The Power of Protein
While you are likely aware of the importance of getting enough protein for overall health, did you know that athletes’ protein needs can differ quite dramatically from those of the general population?
The Satiety SolutionIn addition to providing you with energy and other nutrients in protein-containing foods, perhaps one of protein’s most valuable contributions is its ability to promote satiety, or the feeling of fullness.
Include protein in meals and snacks throughout the day instead of consuming it all at once. “This can help avoid overeating later in the day, especially in the evening, which is when I see some of my clients struggle with consistent, balanced intake.
As far as what sources of protein, chicken or turkey breast, omega-3 rich salmon and seafood, and iron-rich lean beef. If you eat dairy, I recommend milk, yogurt and cheese as good sources of branched-chain amino acids that can often be found in convenient, portable snacks for busy people on the go.
The Protein–Muscle ConnectionContrary to popular belief, eating protein alone, without the muscle stress associated with regular activity and exercise, is not enough to build muscle. I recommend spreading protein out throughout the day within meals and snacks, including post-exercise recovery snacks.
How Much Protein Promotes Performance?When it comes to protein intake, the typical American adult actually consumes more protein than is recommended. Although protein requirements for athletes are higher than the average adult, attention should still be paid to timing and portion sizes. Unnecessary, extra calories from any macronutrient source—including protein—can promote weight gain. As such, sports dietitians advise that athletes seek to eat enough—but not too much—dietary protein each day, as body composition has a great impact on athletic performance.
Jacque Scaramella, MS, RD, CSSD, a sports dietitian contractor with the United States Olympic Committee, recommends that most of her average weight athletes include about 20-25 grams of protein per meal and snack. This tip means that astute athletes andactive individuals should be scanning their food labels to figure out how much protein is in the foods—and the particular portion sizes—that they are eating each day.When it comes to protein sources, Scaramella also stresses the importance of adequate protein intake for the repair and recovery of muscle and other tissues after training to help optimize training adaptations.She encourages her athletes to eat high-quality protein after training and at meal times. This high quality—or high biological value protein—can be attained from foods such as animal-based proteins (lean poultry, beef, fish, dairy products and whole eggs). These are important in the recovery process because they contain all of the essential amino acids as well as iron and B vitamins.If you are a vegetarian athlete, Scaramella recommends including iron-rich protein sources such as whole eggs, lentils, soybeans, tofu, quinoa, and nuts and seeds. These also are rich in B vitamins and help facilitate energy production by releasing the energy consumed from food, and then using it as fuel to power your muscles.
And when it comes to protein, the timing of its inclusion matters for active individuals. Consume about 20 grams of protein within a half hour of completing strenuous exercise. “It is important to consume a protein source after a workout that has stressed the muscles. That is when your body is primed to intake the protein and to help repair the muscle breakdown that may have occurred, and further build upon that muscle.”
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