Protein requirements have been well researched and in recent years, while scientists are starting to agree on some key issues much more research is to be done before we fully understand this diverse nutrient. Public opinion however, tends to move in cycles with opinion being influenced by the media, the internet and pseudo-scientists. It’s no wonder many athletes are struggling to decide just how much protein they actually require?
Why is protein important?
Protein is an essential nutrient in the diet, being used to manufacture body proteins that have important structural and functional roles. Structural proteins are needed to build connective tissue, cell membranes and muscle cells. Regulatory proteins act as enzymes or transport vehicles. Proteins are made up of various sequences of about 20 different amino acids. Eight of these amino acids are essential and must come from the diet. Some amino acids are used as a minor fuel source during exercise.
Do athletes require more protein?
In the last 20 years, detailed research has enabled scientists to measure protein metabolism during exercise and recovery, and to monitor protein balance in athletes. Endurance athletes in heavy training require extra protein to cover a small proportion of the energy costs of their training and to assist in the repair and recovery process after exercise. Strength athletes, who are interested in gaining muscle size and function, require more protein in the early stages of very intensive resistance exercise. However, strength athlete’s muscles seem to adapt to the stress of resistance exercise, so that the protein requirements to maintain protein balance in very well-trained athletes are only marginally greater than those of generally active people. Athletes, who are growing, such as adolescents, have additional protein requirements. The table below summarises protein requirements for different types of athletes or exercise activities. Since athletes come in various shapes and sizes, it is easier to keep track of these requirements by relating them to the size (body mass or BM) of the athlete.
Table 1: Estimated protein requirements for athletes
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