Nutrition journey- Part 3: Protein

Welcome to the wonderful world of protein

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The human body contains an estimate 30 000 different kinds of protein of which 3000 has been studied. This number is growing rapidly with recent studies done in this field. Each human being is unique because of small differences in the body’s proteins in the sense of amino acid sequences of protein, determined by genes.

Whether the body is growing, repairing, or replacing tissue, proteins are involved. Sometimes proteins role is to facilitate or regulate and other times it is to become part of the structure. Protein can act as enzyme, hormone or regulator. It is also a main builder and maintainer. Versatility is the key feature of proteins.

The importance of protein in physical active individuals and the athletes’ diet has long been recognised. From coaches of Olympians in ancient Greece to today’s multi-millionaire athletes, have considered protein a key nutritional component for success.

Protein is considered an important nutritional factor not only for athletes and active people competing in strength and power sports, but also for endurance trainers. Correct and adequate protein intake is crucial to any active individual.

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Roles of protein

Protein is essential for numerous body functions including the growth and repair of skin, hair, nails, bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles. It also serves a crucial role in enzyme production and maintaining a strict acid-base balance. Roles of protein in exercise is vital. Protein plays an important role in the body’s adaptation responses to exercise like:

* Maximizing protein synthesis and hypertrophy

* Aid repair and recovery

* Increase glycogen re-synthesis

* Role as hormones and enzymes

* Source of energy

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Quantity of protein

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for the average male and female adult is just 0.8 – 0.9g of protein per kg of bodyweight. Thus in a 70kg individual this equates to 56 -63g of protein per day worth two protein portions. Some research shows that competitive athletes, particularly those involved in heavy weight training, may require more protein, up to 1.5 times more. The recommendation for strength and endurance athletes ranges from 1.5 – 2.0g per kg. Research has shown that consuming more protein than this serves no benefit as it is simply excreted and may be harmful in the long term to your kidney and liver and also your budget.         

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Quality of protein

High quality protein is needed to increase muscle mass. High protein sources include low fat milk and the constituents of milk (whey and casein), eggs, isolated soy, poultry, fish, lean red meat. These sources are high in essential amino acids (EAA)(8 proteins that can’t be produced by the body and should be consumed through diet), necessary for muscle protein synthesis. Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) are 3 of the 8 EAA (Leucine, isoleucine and valine). BCAA and specifically Leucine are very important since it acts as signal to activate muscle protein synthesis. Milk proteins are a excellent source of Leucine and whey superior to casein since it absorb better. Milk proteins are considered gold standard after exercise. Also eggs whites are a excellent source of daily protein consumption for athletes.

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Timing of protein

Many athletes are afraid that their heavy training schedule will force their bodies to breakdown lean muscle mass and then use it as energy. The body does use protein sparingly as a source of fuel after 45 minutes of exercise. However by ensuring a “full” glycogen store through consuming plenty of carbohydrates before, during and after exercise acts as a protein “sparer”. Only in the absence of adequate carbohydrate stores will the body begin to metabolize significant amounts of protein for use as energy.

Therefore carbohydrates are essential prior to and during exercise while protein is vital after exercise. As soon as possible after exercise.


* 1.3 -1.8g/kg body weight protein/day for endurance athletes

* 1.6 -1.7g/kg body weight protein/day for strength training athletes

* Up to 2g/kg body weight protein/day for athletes involved in intense high volume training

* Before training: 0.15 – 0.25g/kg body weight protein + plentiful carbohydrates

* After training:

Resistance training- 1.3 – 1.8g/kg body weight high quality protein

Endurance training: 1.2 -1.7g/kg body weight high quality protein

Also add carbohydrates to post workout protein to increase absorption speed.

Up next

There is an unlimited amount of protein supplements on the market. However is very important to study the labels to ensure you are taking the best protein supplement for your specific need.

Next time we will discuss important points to look for in a good protein supplement.



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