Protein For Athletes - The Truth Behind Protein Intake
By Yuri Elkaim
As an athlete, you always look for nutrients that give you that competitive edge. Walk into any nutrition store, and you are overwhelmed with a plethora of products containing amino acids and proteins. The guy behind the counter (an unlicensed and uneducated salesman) tells you all about his latest and greatest products fresh from the manufacturers warehouse. However, how much protein do you really need to take in to sustain adequate performance and growth? More importantly, from where should your protein come?
Protein is made up of essential and non-essential amino acids formed in chains called polypeptides. Your body produces non-essential amino acids, and you also find them in protein rich foods. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the human body and must be ingested from food sources. Of the 20 amino acids need for muscle growth, 12 are non-essential, and 8 are essential.
Upon ingesting protein, your body begins to break down polypeptide chains into smaller components over and over in order to facilitate the digestion process. Digestion breaks protein down efficiently enough for your body to absorb and store it for use.
The amount of protein you consume directly relates to how it is used in your body. The primary use of protein is to build and repair tissue. However, if you are not taking in sufficient amounts of carbohydrates or protein, your body will convert amino acids into glucose to use as energy stores (this is a last resort if your body is starved for energy). Consequently, if you ingest too much protein, your body will have no use for it, and turn it into fat stores.
Protein needs of athletes
The advertising and supplement industry picked up on the athlete's desire to grow bigger, stronger, and faster. That's why you may be confused as to how much protein you need to take in to sustain or enhance performance levels. As an athlete, you do need to consume more protein than your sedentary friend in order to support muscle tissue growth and repair. Keep in mind that your body can only absorb so much, so taking in too much protein will make you hit a plateau, and can even cause you to pack on excess weight.
Your protein intake should range between 1.4 and 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. When combined with weight training and other forms of high intensity training, you will enhance the development of muscle tissue and shorten recovery time.
Stick to whole food sources and avoid protein supplements if possible. Green leafy vegetables, eggs, and fish are the most absorbable proteins available. Moderate consumption of other sources such and chicken and lean red meat can also be good for athletes. If you need to supplement your protein, do so sparingly. You are better off drinking a scoop of whey protein isolate with water than skipping a meal.
Make sure to take your protein sources with complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. Carbohydrates elevate your insulin and growth hormone levels while helping your body recovery glycogen stores. Fats slow your digestion, which allows for greater nutrient uptake.
Yuri Elkaim is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and author of the raw food diet for weight loss ebook, Eating for Energy. Visit http://www.eatingforenergy.ca to get started with his FREE "Energy Secrets" e-course and discover what your diet has been missing.