Sports Performance Nutrition: How important is protein in my training?
By Dr. John Mishock, PT, DPT, DC
Building powerful explosive lean muscle can be a game-changer in optimizing sports performance and injury prevention. To optimize muscle growth and development specific training relative to sport is needed, however, exercise alone is not enough. Nutrition and more specifically protein are needed to attain optimal results.
Why does our body need protein?
Protein is the basic physiological structure of muscle. Protein is made up of 20 amino acids, 9 of which are essential and must come from the diet. Our bodies are in a constant tug of war between building (anabolism) and breaking down (catabolism) muscle. This is especially true during intense exercise training. For the non-athlete sedentary individual, .36 g of protein for a pound of body weight is needed to maintain an individual’s muscle mass. (Markoski et al. Gerontological Soc of AM, 2018) During exercise training, this need for protein significantly increases. If the protein is not there, muscle mass loss will occur, losing the opportunity for muscle building (protein synthesis). Bottom line, without adequate protein you could see minimal change in muscle strength and growth (hypertrophy) or even a loss of muscle mass during training. All your hard work could be for not without adequate protein consumption.
How much protein do I need to optimize muscle hypertrophy and strength during sports-specific training?
Studies show that a daily protein intake of 0.8-1 g per pound body weight per day (1.6 g/kg/lb body weight) is optimal for muscle growth. Additional protein greater than 0.8-1 g offers no further benefit. (Rothschild et al. Nutrients 2020, Motron et al. Br j Sports Med, 2020) This amount of protein is consistent with protein guidelines from; The American College of Sports Medicine, Dietitians of Canada, and The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics guidelines. A review of 22 studies in athletes who combined exercise and additional protein gained 1.5 lbs. of muscle and increased their strength by 10-30% with 6-24 weeks of training. (Cermak, Am J Clin Nutr, 2012)
How do I track my protein daily to make sure I am getting the recommended amount?
A great way to track your daily protein and other nutrient needs is through nutrition apps such as MyFitnessPal, Cronometer, or Fooducate.
What are good sources of protein?
Good protein sources are milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, chicken, fish, eggs, turkey, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Should I take a protein supplement?
Protein shakes and powders can be a useful alternative for individuals who cannot meet the protein timing needs from food. There have been over 49 studies justifying the efficacy of protein powders and shakes. Overall, one can expect a 9% increase in strength and muscle hypertrophy with protein supplementation. (Motron et al. Br j Sports Med, 2020)
Are protein supplements safe?
In research studies, there have been 333,257 participants who have ingested protein supplements with no safety concerns. These findings support the efficacy and safety of protein supplementation as an ergogenic aid for athletes when taken as directed. (Lam, et al. Front Pharmacol, 2019, mayoclinic.org)
Which protein supplement is best?
Whey protein is an easily digestible primary protein found in dairy products. Whey protein also has the amino acid Leucine, which serves as a signaling molecule for muscle tissue development and hypertrophy. Those looking for a plant-based protein, pea, soy, hemp, or rice could be utilized. Casein protein absorbs slower than whey and should be used before bed, not before a workout. Protein is needed at night due to the catabolic state (breakdown of protein) during sleep. (Joy, J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2018)
Should I take amino acids?
Protein is made of 20 amino acids. Ingested amino acids will eventually be used by the body to make protein for muscle development. It’s the same thing, however, no evidence consuming Essential amino acids (EAA’s) helps build muscle better than “high-quality” protein. If you have digestive issues with whey protein, amino acids can be an alternative. EAA’s could be used 15-45 minutes before your workout with training and digestive issues. The bottom line, make sure you have adequate amounts of protein.
What is the difference between essential amino acids (EAA’s) and branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s)
EAA’s are the 20 amino acids that make up a complete protein. BCAA’s are 3 of the 20 amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) that cannot be produced by your body. Studies show greater efficacy with EAA’s vs BCAA’s. (Moberg, Am J Physiol Cell Physiol, 2016)
What are my protein needs on my training days, and when should I take it?
- 3-4 hours prior: 30-50g of protein.
- 15-45 minutes before: 25g of protein.
- 30 minutes after: 25 g of protein.
- Bedtime: 25 g of protein (casein protein). Keep in mind that muscle growth happens during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
We can help!
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Dr. Mishock is one of only a few clinicians with doctorate-level degrees in both physical therapy and chiropractic in the state of Pennsylvania. He has authored two books; “Fundamental Training Principles: Essential Knowledge for Building the Elite Athlete”, and “The Rubber Arm; Using Science to Increase Pitch Control, Improve Velocity, and Prevent Elbow and Shoulder Injury” both can be bought on Amazon and train2playsports.com.