughly 10-20g of protein, coupled with carbohydrate intake prior to exercise may help to maintain fluid balance and aid in recovery.
Where Should My Protein Come From?
This is a question I get from a lot of my athletes. What are the best sources of protein? The quick answer- I recommend getting your protein from a multitude of sources. Plant based foods, meat products, and dairy products are great options and contain high quality and essential amino acids. However, we are often faced with the difficulty of balancing our protein needs with maintaining a target caloric goal throughout the day, or the simple fact that eating that many protein-rich meals throughout the day can be extremely challenging.
There is no shortage of protein-based supplements on the market, but I have come to love and trust PNG’s Whey Protein Isolate- particularly, I’m a big fan of the vanilla flavor. I do my best to get my protein from a variety of sources, both plant and animal based, and I try to time my intake wisely throughout the day. That being said, a simple protein shake has become a staple in my post-ride recovery process. What matters most is that you pay close attention to the what, why, how and when of protein intake.
If this article was helpful and you would like to try Pinnacle Nutrition Group's Whey Protein Isolate use code PROTEIN25 for 25% off a 2lb bag.
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