Updated: Feb 21, 2019
Protein is so hot right now! The diet industry is the king of cool, making the latest diet fad look like the solution to weight loss and building a ripped body. The real solution is a lifetime of healthy eating and exercise, as discovered from years of scientific studies. But let's not digress, athletes do need extra protein.
Protein is made up of essential and non-essential amino acids. Protein is a macronutrient, like carbohydrates and fat. The human body needs bigger portions of macronutrients to function properly. Protein is used to repair and build tissue, such as muscles and tendons. Your hair, nails, muscles, skin, brain and nerves are also composed of protein. Protein is in every cell in the body and helps in the process of making hormones and digestive enzymes. Protein is not stored in the body, if you run out; you need to eat more protein. On the other hand, fats and carbohydrates are stored reservoir style for a future moment of panic, example: an endurance workout lasting over 60 minutes or when you end up on the Discovery Channel Show Naked and Afraid and will only have coconuts to eat for weeks.
Just for the record, Micronutrients are the vitamins, minerals we get from our food that are used in smaller amounts by the body. The body absorbs micronutrients better when carbohydrates, fat and protein enter the system together. This is particularly important to athletes. In order for our bodies to recover fully, we need to absorb macro and micronutrients together. Meaning, don’t just eat an apple after a workout, eat an apple with peanut butter and trail mix.
So how much protein should you eat a day?
Here is the recommended amount for the average person.
Men .45 g per pound
Women .36 g per pound
ACE Fitness recommends this for athletes who are strength training and doing intense workouts.
Men 1 g per pound
Women .8 g per pound
Here is what the math looks like.
Average woman weighing 150 pounds x .36 = 54 g
Woman weighing 150 pounds x .8 = 120 g
The American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics States
Strength athletes 1.2-1.7g
Endurance athletes 1.2 – 1.4g
Chart from ACE Fitness
If you are training nearly everyday of the week, you will need more protein and calories in general. During a workout we damage tissue, that sounds bad, but this is how new muscle forms. As athletes we put extra strain on the muscles and therefore may need extra protein to repair the damaged tissue. We also need to take rest and recovery time to heal the muscles. Heavy or big workouts should not be happening every day. Every body is different and some people will naturally need less or more protein for recovery.
From my own personal experience, my protein intake depends on my training cycle and how much I am teaching. When I opened my studio five years ago, I was teaching all the classes because I didn’t have other instructors because no one had done aerial arts and pole where I lived. I was exhausted, it was a temporary place until I trained instructors, so I worked on my diet. I ended up having a protein shake in the morning, and smaller amounts of protein mixed with carbohydrates and fats at lunch and dinner. I ate balanced meals with lots of vegetables, fruits, low fat dairy and whole grain carbohydrates. I felt the most recovered when I stuck to this equation. I also had a lot snacks with good fats, meaning almonds, avocados, and Greek yogurt.
You will likely have to experiment with your protein intake. What you want to watch for is too much protein. Once the body hits its quota on protein, it cannot store the extra like fats or carbohydrates, the body has to flush the protein out or convert it to fat. This process can cause dehydration because the body utilizes extra water to flush or convert protein from the system. The process of eliminating protein also depletes the body of calcium, of which the system may steal from the bones. Pay attention to how your body feels and even consult a registered dietion or sports nutrition specialist.
Helpful Protein Tips
Try to eat protein low in saturated fat.
Choose leaner cuts of meat, seafood and mix in tofu and vegetarian options.
Mix your protein intake with carbs and fat.
As stated above, the body absorbs more nutrients if protein in ingested with carbs and fats together.
Try to get protein from natural sources before moving to supplements.
Eat whole foods before moving to supplements. In competetive athletics supplements are pushed, its a lucrative business to sell protein. Work with adding protein to your natural diet first, only move to supplements, like protien shakes, if you are unable to get enough protein. Make sure you try out which protein powders react with your system the best. Understand that you may not absorb as many micronutrients in a supplement.
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