Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are called the “macronutrients.” Carbohydrates fuel our bodies, fats nourish our hormone production and nervous system and protein is used in every single cell in our body. Protein is critical for repairing and building muscle mass, supporting neurological and immune function, aiding in digestion, helping to balance hormones naturally and keeping our mood upbeat.
How much protein do athletes need?
Most sports involve physically breaking down muscle during the activity and repairing it afterward. So the protein needs of active people are influenced by the length, frequency, and intensity of their workouts. Some feel that the protein needs of young athletes can be as high as 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
Traditionally eating a protein rich diet was thought to be synonymous with building muscle. We now know that this is misguided information, and that the best sports diet contains adequate but not excessive protein.
It's not hard to get this amount if you eat two to three servings of protein-rich foods a day.
- A small 3-ounce piece of meat has about 21 grams of protein.
- A 3/4 cup of yogurt has about 8 grams of protein.
- A 1/2 cup of chic peas has about 7 grams of protein.
When to become concerned about protein intake.
If you are dieting, excluding certain food groups, a picky eater, vegan or vegetarian then it may be necessary to look closer at your daily protein requirements. People who don't eat any animal products (Vegans) depend on beans, dried peas, and whole grains as their main sources of protein. Vegetables, nuts, and seeds also contain small amounts of it. Vegans can meet their protein needs, but it takes careful planning and may require more food to do so.
Is there a certain time when it should be consumed?
It’s best to eat small amounts of protein throughout the day instead of a very large serving only once or twice because your body cannot store protein and eating it throughout the day is the surest way to optimize protein synthesis. Some research suggests that eating small amounts of protein in the hours following a workout may help overall body protein synthesis and recovery. Plant based smoothies are a wonderful suggestion. The human body can only utilize so much protein at once (the rest will be stored as fat or eliminated). Protein servings of meat, poultry or fish should be the size and thickness of the palm of your hand and you should eat no more than two palm-sized servings of meat daily. Remember to have a healthy diet alternative protein sources are a healthy choice also.
Adding protein to your meals can be easy.
- Breakfast protein foods include: Nuts and nut butters like almond or peanut butter, seeds, tofu, egg, meat, yogurt, cheese.
- Lunch and Dinner protein foods include: Beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, eggs, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, poultry, yogurt and cheese.
- Snacks can include any of the above foods and of course healthy plant based smoothies.
Are there any other considerations and tips for athletes and parents?
Most of us get more than enough protein each day, and may be getting too much of this nutrient from animal sources like meat, poultry, and eggs. During exercise the muscles use carbohydrates as their primary energy source – not protein. It is important that athletes, including athletes in explosive sports, eat adequate carbohydrates before, during and after exercise. Protein, while vital to a healthy diet, will not bring victory on its own. Extra protein will not help you build more muscle or make you stronger. When you're consuming too much of it, you're probably taking in more calories and fat than your body needs. Never underestimate the importance of vegetables and fruits in a healthy diet.
What are sources of protein?
The list below will give you an idea of the amount of protein in common foods.
Where can I get more information?
Feel free to contact our Nutritional Expert, Shawn M. Nisbet (Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Fitness Consultant, Yoga Teacher and Master Nordic Pole Walking Instructor).
Stay tuned for monthly tips from Shawn on our blog!