The Importance of Proteins in an Active Lifestyle
Protein boosts glycogen storage, reduces muscle soreness, and aids in muscle repair, which are all important in sports performance.
For those who are active regularly, there may be benefits from consuming a portion of protein at each mealtime and spreading protein intake out throughout the day.
Choosing low-fat options, such as lean meats, is important because some high-protein foods can be high in saturated fat, e.g. fatty meats. Plant proteins are important for vegans as they provide essential amino acids. This is known as the complementary action of proteins.
In addition to the benefits of increasing protein intake to a high level for athletes and recreational active individuals, high protein diets are often overstated for the general population. Many people think that high protein intakes alone will increase muscle mass, but taking all of your attention to protein can mean that you are not getting enough carbohydrates, which provide energy more efficiently. There is evidence that high protein intake can cause excess weight gain due to increased calorie intake (energy).
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Most people consume more protein than the recommended 0.75g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day for adults, so it’s unlikely that you need to eat extra protein when you live within the current guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week.
Exercise and sport such as training for a running or cycling event or lifting weights regularly may cause your protein requirements to be higher than the average sedentary person, in order to promote muscle tissue growth and repair.
For athletes competing in endurance and strength events, protein requirements are increased to around 1.2-2.0g per pound of bodyweight each day. The most recent recommendations for athletes from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) also focus on protein timing, not just total intake, ensuring high-quality protein is consumed throughout the day (after key exercise sessions and around every 3–5 hours over multiple meals, depending on requirements). In athletes that are in an energy deficit, such as team sport players trying to lose weight gained in the , there may be a benefit in consuming protein amounts at the high end, or slightly higher, than the recommendations, to reduce the loss of muscle mass during weight loss.
During the recovery period after training, athletes need to consume protein at the right time.
A protein-containing meal should be consumed between 30 minutes and 2 hours after training. Although protein supplements may be convenient for protein intake around exercise, they can’t provide all the various components found in protein-rich foods, so focusing on a ‘food first’ approach is preferable. Several chicken breasts and a small serving of tuna will give you about the same amount of protein as a whey shake.
Try not to consume too many sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas and milkshakes, since research suggests that liquid calories are not nearly as satisfying as solid calories.
Information reviewed by Sarah Siddique ACE Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Certified Personal Trainer