Protein for Athletes: Why, How Much, and When?

Protein for Athletes: Why, How Much, and When?

If you’ve just started paying closer attention to your protein intake for fitness and/or general wellness purposes, you may find yourself feeling overloaded with information.

Protein is frequently misrepresented, oversimplified, and misused, a byproduct of how popular it has become in the supplement industry.

To get the most out of a protein-rich diet, you have to look beyond the product packaging to the actual evidence.

Once you understand what proteins are and how they affect us on a cellular level, you’ll be that much more capable of tweaking and timing your consumption for maximum effect.

Why Protein Is Important: The Obvious Answer


A Well-Rounded Nutrient

Protein is essential for muscle repair and maintenance, transportation of various substances on the cellular level, communication between cells, and other vital functions.

To echo the party line, most people know that protein is crucial for muscle recovery and growth, and this is absolutely true–but how?

In the same way that healthy fats compose over half of brain tissue, muscle tissue is literally made out of protein.

Of course, there are plenty of other players involved with muscle tissue repair and formation on the cellular level, but proteins form the actual structure of this type of tissue, so they’re just a little important if you want to grow or even maintain muscle.

But proteins are much more than just building blocks; they contribute to all kinds of reparative, communicative, and maintenance functions in various systems throughout the body.

The Less Obvious Answer(s)

Protein can make you feel fuller longer, help organ tissue recover from acute trauma, and ferry important molecules into and out of cells—let’s take a look.

Feel Fuller, Lose Weight

There are a few mechanisms by which protein intake can prevent unwanted weight gain, the least technical of which is what this Masstricht University of the Netherlands study refers to as “protein-induced satiety.”

People who develop alcoholic fatty liver or hepatitis, for example, would likely show increased levels of aspartate aminotransferase.

This may seem contradictory on the surface, as one tends to feel more full after a few bread rolls than a snack of nuts and cottage cheese.

However, the study found that after the carb bloat dies down, the carb snacker will be hungry again before the high-protein snacker would.

Repairing More Than Muscle

Endurance athletes need protein more than they know, according to this study by National Taipei University of Nursing and Health Sciences in Taiwan.

The researchers found that whey protein given to marathoners one day after a full marathon significantly lowered “aspartate aminotransferase” and “lactate dehydrogenase” levels as compared to placebo.

Both of these word salads refer to enzymes of the liver, heart, brain, as well as muscle tissue that clinicians use as indicators for extensive tissue damage in these areas.

People who develop alcoholic fatty liver or hepatitis, for example, would likely show increased levels of aspartate aminotransferase.

Our point is not to obscurely connect marathon running to alcohol abuse, but rather, to demonstrate protein’s efficacy as a reparative agent for all kinds of tissues and traumas.

Even though marathon runners may be more immediately concerned with their soreness and minor mechanical injuries after the race, they’re actually doing more damage to their organ systems than they think, which is why protein’s apparent ability to cut down on this damage is especially helpful.

Protein Wears Many Hats at the Cellular Level

For a very succinct and completely bearable breakdown of some of the most important functions of protein outside of muscle synthesis/repair, we have to give credit to MedlinePlus, a government-run health information portal that makes it sound easy.

According to Medline’s explanation of (some of) protein’s major functions, this nutrient takes the form of:

  • Antibodies (immunoglobulin)
  • Enzymes (phenylalanine hydroxylase)
  • Messengers (growth hormone)
  • Transporters/storage vessels(ferritin)

In summary, different kinds of proteins and the amino acids that comprise them are important for helping our bodies identify and attack pathogens, break down substances into usable forms, enhance hormone transmission and reception, and “ferry” (that’s how we remember ferritin) other molecules into and out of cells.

What’s the Optimal Amount of Protein for Me?

Calculating Your Ideal Protein Intake

Weight, genetics, age, and other factors help to determine a person’s optimal protein intake level. Needless to say, the number is different for everyone.

The “for me” is an important qualifier here, because we’re all built differently, so it’s impossible to accurately standardize protein intake recommendations.

It’s also important to note that, even though protein is extremely important, there is such a thing as too much. Long-term overconsumption can cause kidney, digestive, and vascular issues.

The amount of protein a person requires depends on at least five factors:

  • Weight
  • Genetics
  • Age
  • Activity Level
  • Goals

Per the Harvard Nutrition Source, the recommended daily amount of protein for adults is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, which converts to about .36 grams per pound.

This sets the optimal protein intake for a 150-pound adult at 54 grams per day, and a 200-pound adult would require 72 grams per day.

This amount doesn’t take activity level, age, or a person’s goals into account, however, which is why the same nutrition report we pulled this figure from stipulates that “The National Academy of Medicine also sets a wide range for acceptable protein intake-anywhere from 10% to 35% of calories each day.”

An elderly person who weighs the same as a younger person, even if their activity levels are the same, will require more protein because their body synthesizes it less efficiently.

An active person of the same age and weight as an inactive person will require more protein because they are effectively traumatizing/destroying their own muscle tissue (to a limited extent) on a regular basis.

Finally, someone looking to build muscle mass and/or lose weight will want to shift closer to the 35% end of the spectrum.

Does Timing Matter?

The short answer in this case is leaning towards yes, but as always, it would be helpful to have more research.

Here’s what the research says about “nutrient timing” in regards to protein and muscle repair/synthesis.

The Glycemic/Anabolic Window

Multiple trials assessing the impact of protein supplementation immediately after a resistance workout have validated this idea of an anabolic window.

The theory of the anabolic window supposes that muscle tissue responds most efficiently to protein in terms of growth and repair potential in the 30 minutes immediately following a workout.

In this finding by the Copenhagen Muscle Research Center (CMRC) in Denmark, thirteen elderly males were selected to undergo a 12-week resistance training program.

The group labeled P0 was regularly given protein immediately after their workouts, and the other group (P2) was given protein two hours after their workouts.

The researchers found that “in response to training, the cross-sectional area of quadriceps femoris and mean fibre area increased in P0 (immediate group), whereas no significant increase was observed in P2 (delayed group).

As it stands, the sooner, the better.

Spacing Your Protein Consumption Out

It would seem silly to try and back-load our entire caloric intake for a day on to one massive dinner, but to a slightly less dramatic extent, that’s what many people are doing with protein.

This (second) finding from Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands explains how humans need to ingest at least ten grams of protein in a meal to stimulate protein synthesis at rest, and that many of us fall short of this mark when it comes to breakfast and/or lunch.

In other words, it’s wiser to have a moderate amount of protein with each meal so that the body can have enough of it to stay above the minimal threshold for muscle growth and repair throughout the entire day.

Navigating the Protein Info Dump

It’s easy to get lost in the swirl of misinformation when it comes to setting your protein intake level, but if you anchor yourself to the standard RDA and then adjust according to the above factors, you can find your optimal range while cutting down on the trial-and-error at least a little bit.

Whichever side of the spectrum you land on, sourcing your protein from a balance of plant-based foods, nuts, and healthier meats (fish>beef) will ensure you also take in the full cast of supporting nutrients that aid in its absorption and many other processes.

When that’s not enough, we recommend high-quality protein supplements like Magnum Quattro Protein.

products_items Magnum Nutraceuticals

Magnum Quattro Protein

Click to see current price

Ingredients:

Magnum Quattro 4-Stage Matrix (Whey Protein Isolate 90%+, Milk Protein Isolate 90%+, Micellar Casein 85%+, Egg Protein Isolate), Organic Flaxseed, Sucralose, Bromelain (Digestive Enzyme), Organic Cane Sugar, Natural and Artificial Flavors

 

Concentration/Quantity:

30 grams of protein per serving. 32 oz (2 lbs) – 910g, or 64 oz (4 lbs) – 1.815 kg.

 

Uses:

Provides protein, contributes to an optimal metabolic rate, creates a nitrogen balance, stored fat utilization, and muscle recuperation and growth.

How High-Quality Supplements Support Lean Muscle

Unlike the many competitors who only use a single isolate (and nothing to enhance absorption), Magnum has formulated their supplement with four protein isolates, flaxseed, and bromelain.

These ingredients help to “escort” the protein into our tissues, increase overall uptake of this vital macronutrient, and even improve digestion (that’s the bromelain).

This product contains whey, milk, casein, and egg protein isolates, and it’s completely free of lactose, gluten, and nuts.

Paired with an informed approach to dietary protein consumption, a well-placed supplement can make the difference between hitting your goal and falling short.

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