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Fitness & Performance

Why Is Dietary Protein Important for Athletes?

Herbalife August 1, 2023

As sports enthusiasts restart their exercise routines, it’s important to kick-start on the right note with the necessary dietary support that can fuel their athletic endeavors. Many consumers in Asia Pacific lack knowledge on nutrition in general and are primarily dependent on healthcare professionals (HCPs) according to a nutritional myth survey done by Herbalife. So, for anyone engaging in active sports, HCPs would need to furnish them with adequate information about sports nutrition and particularly protein.

Protein is an invaluable nutrient for muscle growth and recovery. According to research published by the American College of Sports Medicine, muscle mass is built when the net protein balance is positive, in other words, when muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown. Research shows muscle protein turnover is the greatest after we engage in workouts.

As the world slowly eases out of the pandemic, it has become even more critical to maintain a strong and healthy immunity, which means an active lifestyle coupled with appropriate nutrition.

Dietary protein for active people play an integral part in growth and repairing damaged cells and tissues, synthesising hormones and enabling a variety of metabolic activities in their body. According to Nicolette Leffler (MS, RDN), Sports Performance Dietitian and Education Coordinator, Herbalife, “Protein promotes satiety, or the feeling of fullness, more than both carbohydrates and fat. This can be beneficial for athletes who are often fuelling their bodies for long stretches of time.”

It is critical for people engaging in sports to take in high-quality protein as they contain all the essential amino acids that are rich in branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). Leucine, one of the BCAAs, is known to play a major role in growth and recovery after resistance and or endurance training. High-quality protein exists in animal-based foods (for example, lean poultry, beef, fish, dairy, egg products, and whole eggs) and plant-based options like soybeans and tofu.

Then, there is also the choice of dietary supplements. In today’s world, dietary supplements that are NSF Certified for Sport Program are rigorously tested and are readily available to support elite and everyday athletes in achieving their personalized fitness goals.

Protein supplementation for athletes

Science-based evidence backs the idea that protein supplementation can help to minimize the loss of muscle mass in old people or help those who practise sports in which strength is important to achieve an optimized level of muscle performance*.

The most common form of supplementation would be protein powder and whey protein and plant-based proteins such as soy or pea have been shown to most effectively promote muscle growth and recovery. Protein shakes are convenient and useful for active individuals and athletes who are on-the-go, especially post-exercise when real food sources of protein tend to be less accessible.

The most critical knowledge about protein and protein supplementation is to understand the science behind BCAAs. According to Dana Ryan (PhD, MBA, M.A.), Director of Sports Performance and Education, Herbalife, “These unique amino acids also act as markers of the initiation of protein synthesis, thus activating enzymes responsible for building muscle. BCAA increases the rate of protein synthesis and decreases the rate of protein degradation in the muscles.”

Recommended intakes of protein

In general, it is recommended that 10%-35% of our daily energy intake should be from protein. It is evident that individuals who are engaged in intense training require more dietary protein than sedentary counterparts, (e.g. 1.4-2 grams per kg/day)**. A moderately active adult should consume between 1.1-1.7 grams of protein/kg of body weight. If anyone is doing resistance training, they should consume between 1.8- 1.9 grams of protein/kg of body weight.

“Timing of protein intake is especially important for athletes or anyone trying to build muscle. Aim to consume at least 20 grams of high-quality protein within 30 minutes of exercising,” Leffler adds.

References

*University of Seville "The Quality of Protein Supplements for Athletes", Science Daily, Sep. 2018
**R. Kreider, B. Campbell “Protein for Exercise and Recovery”, The Physician and Sports Medicine, 2009