Pay Attention To Protein

Last month’s article focused on eating a balanced diet for your general population. Let’s dive into the topic of nutrition recommended for those of you who are athletes. Weekend warriors, professionals, or those who are getting your sweat on at the gym have a bit different needs when it comes to your diet, especially protein needs.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a protein is defined as any of various naturally occurring, extremely complex substances that consist of amino-acid residues joined by peptide bonds, contain the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, usually sulfur, and occasionally other elements (as phosphorus or iron), and include many essential biological compounds (as enzymes, hormones, or antibodies).” There are two types of proteins; complete and incomplete. To be complete, a protein must contain all eight essential amino acids (those not synthesized in the body). Animal products supply complete proteins whereas vegetables, fruits, and nuts provide incomplete proteins (missing one or more essential amino acid). This is why vegetarians (especially vegetarian athletes) must be sure to combine proper foods in order to consume all eight essential amino acids. Proteins are often considered the building blocks of the body because the amino acids combine to form muscle, bone, tendons, skin, and other tissues. They function to allow enzyme production, as well as nutrient transport.

Why is it that athletes have different needs pertaining to protein than the general population? It’s quite simple; activity. Athletes are much more active than the average person, requiring a higher volume of protein intake to help with various functions. As an individual exercises, muscle fibers tear on a microscopic level. These tears are a natural part of exercise and a sign that one is pushing themselves hard enough to gain strength benefits.  Proteins primary function is to help repair and rebuild broken down muscle fibers so they are bigger and stronger for future use. Secondary functions of proteins are optimization of carbohydrate storage in the form of glycogen as well as being used a fuel source. These functions are very important because of the heightened levels of activity which athletes face. Although protein can be used as a fuel source, it’s detrimental if it is because there wouldn’t be enough available to repair the body’s tissues.

Athletes need more protein than the general public but how much more do they need? According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, the recommended daily allowance of protein for general population adults is .8 grams/kilogram of body weight (divide body weight in pounds by 2.2)/day. They state that endurance athletes need 1.2-1.4 g/kg/day and 1.4-1.8 g/kg/day for strength athletes. This means that athletes need almost twice as much protein daily as those less active. This added protein is vital and should be consumed after each period of activity. Because the body uses carbohydrates as fuel and protein to rebuild, you will want sources of food and drink containing a four to one (endurance) or 2 to 1 (strength) carbohydrate to protein ratio within approximately fifteen minutes of working out.

Now you know how much protein to consumer but what are the best types of proteins? Do I need to be taking protein shakes?  Is there such thing as too much protein? First off, food sources such as meat, nuts, and vegetables always ranks higher than taking any sort of supplementation which would mimic the nutrient content. Food contains a large mix of nutrients in the correct quantities needed. It is not required for supplements to be tested by the USFDA which means that marketing can throw around terms that may not necessarily be correct. Ingredients do not have to be regulated to make sure they are the proper dosage so a higher risk of excess is present, as well. Protein shakes are supplements and a quick and easy way to gain nutrients after a workout. Since they are usually powders (mixed with fluid) you can easily transport, store, and prepare them. These shakes, despite their marketing, do not offer higher quality or more easily digested protein than eating food sources. Most protein shakes do not offer carbohydrates in high enough amounts to help replenish energy stores after working out. Chocolate milk is considered the best post-workout option since it has the perfect carbohydrate to protein ratio and is regulated. You can easily achieve your protein needs through the use of food without protein supplementation but protein shakes can be helpful if you are on the go.

There is a lot of mixed information regarding high protein diets. Like anything, there is such a thing as too much. Unless protein intake is consumed in extreme amounts, there are no harmful effects. Excess protein will be secreted by the body, leaving the only detrimental effects on your wallet. Protein sources, both food and supplements, are expensive and although it’s not harmful to have excess protein, it is an unnecessary cost. Another side effect that may be present with high protein diets is high occurrence of flatulence.

Use this information to better fuel and restore your body. Don’t buy in to all of the advertising of supplemental companies and if you need to supplement, make sure that they are a regulated company. No matter if you are an amateur or elite athlete, weekend warrior or your general public, we all need a balanced diet.



Protein Sources





8 oz



8 oz



4 oz


1 Can of Tuna

4.23 oz


Skim Milk

1 cup


Cottage Cheese

1 cup



1 cup


Peanut Butter

2 tbsp



1 large egg


Protein Powder

1 scoop



Amino Acids

Essential Non-Essential
Histidine Alanine
Isoleucine Arginine
Leucine Aspartic Acid
Lysine Cysteine
Methionine Glutamic Acid
Phenylalanine Glutamine
Threonine Glycine
Tryptophan Proline
Valine Serine


Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training (FAST) is empowered by Foothills Therapy Partners (FTP).