If you follow sports nutrition, then you certainly know that protein is an essential part of your daily diet. If you are an endurance athlete, you may not think of yourself as a body builder. Yet, your training load places significant demands on your body for maintaining, repairing and growing lean muscle mass. While carbohydrates may be your staple fuel, there is a time and a place for protein in your diet. We’ve crafted a guide to protein, so you’ll know how to optimize your health and athletic performance.
Your Guide to Protein
Getting the right amount and type of protein isn’t as simple as just adding some chicken to your meals. Using it correctly — to boost your energy, athletic performance, and to help you maintain muscle mass and weight — requires a bit more information and technique.
Why is Protein Important?
Proteins have an important role in the body which is particularly relevant for endurance athletes.
Protein makes up a significant portion of our body weight (about 15-20%) and is only second to water as the most abundant substance in our bodies. But most importantly, protein assists most of the essential and vital functions such as:
- Contribute to lean muscle production;
- Repair muscle damage caused by exercise;
- Contribute to the formation of haemoglobin, the protein that transports oxygen around your body to exercising muscle;
- Play a role in controlling your body’s fluid and electrolyte balance; and
- Optimise your immune system function
How to Supplement Protein
When protein is consumed, it converts into amino acids, which rebuild and maintain muscle. The human body cannot store amino acids, so these must be supplied daily as protein, from the foods we eat. Most Australians eat far more protein than they actually need, so deficiencies are rare and eating a little extra to accommodate training needs is usually not that difficult.
How Much is Enough?
The recommended dietary intake (RDI) in Australia for protein (measured in grams per kilogram of bodyweight) is 0.75 g/kg for adult women and 0.84 g/kg for adult men.
As an endurance athlete with higher exercise commitments in terms of intensity and duration the RDI is also higher and generally in the range of 1.2-1.4g/kg.
This higher requirement for athletes is as a result of:
- the breakdown of muscle tissue and the release of protein into the bloodstream during exercise; and
- the depletion of the body’s glycogen stores which leads the body to “rob” amino acids from muscle tissue as an alternative source of energy.
You might already get a lot of protein in your daily diet. Still, by supplementing, you can ensure that your body gets all that it needs to recover after exercise, repair and regenerate cells, balance blood sugar, and more. It’s important to know that low dietary protein in the context of ‘over training’ can contribute to longer recovery time, muscle weakness, suppression of your immune system, and even anaemia”
Using Protein Supplements
Most protein supplements come in the form of powder, which makes it easy to consume. You can simply put a scoop of powder into water and use a shaker to help it fully dissolve. If you don’t like simply mixing it with water, you can add it to smoothies or milk to make it creamier. You can also use it when baking — check out this Raspberry Protein Bread Recipe for a delicious high protein snack.
Protein is an Essential Nutrient
Even if you are taking in adequate protein in your daily diet, or you don’t consider yourself an elite athlete, you really still should consider a strategic approach to protein to maximise the benefits you will receive from it. Simply embarking on a new training program, regardless of athletic ability, will place more stress on your system. The timing and quality of your protein intake will support your body as it adapt to the increasing exercise load.
Hopefully, this guide helped you understand the importance of protein in sports nutrition, as well as how to obtain it. Protein is essential for everyone, whether you’re an athlete or not, but they’re especially important for muscle recovery and energy. And, thanks to plant-based protein powders, even vegans can use protein supplements to ensure they’re getting all the crucial benefits that our bodies need to function correctly.