Sunday, July 18, 2010

Protein - A Little Goes a Long Way

The subject of protein for the athlete--- from how much is needed to what kinds are best, is the source of many hot debates. In many athletic circles, its function in building muscle has been extolled as almost magical. True, protein is an important nutrient. It’s found in a wide variety of foods coming from both animals and plants. Protein plays a vital role in repairing and rebuilding muscles, is an essential part of hormones, enzymes and antibodies that support our immune system. It’s not an energy source unless our bodies don’t have enough carbohydrates—the preferred fuel for all sports activities. Let’s explore the physiological basis for how much and what kinds of protein an athlete needs to help put this subject into a practical perspective for baseball.

Is protein more important than fats or carbohydrates?

No. All three of these nutrients, in the right balance and at the right time, provide the nutrition athlete’s need for the best training and performance.
How much protein does an athlete need?
The short answer is: more than a sedentary person who doesn’t play sports. Protein needs in athletes are higher, but exactly how much higher? Protein needs are calculated by weight, what type of athlete you are (endurance or strength & power) your training goals and by where you are in your sports season. See the table below for examples.

Average Protein Requirements for a 70 Kg athlete ( Divide your weight by 2.2 to find kilograms)

Type of athlete Protein Requirements (grams)

Sedentary .9 grms/kg 56 grms/day
Regular exerciser 1.0 grms/kg 70 grms/day
Endurance 1.2-1.4 grms/kg 105 grms/day
Resistance 1.4-1.7 grms/kg 112 grms/day

Protein needs for baseball (in season) are about 15-20% of the total day’s calories and are equal to about 1.2 grams/kg of body weight. To get an idea of what you might need daily take a minute and do the math. In the off season, if training goals change, protein requirements may change as well. We will address that topic (and protein for muscle building) when we discuss nutrition for the off season in September’s sports nutrition journal article.

It’s easy to meet your dietary protein needs through basic, nutritious foods eaten in a well balanced diet. If you eat cereal with milk for breakfast, yogurt and fruit for a snack, followed by a turkey sandwich for lunch, peanut butter & jelly sandwich or chocolate milk after your workout and dinner of a beef vegetable stir fry…. you’ve eaten about 95 grams of protein! You also get extra protein in your between meal snacks. Foods like whole grains and even certain vegetables have a little bit of protein, too, so it all adds up. If you eat enough food to support your training and performance, chances are that you are getting plenty of protein. There is no need to take extra protein in the form of pills or powders—food works! Save your money, choose well and enjoy all the satisfaction and flavor eating good food offers.

Protein from animals (lean meats, fish, eggs, poultry) is the most concentrated source and contains all of the essential amino acids. High quality plant sources include soy products, like tofu and soy milk, nuts and dried beans peas and lentils. Low fat dairy products are also an excellent source of essential amino acids.

Is more protein better?

No. Research confirms that anything over 2 grams/kg of body weight is excessive and does not benefit the athlete in any way. In fact, it might be harmful. Higher amounts of protein stress the kidneys because they have to excrete the nitrogen that is produced from protein breakdown (notice those body builders at the gym with gallons of water in tow?) Also, extra protein that isn’t used is stored as fat in your body. Only small amounts are used to repair and rebuild muscles so keep that in mind when choosing your recovery snack, after workouts and games. Anything more than 20 grams of protein is wasted.

By Kim Larson, RD, CD
Regular Contributor

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