Athletes are often looking for an edge over their competitors either through special training techniques, cutting edge recovery strategies or magical diet plans. The truth is there is no secret weapon, the simple things in life are usually the best. One of these simple things is to eat more protein.
Why do athletes need protein?
Athletes often severely undershoot the amount of protein they eat, yet if implemented yeilds seriously good benefits! Some of those benefits include:
Appetite control – eating a higher protein diet helps you feel more satisfied after meals, which helps some athletes avoid over-eating and gaining unwanted additional weight.
Weight and body composition management – Higher protein intake may help athletes trying to lose some bodyfat by keeping them satisfied in between meals and building/retaining muscle mass (which is the highest metabolier of fat in the body).
Better strength – Protein not only helps repair muscle damage but also helps different neurological functions which play a large role in strength improvements (along with actual strength training of course).
Muscle growth or maintenance – muscle is literal made of proteins so to grow muscle you need to eat muscle (or plant “muscles” for our vegan friends). If your an athlete looking to pack on some muscle or maintain what you’ve got than protein is an essential nutrient.
Faster recovery – training hard usually results is tissue breakdown of athletes muscles and connective tissues. These are only small micro-trauma’s that your body can heal from quickly. Although, if protein intake is not adequate than repair of these tissues slows down. Eat enough protein and you’ll recover quicker and get back to training hard.
Aids recovery from injury – similar to recocery from hard training, injuries are damaged tissue just on a larger scale. Eat enough protein and you’ll recover quicker from injuries.
Improved health – Higher protein diets have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve glucose regulation, improve blood cholesterol and much more.
Improved immune function – Getting sick sucks and athletes are usually at a higher risk because hard training suppresses their immune system. Proteins are the building blocks of antibodies, and serve several functions in the immune system. Protein can help strengthen an athletes immune system and avoid missing valuable training.
How much protein do you need?
Due to the amount and intensity of training most athletes do, they require more protein than the average gym goer or sedentary person. As a good rule of thumb athletes should be aiming for between 1.2 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day e.g. a 60kg Female athlete would aim for 72-132 grams/day and a 85kg male athlete would aim for 102-187grams/day.
Athletes should also aim to eat protein at every meal, a regular dose of protein keeps the bodies amino acid plasma pool topped up at all times. You don’t have to whip out the scales at every meal, simply use the palm of your hand as a serving size. Men should be aiming for 2 palm sized serving (40-60 grams) at every meal and females should be aiming for 1 palm sized serving (20-30 grams) at every meal.
What foods are high in protein?
Protein is an easily accessible nutrient which can come from animals but also plants. Here are the best sources of protein:
Animal based – Lean beef, chicken, turkey, seafood (white fish, tuna, salmon, shellfish), pork, lamb, kangaroo, eggs, greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, whey protein powder, beef protein powder.
Plant based – Tempeh, tofu, edamame, lentils (red, green, black, brown), beans (navy, lima, kidney, black), split peas, black-eyed peas.
How to eat more?
Consistency is the key to maximising the benefits of protein so you need to make it a habit. Here’s how you can build in eating protein at every meal a habit –
1. Use the foods listed above to create a basic meal plan for the week and write in down.
2. Generate a shopping list from your meal plan.
3. Go to the shops and buy the foods.
4. Prepare the meals for the week.
Focus on this for 2 weeks being as consistent as you possibly can, you can change it up everyday or keep it the same for 2 weeks. Your goal is to eat a serving of protein at every meal. To help you get started here’s an Example day;
Breakfast – Omelette with tomato and onion, 2 pieces of toast.
Lunch – Tuna, brown rice, steamed vegetables.
Snack – Dried edamame beans, hummus, carrot sticks.
Dinner – Steak, sweet potato, broccoli.
Dessert – Greek yoghurt, mixed froxen berries and almonds.