Protein and the athlete – How much is good enough?
It is known that an athlete expends more energy and nutrients than any sedentary individual. Thus, it is necessary that he / she consumes sufficient nutrients to recover the body from the intense physical activity. One nutrient that has gained a lot of popularity in the recent years is protein, especially in the field of fitness. Which type of protein to eat, how much of it to eat and when is the best time to consume it is the constant debate about. Protein plays an important role in recovery as it helps in repairing and strengthening the muscle tissues. While protein is important for building muscle mass, more is not necessarily better.
Individual Recommended Daily Allowances are estimated at 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. While it is generally accepted that athletes need more protein than normal individuals the recommendations actually depend on the type of athlete, their age, their body weight, exercise intensity and duration, training schedule and the goal. Athletes who engage in light to moderate physical activity require 1 – 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Athletes whose main focus is to bulk up require 1.4 – 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight and athletes who are into high intensity endurance training require from 1.4 – 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
The athlete would benefit immensely from the consumption of good quality protein which when absorbed by the muscles helps in muscle protein synthesis. But, are protein powder supplements necessary? Not really. However, for those who have no time for meals after a workout or are on the go they could be of convenience.
The timing of the intake also plays a role in enhancing muscle repair and growth. Physical activity breaks down muscle. If the intake of protein is not sufficient then muscle replacement is difficult.
But, it is not protein alone that the focus should be on. The ratio of protein to carbohydrate also plays a great role in the recovery process. This is important as then protein would not be utilized for meeting the energy needs and can just go towards building and maintaining lean body mass.
Developing an individualized nutrition plan is one way to ensure that the appropriate protein requirements are met with. This plan would take into account the athlete’s health history, the sport played, daily training regime, competition days and travel schedules. The goal and concerns that an athlete may have also are taken into account when planning the meals.