Written by: Kristin Dugan, SPT

The goal of every athlete is to be the best competitor in their sport. Some may think you need fancy equipment, expensive clothing, or the latest and greatest trend to be the best you can be. Although these things can be very helpful when training for your sport, you must have basic nutrition taken care before any of these luxuries can be beneficial to you. So, for the next few weeks, we will be talking about the basic elements of nutrition and how they impact you as a competitive athlete. Last time we talked about carbohydrates.

Today, let’s talk about….PROTEIN!

So if you are not trying to bulk up, you don’t need to worry about eating protein, right? Wrong! A protein-rich diet is very important. Your protein needs may increase or decrease depending on the amount and type of physical activity that you participate in, but everyone needs protein. Protein is essential to maintain all of your body tissues, and without it, your body does not function properly.

What is protein?

                  Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of all body tissues. Your body experiences constant cell turnover, meaning that old cells must be replaced with new ones. Protein is needed to create the new cells, which restores tissues and keeps them working properly.

Why is protein important for athletes?

  1. To repair and rebuild muscle—muscle breaks down during exercise, so you need protein to repair and make your muscles stronger.
  1. To optimize carb storage as glycogen—when carbs are stored as glycogen instead of fat, the body can use these reservoirs as a fuel source more readily and without adding extra body weight.

So does this mean I can’t be a vegetarian?

No way! You can take in protein through other ways than just eating meat. HOWEVER, you must be aware of how to properly combine foods to make sure you are consuming the right kinds of protein. There are complete proteins (containing all 8 essential amino acids) and incomplete proteins (those missing at least 1 of the essential amino acids). Vegetables, fruits, and nuts tend to be incomplete protein sources, so you must arrange your diet to create an adequate combination of vegetarian foods when avoiding meat.

Click the following link for nutrition tips for vegetarian athletes: http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/sportsnutrition/a/VegetarianTips.htm

Should I consume protein instead of carbs when I’m lifting weights?

Although protein intake is necessary for proper bodily function, the body does not typically use protein as a major fuel source. Protein only becomes a major fuel source when the body is deprived of carbohydrates, but this should generally be avoided since it risks your health. You need carbohydrates to fuel the action of lifting weights, then protein to repair the muscle damage that occurred in order to lift more weight the next time.

How much protein do I need each day in order to maintain a competitive edge?

Unlike carbohydrates, there are no vast reservoirs to house extra protein that you have consumed. Consuming excessive amounts of protein will not give you a competitive edge unless your body needs that much protein to rebuild muscle damaged during daily and physical activity. If too much protein is taken into the body, the body does not need it, so the protein is exited without any use. Therefore eating and drinking 3x your body’s needs in protein will not give you 3x the performance results, just 3x the expense and unnecessary caloric intake.

Here are some general guidelines for protein:

  • For general nutrition needs: 0.35 g/lb daily (ex: 100 lb body weight requires 35 grams of protein in one day)
  • For endurance athletes: 0.5—0.6 g/lb daily (ex: 100 lb body weight requires 50—60 grams of protein in one day
  • For strength training athletes: 0.6—0.8 g/lb daily (ex: 100 lb body weight requires 60—80 grams of protein in one day)
  • Click the following link to better determine your specific protein needs: http://www.healthcalculators.org/calculators/protein.asp?Submit=Close
  • Begin consuming protein within 15 minutes of your workout or practice, totaling 25-50g by 1 hour post-exercise
  • Consume protein with a small amount of simple carbohydrates to speed up protein absorption in the body
  • Click the following link to look at the protein content of various foods: http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/whattoeat/a/highproteinfood.htm

Protein is more than just eating beef and “beefing up”. GO BUILD YOUR BODY INTO A MASTERPIECE!

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