In this article, we tell you everything about the proteins necessary in athletes daily. When you increase your level of physical activity or extend its duration, your nutrient needs are increased. Your body needs more energy to be able to function at the same time that it must carry out a series of extra reconstruction and repair tasks.
Proteins play a fundamental role when you do sports.
Proteins are essential to repair the small fibrillar tears in the muscle that occur during sports. Proteins provide the substrate for good exercise performance and adaptation to it. Protein is a structural molecule assembled from amino acids, many of which the body cannot produce independently. Foods of animal origin are usually high in protein, with all the essential amino acids we need. Many plant-based foods are also high in protein.
The body uses 20 amino acids to make protein, seven of which are essential (nine conditionally) and require daily intake to meet your daily needs.
How much protein should I eat if I play sports regularly?
As we continually affirm, it is very important to have a varied and balanced diet at the macro and micronutrients level.
If you practice high-performance sports, you should know your total energy expenditure and adapt your diet to it. Otherwise, you expose yourself to diminished performance, gain or lose weight when not what you are looking for, and increase your chances of suffering injuries.
Based on daily reference intakes, the average sedentary person needs at least 0.8 grams/kilogram of body weight per day of protein. An active person will have increased protein needs. If you exercise four or more times a week, your needs may range from 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg of body weight daily.
For strength and power sports, protein needs tend to be at the upper thresholds of this range: 1.6 to 2.0 g/kg of body weight. On the other hand, in endurance sports, the reference needs are located at the lower threshold: 1.2 to 1.6 g/kg of weight. These recommendations offered by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) are usually appropriate to cover the needs of most sports contexts.
Remember that with increased exercise intensities, your body needs more protein to repair tissue. If these requirements are not met, you will suffer muscle catabolism (muscle destruction) without being able to subsequently carry out the corresponding anabolism phase (muscle building). In such a case, you will weaken, and you will not improve in your sports practice. For example: “A person of 70 kg of body weight who trains for triathlon regularly will need between 84 and 112 g of protein per kilo of body weight.” For another person who runs 5 times a week and weighs 50 kg, her needs range between 60 and 80 g of protein per day.
Frequency and volume of protein intake in athletes
Regarding the most up-to-date recommendations, we know having several protein intakes throughout the day is important. These protein doses should be evenly distributed every 3-4 h throughout the day. Recommendations regarding optimal protein intake per athlete to maximize muscle protein synthesis depending on age and the stimuli performed. We can talk about an absolute dose per intake of about 20 to 40 g.
Protein intakes should contain a balanced matrix of all essential amino acids and a higher relative leucine content (ideally 700-3000 mg leucine) to stimulate the protein-making machinery. Leucine is a branched-chain amino acid in many foods (eggs, vegetable protein supplements, fish, and poultry meat). It has been seen that its consumption in higher doses within the intake favors the synthesis of muscle proteins.
And what would be the best protein sources?
We know that foods of animal origin are usually a complete source of protein due to their balance in all the essential amino acids.
Currently, the intensive farming of animals subjects them to great exposure to hormones and antibiotics, added to a diet almost entirely based on foods of transgenic origin. This unquestionable fact offers us products of animal origin that may not be the best quality. It is a good idea not to base our protein sources only on them.
Due to those above, it may be a very good idea for the balance of your health and that of the planet to alternate the consumption of proteins of animal origin with those of vegetable origin.
Plant-based protein sources
Plant-based protein sources often need to be completed, lacking essential amino acids. They generally contain fewer Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) – Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine – than their animal-based counterparts.
The latter, especially Leucine, is presented as the main trigger of muscle synthesis. They play an important role in promoting recovery and adaptation to exercise. To solve this significant “obstacle,” the recommendations for vegans and vegetarians or for people like you who choose to alternate sources of protein of plant origin with the animal are the following:
- Try to consume a variety of plant-based protein sources throughout the day to meet your protein and amino acid requirements.
- The popular recommendation to combine protein sources to achieve a complete essential amino acid profile in the same dish is no longer necessary.
- Foods such as grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds should be included in the diet to ensure that all essential amino acids are present and adequate BCAAs are consumed to support recovery and adaptation from training.
Notably, most plant protein-source foods contain antinutrient factors (such as phytic acid or protease inhibitors) that can hinder protein absorption. Therefore, vegans and vegetarians should investigate the best ways to prepare these foods to reduce the effect of antinutrients. Techniques such as soaking, roasting, activating, sprouting, and cooking are often effective.
Plant-based protein supplements
Plant-based complete protein supplements (with all the essential amino acids) are a great alternative to the more popular whey supplements from cow’s milk or other animal sources. We have already commented that the current form of intensive farming of animals could carry undesirable substances in their by-products.
Suppose we add to this the enormous amount of artificial additives the industry adds to conventional protein supplements. In that case, we find ourselves with cocktails of substances whose potential negative synergy is still unknown. Some plant-based protein supplements that can be purchased today are increasingly complete in their essential and branched-chain amino acid profiles.
Recent studies compare the results offered by vegetable protein supplements with those of animal sources. Such quality serious mass uk supplements can reach protein concentrations of up to 80g per 100g of product. These can greatly interest all athletes since often achieving the required total protein values with whole foods alone can be difficult and inconvenient.
Current scientific documentation confirms that complete protein supplements of plant origin help improve recovery from training and promote muscle hypertrophy whenever a strength and overload program is practiced. They have also shown benefits on body composition and physical performance as part of a training program.
How do I put it into practice?
Once the necessary knowledge base is acquired, arriving at the daily protein requirements that you need in your diet is less complicated than it may seem. Each person should individualize their diet or seek help from a nutrition professional. It is very important that you take into account your food preferences, pay attention to how they make you feel, and properly adjust your intake to your schedules and activities.
It can be a very good idea to take cooking classes if you still need to learn how to prepare certain foods or want to add new techniques and recipes to your weekly menu. The idea is that the experience of shopping, cooking, and eating is an act of enjoyment and joy.