Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Do Athletes Really Need More Protein?

Picture source: Amazon

Muscle milk. Protein shakes. Protein bars. You see people drink them after their workouts. It's become "the thing" to drink these after workouts as a recovery drink. These drinks also tend to have protein (hence, the name protein shakes and muscle milk).

Picture source: Target
But, do athletes really need more protein? In short, yes, athletes do need more protein than the average person who's inactive BUT they don't necessarily need to consume more than they are right now. Well, why? As it turns out, most Americans already consume twice the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein. Surprising? I think not. The American diet is rich in protein. Think eggs, beef and chicken. There tends to be at least one of those present in a meal. Then, you add legumes (beans), nuts and dairy!

The RDA for protein is  0.8 grams of protein per kg body weight. So, if one person was to weigh 50 kg (110 lbs), they would need 40 grams of protein. If one weighs 70 kg (154 lbs), they would need 56 grams of protein. To convert your weight from pounds to kg, divide your weight by 2.2.

Well, why do athletes need more protein? Exercise increases the transport of oxygen to body tissues, requiring changes in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. To carry more oxygen, we need to produce more protein that carries oxygen in the blood (hemoglobin). We directly use a very small amount of protein during intense exercise. We also need protein to make glucose to maintain adequate blood glucose levels and to prevent low blood sugar during exercise.

In addition to that, exercise stimulates muscle growth and tissue damage, which must be repaired by protein. Strength athletes need 1.8 to 2 times more protein than the RDA  while endurance athletes need 1.5 to 1.75 times more than the RDA.
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Strength athletes refer to people such as body builders while endurance athletes refer to people such as distant runners.

Well, even though people may think that protein stimulates or promotes muscle growth but guess what, it doesn't. Sure, they could drink a protein shake but it's not necessary. They already consume enough protein in their diet. There are better sources of protein than just protein shakes anyways, such as chicken or turkey breast or even nonfat Greek yogurt (almond/peanut butter on 100% whole wheat toast if you're vegetarian/vegan).

What's the risk of eating too much protein? For one thing, protein has calories. It contains the same amount of calories per gram as carbohydrates, 4 calories per gram. Eating too much calories for your activity level can lead to weight gain.

Also, depending on the source of protein, it could lead to a higher risk of Cardiovascular diease (CVD). Increased risk of CVD happens if the protein source is also rich in saturated fat (such as beef/steak). Saturated fat, as you guys know, is bad on cardiovascular health.

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There are other sources of protein that are better for you and could help those that don't consume meat. Some foods include soy, nuts and legumes. Soymilk, tofu. Almonds, peanuts. Red beans, black beans, garbanzo beans. Those are other sources of protein. Oatmeal and whole wheat/grain products also have protein in them. Quinoa is also a good source (and has all the essential amino acids. Same with soy products).

What I am trying to say is that, yes, protein is very important. But, for the most part, we're consuming enough (or more than enough) protein that we need. Even with elevated activity levels, most of them are consuming enough protein.

My next post will be a vegan quinoa dish that's rich in protein! You guys will enjoy it. Stay tuned.

Do you take protein supplements (protein shakes, protein powder)?
Do you think they're necessary or do you take more natural forms of protein through food?


  1. Hi Helen,

    I actually don't prefer to take protein supplement and like to my extra protein from milk, tofu and other protein-rich food... preferably vegetarian if I can.

    I do realise that I tends to crave for high sugar and high protein food when I am doing a lot of training.


    1. Hi Zoe.

      I also prefer to take protein in food form, not in supplements. I enjoy my milk, tofu and that stuff also.

      Yes, as you are training, you do crave protein and carbohydrates (sugar) because your body needs the fuel. Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy during exercise.


  2. Explain what you mean by 'better' forms of protein? How are they better? I can think of benefits of protein shakes:
    1) low fat (vs most cuts of meat have higher fat, esp sat. fat)
    2) convenient - no cooking required
    3) versatility - you can cook with it if you want
    4) high dosage of protein with every serving
    5) excellent for lacto-ovo-vegetarians (whey protein) and vegans (soy protein, brown rice protein, hemp protein)

    1. Sorry for the late response!
      When I say "better" forms, I mean the more natural forms of protein, preferably low fat sources such as tofu and milk. Protein shakes are good sources of protein in moderation but most tend to be high in sugar (which isn't something you would want).


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