Protein is really important for everybody’s diet. We all need to ingest this macronutrient because it is involved in many biological processes. However, if you are related to the sport you know high protein diets are popular among athletes. But why is this? Is it so important as we normally hear? The quick answer is that athletes need to take protein in sufficient quantities to maintain health and fitness. So, yes, for sure protein is essential if you practice sport. Let’s see the long answer.
What is protein and why is it important for athletes’ diet?
Protein is one of three macronutrients our body needs (the other two are fat and carbohydrates). It is made up of long chains of amino acids that play a key role in both the growth and repair of body tissues. Our body is unable to produce them so we have to obtain them through food. Whether you do a physical activity that involves resistance or strength training, protein is important in your diet because:
- It is vital for the formation of different body tissues. Tendons, ligaments, and even the structure of vital organs depend on the adequate presence of protein in the body.
- It is another source of energy in which our body can turn to when carbohydrate and fat reserves are insufficient.
- It intervenes in the correct distribution of basic nutrients for sports performance such as oxygen and glucose, making them reach where they are most needed (especially to the muscles when they are at full effort while exercising).
- It is necessary for muscle repair. Without proper protein intake, recovery takes much longer and the muscles cannot rebuild as well. Protein helps repair tissues damaged by exercise.
- It is also necessary for muscle growth. This happens only when exercise and nutrition are combined.
How much protein should I take in?
The World Health Organization recommends ingesting at least, 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For those who practice a sport every day or do intense physical activity, specifically strength/power athletes the recommendation is to take 1.5 – 2 grams per kilogram of body weight. The reason is quite simple: protein is vital to the development and proper functioning of the musculature.
What happens if I do not ingest the protein I should?
This quantity we have just written can be easily obtained in a diet where 12 to 15% of the total energy is from protein. There is food that contains proteins of high biological value such as eggs, white meats (chicken or turkey) that are also low in fat. However, for some athletes, this may require supplementation. If this is your case, supplements or protein powders can be useful right after a workout. After physical exercise is the best time for protein intake because it will help recovery and muscle growth.
When the consumption of proteins is not adequate in people who practice sports, their physical and mental resistance can be affected, certain muscle wasting may occur, and their metabolism may be slowed down. With a protein deficit, training loses its effectiveness. By contrast, adequate-protein consumption guarantees an adequate recovery of our body after finishing sports activity.
Where else you can found protein? Here you have some food suggestions for adding more protein to your diet: seafood, lean meats, and poultry, legumes which include beans, peas, or lentils, nuts, seeds, soy products…
To sum up, getting enough protein support muscle growth, repair, and because is involved in many biological processes we all need to intake this macronutrient. So make sure you get the amount of protein you need, especially if you do strength or endurance sports!