Athletes Nutrition: High Protein Foods and Recommended Protein Intake
It’s a common held belief that in order to build muscle mass, you need to eat more protein. And while it’s true that sufficient high quality protein is critical, the real key is combining that with the hard yards in the gym – and understanding a little about timing and protein sources.
Athletes – whether you are a runner, triathlete, crossfit athlete, body builder or surfer – will need more energy and nutrients, including protein than people who spend their days sitting behind a desk. But why do athletes need protein? High quality proteins boost muscle recovery, increase strength, maintain healthy immune functioning, provides energy and contributes to feelings of satiety or fullness.In other words protein is critical for repair and rebuilding body tissue – which means less time on the sideline and a better ability to continue to work hard.
High protein diets are very popular among athletes. But how much protein do we really need?
Recommended Protein Intake for Athletes
According to Australian Sports Commission the recommended daily intake (RDI) of protein varies according to the amount of training. Have a look at the chart below with the estimated protein requirements for athletes:
|Group||Protein intake (g/kg/day)|
|Sedentary men and women||0.8-1.0|
|Elite male endurance athletes||1.6|
|Moderate-intensity endurance athletes (a)||1.2|
|Recreational endurance athletes (b)||0.8-1.0|
|Football, power sports||1.4-1.7|
|Resistance athletes (early training)||1.5-1.7|
|Resistance athletes (steady state)||1.0-1.2|
|Female athletes||~15% lower than male athletes|
(a) Exercising approximately four to five times per week for 45-60 min
(b) Exercising four to five times per week for 30 min at <55% VO2peak
Source: Burke and Deakin, Clinical Sports Nutrition, 3rd Edition, McGraw-Hill Australia Pty Ltd, 2006
Whether if you are an athlete, an active or a sedentary person you can use this protein intake calculator to check your recommended protein intake per day according to your exercise routine.
Whole Foods vs Supplements
Most of us, including athletes can get the recommended amount of protein from real food. In fact most people actually reach (and exceed) the daily recommendations without needing to pay particular attention to protein intake. Those at risk of not eating enough protein tend to be vegans, females and restrictive or picky eaters.
Protein powders and supplements are great for convenience, but not necessary. Protein shakes are the most popular supplements as they are an easy and quick way to ingest protein straight after training, while you are still at the gym and don’t have time for a meal. Many protein supplements are very expensive because of the processing required to extract the protein from cow’s milk, like whey protein powders, for example. The best protein supplements are the ones that provides the athlete both protein and carbohydrate.
According to our brand ambassador and sports dietitian Pip Taylor “whole foods food are always the best but for a busy athlete, sometimes it can be more realistic and assist in meeting performance goals, to provide them with a protein powder,” and “At other times, and for the bulk of daily intake, then the focus should be on whole foods.”
May whole foods provide ample protein and carbohydrates for recovery but are minimally processed and packed with great nutrients like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to optimise health.
Protein Intake Timing
The American College of Sports Medicine says that is important to consume food and fluid before, during, and after exercise to help maintain blood glucose concentration during exercise, maximize exercise performance, and improve recovery time.
Here is what Pip Taylor recommends:
Just as important as how much protein you are getting is the timing of that intake. Research shows that protein is best ingested at regular intervals throughout the day for both uptake, maximizing training and strength adaptations as well as satiety.Rather than eating a large steak at dinner to get in all your protein focus on including some quality protein at each meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) plus an evening snack or recovery snack as appropriate.
Following a workout, choose a snack or meal that provides around 20-25g of high quality protein. Especially if you are on a tough training schedule or working out again that day, then try and get this recovery fuel in during the 20-60 mins post workout.
Protein and Weight Loss
According to Pip Taylor any time you lose weight you actually lose both muscle as well as fat. Having a higher dietary protein intake can help maintain muscle mass throughout weight loss with a caloric deficit. This is important to consider for athletes and no-athletes looking to reduce body weight, but still retain power and strength.
High Protein Foods List
- Milk 200ml – 7g
- Organic Cricket Powder (10g) – 6.9g
- Cheese (Hard) 30g – 7g
- Yogurt, plain 200ml – 12g
- Almonds 25g – 4g
- Peanut butter 1tbs – 7g
- Chicken 100g – 28g
- 1 Egg – 7g
- Fish 100g (average) – 22g
- Meat eg lamb, beef (average) – 27g
- Prawn 100g – 22g
- 12 Mussels – 20g
- Pumpkin (cooked) 100g – 7g
- Green peas (cooked) 1 cup – 9g
- Chickpeas (cooked) 1 cup – 13g
- Lentils (cooked) 1 cup – 14g
Jäger, Ralf, et al. “International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise.”
Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition14.1 (2017): 20.