(photo credit: Courtesy)
This is the second article in a series of articles on nutrition in sports. This
piece will focus on nutritional goals for athletes, with a specific focus on
Every athlete will attest to the notion that protein is an
important part of their diet.
Whereas in the past, Olympians would gorge
large amounts of proteins in order to achieve maximal physical results, today’s
athletes are more likely to eat large quantities of meat (probably not cyclist
Alberto Contador any longer after almost being banned for eating steroid-tainted
meat during the Tour de France), in addition to a diet that includes various
Scientists will often debate how much protein or
meat athletes should be eating on a regular basis.
Many scientists are
concerned about whether our athletes are meeting their protein goals, working
out precise calculations in order to determine that exact amount that will lead
our athletes to the finish line. The question is, are athletes even meeting
these protein goals in the first place, and if so, how much protein should be a
part of their daily diets? When we exercise, the amino acids from the protein
already stored in our bodies are used to create new tissue (for instance,
muscle) and repair existing tissues.
These amino acids also partake in
the manufacturing of enzymes and hormones that are involved in several body
functions, such as the regulation of the body’s metabolism. Protein is one of
the body’s fuel sources for muscles during exercise.
Studies have shown
that most athletes consume far more than the recommended daily protein intake
and therefore do not need to worry that they are not receiving enough protein in
This above-average level of protein does not include the use
of protein supplements.
What this seems to indicate is that athletes are
aware of the need to incorporate protein in their diets and that scientists do
not need to spend time worrying that the average athlete is suffering from a
lack of protein.
Scientists recommend for the average inactive person to
consume 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (BW) a day. For an average athlete
focusing on endurance and resistance-training, the daily recommendation is
augmented to 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram of BW per day.
Some suggest that
this need for additional protein results from increased physical activity, while
others say that this theory is erroneous and not all athletes need to be
consuming more protein.
Such a theory posits that protein requirements in
athletes are not being measured properly, which is why many obtain results
demonstrating this increased protein need.
The question remains as to
whether or not this additional protein is actually helping athletes reach their
physical goals, or if this extra protein is doing nothing at
Scientists discovered that some athletes who body-build or do
resistance-training, eat more than 2-3 grams per kilograms BW of protein a
Certainly this extra protein is costing these athletes a lot of
money and there is no evidence to date that this additional protein leads to any
increase in muscle mass, muscle strength or to enhanced the bodyresponse to
Any athlete who is consuming extra amounts of protein must be
careful to make sure that it does not come at the expense of meeting other
nutritional goals that can severely affect performance.
I should also
mention that protein-only powers and aminoacid supplements are very costly and
there isn’t much evidence to support their effectiveness.
foods can meet the body’s needs and are often drastically
Athletes who lack sufficient levels of protein in their diets
are usually either consciously restricting their energy intake or are
intentionally limiting their diet (for instance, eating only
Restricting levels of energy intake is a noteworthy problem
as energy deficiency can constrain the amount of protein absorbed and hurt the
protein balance in the body.
What scientists have found is that the
intake of a small quantity of a high-quality protein together with a
carbohydrate can improve the body’s protein synthesis.
For those whose
workout centers on endurance, consumption is recommended to take place soon
after the completion of exercise.
For one whose workout concentrates on
resistance training, consumption is recommended before training.
should be noted that much research is still being conducted in this area all the
time and that more specific guidelines should be available in the
Based on the above recommendations, it seems more logical to
spend time focusing on what high-quality proteins, combined with carbohydrates,
athletes should be eating, as opposed to focusing on just gorging on large
amounts of proteins.
The subject of carbohydrates will be expanded upon
in the next article in this series.The above information is supplied by
Yonatan Kaplan PT PhD (Candidate). Director, Jerusalem Sports Medicine
Institute, Lerner Sports Center, Hebrew University.
For further details,
e-mail: [email protected], call Yonatan at 054-463-9463 or visit