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How much protein do athletes really need?

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Whether you are a runner, body builder, or practice martial arts, your body needs protein to build muscle. Not only does protein supply your body with sufficient energy, but it also helps repair the muscles that were broken down during a workout.

To determine the amount of protein that an athlete should consume, it’s important to take into account the athlete’s complete diet – carbohydrates and fat included. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) explains that our protein needs are only 10% of the body’s total fuel. The other 90% come from carbohydrates and fat. Therefore, the AND recommends athletes to consume a varied diet with adequate portions of carbohydrates and fat in order to preserve bodily protein stores. In doing so, the body will conserve protein and use it to maintain lean body mass, resulting in a more toned physique.

The AND recommends athletes to consume (based on body weight):

– 1.2-1.7grams/kilogram of protein per day for power athletes
– 1.2-1.4 grams/kilograms of proteins per day for endurance athletes

For example: an average male athlete should consume between 84-119 grams of protein per day; for an average female athlete 66-94 grams per day.

So what kind of protein should I be eating?

Most athletes will get adequate protein from the diet. However, if you feel like you are low on energy and need more protein, you can use protein supplements. Protein supplements may come in different forms such as: protein shakes, protein powders, or specific amino acid supplements in a pill form (note: before taking supplements its important to consult a registered dietitian).

Examples of lean protein sources:
– Skinless poultry
– Fish
– Eggs
– Beans, Peas, and Lentils
– Low-fat yogurt and milk
– Tofu

As a vegetarian or vegan, can I get enough protein?

YES! Although it is a conventional belief that eating meat is the only way to build muscle in actuality, there are plenty of plant sources with sufficient stores of protein to help you bulk up. There are many Olympic athletes that are vegetarian and vegan, such as cyclist Lizzie Armitstead, track and field legend Carl Lewis, and runner Edwin Moses, to name a few. In fact some of the strongest and largest animals on the planet are vegan: gorillas, horses, and even elephants!

Plant-based protein sources:

Nuts/seeds with protein (in ¼ cup)
Almonds – 7.59 g
Pumpkin seeds – 8.47 g
Peanuts – 9.42 g
Flaxseeds 7.68 g

Grains with protein (1 cup cooked)
Spelt – 10.67 g
Quinoa – 8.14 g
Oat bran – 7.03
Amaranth – 9.35

Vegetables with protein (cooked)
Peas, ½ cup – 4.29 g
Potato, medium – 4.33 g
Sweet corn, on cob – 3.92 g
Swiss chard, 1 cup – 3.29

Easy ways to incorporate the plant-based proteins into your diet are to enjoy a bean burrito, have a bowl of minestrone soup, add garbanzos and slivered almonds to a salad, or make a quinoa salad with veggies and toasted pumpkin seeds.

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