Protein plays a vital role in athletes by repairing muscle and synthesizing new muscle tissue. Distributing protein throughout the day as part of a healthy foundation diet for an athlete will help recovery, preserve and build muscle tissue. Protein also plays a large role in providing a sense of satiety, maintaining protein stores (muscle mass), and a helpful tool for weight loss, while maintaining blood sugars.
An athlete’s daily diet should include high quality protein sources at EVERY meal (especially breakfast) and snacks. Approximately 20-30 grams of protein/meal is suggested, with 7-15grams per snack, the overall needs for an athlete per day is based on athletic needs of the sport, training and overall health of the athlete. Needs can be anywhere from 85-150 (1.4-2.0grams/kg is typical range depending on the sport) or more. The benefit of “titrating” protein throughout the day vs. one lump sum (Example: 16oz. steak at dinner), is to fulfill our amino acid pool, continually. Peak time to trigger muscle protein synthesis is approximately 2 hours after consumption of high quality protein. Please don’t get this mixed up with the importance of recovery immediately after a vigorous training session. You still need high quality protein with in 20 minutes of exercise to help attenuate muscle protein tissue breakdown. Timing of protein is important and high quality sources that include branched chain amino acids (BCAA), and specifically leucine. Leucine is an essential amino acid (meaning we don’t produce it ourselves, it has to come from food or supplement sources) that triggers muscle protein synthesis.
High quality protein sources:
High quality protein packed snacks:
Wise, healthy protein food choices timed properly will improve your overall performance as an athlete, by recovering faster, decreasing injury and increasing/preserving muscle mass for optimal performance.
Melissa A. Mathes, MPH, RDN, CSSD