Myths about protein and those who would want to gain muscles weight usually come with false information and faulty reasoning. Many athletes feel that protein is for those trying to build giant muscles, partly this is true. In reality, protein for endurance and weight training athletes is both important. Endurance athletes need protein as well. Confusion and myths about protein come from those who are bodybuilders who do consume large portions of protein-containing foods like eggs, chicken, and protein supplements. But those who may not choose the bodybuilding way of life may to not get the recommended amounts of protein in their diets due to fear of gaining too much bulk or simply being uneducated on their own body’s needs. Once again the philosophy of ‘everything in moderation’ comes into play. As we stated in the previous post, protein is needed to repair muscle, grow hair and nails, along with boosting our immune system.
Most individuals can find themselves no matter their activity level eating too little of the required proteins. It is very easy to fill up the day on other foods because meats, cheeses and protein bars are favored by those who are ‘bulky’ and we want to avoid these foods. In most cases, we then replace more nutrient and vitamin dense foods with processed enriched foods that are not filling. For athletes and any person that is active, you need to figure out your needs. Endurance athletes harness the use of protein when the duration of workouts are long, our bodies adapt to these activities and use protein when glucose is low in the blood. Those who are trying to build muscle need adequate amounts of protein but not over-do the amount. In several studies, taking excess protein in supplement form didn’t increase muscle mass more than consuming natural foods that are rich in protein. Those people that are trying to lose weight still need to get protein to feel full and curb cravings. Protein is also essential for those who are starting to work out or weight train because they need the protein to build muscle, increase endurance, and be stronger.
Protein Recommendations Based on Activity
Gram per Body Weight (lbs)
Endurance Adult Athlete
0.6 - 0.7
Growing Teenage Athlete
0.7 - 0.9
Adult Building Muscle Mass
0.7 - 0.8
Ex. 120lb endurance female needs at least 0.6 grams per body weight
120 X 0.6 = 72g of protein a day
Try this for yourself!
Now that you have found your need let's talk food. Protein can be difficult to get when you're busy running around from school to practice then home late, so the best quick snack options are not always full of protein. Some great snack or meals on the go include: greek yogurt, cheese sticks, hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, almonds, leftover chicken (on a salad or in a wrap for example), milk chugs, and finally deli meat, which is great to once again put on a salad, in a wrap or just eat by itself as a snack. The best part about protein snacks is that is actually fill you up for a long duration.
Those who choose to avoid meat for their own taste or personal decision need to be aware that they may become deficient over time. The healthiest way to maintain fitness at any level while being vegetarian, and even vegan, is knowing your plants. Grains, beans, legumes, nuts, soy, kale, and spinach need to be consumed by these individuals. Along with not eating enough protein for performance a person may not be getting enough iron, which is much higher in meats. Iron, a mineral that we need to consume, is needed especially when an athlete changes their diet to cut back on red meat. One consequence may be lower iron levels. A couple of my favorites that are animal free is soy or almond milk (especially chocolate), black bean burgers, almonds, peanut butter, spinach, hard boiled eggs and quinoa. If you glance at this list, what do you notice? I see vegetables, dairy and fat, all important and filling throughout a busy day.
For the female athlete it is a challenge to stay “thin” (which is a post all to itself) but I want to address protein in the midst of weight loss and the challenge to be thin. As mentioned earlier, iron may become deficient with those who have a low calorie, low protein diet, or have excessive activity. For females especially iron is also lost through the menstrual cycle. When iron is low enough you may feel fatigue, loss of muscle, become anemic, or for females have amenorrhea, which is the loss of or very rare menstrual periods. For a female athlete with these symptoms it’s your body telling you that something is off.
Protein is essential for everybody, find your needs, and find your new grocery list and yummy recipes you’d like to try. Don’t avoid the protein! Find a happy medium with what your body needs and what sound good for you. Nutrition is very individualized and it may take time to find the particular foods that you enjoy and can readily make. In the long your body with be sustained and your mind will enjoy the strength during your favorite activities.
Clark, N. (2014). Protein: Building and Repairing Muscles. In Nancy Clarks' Sports Nutrition Guidebook (5th ed., pp. 137-155). Newton, MA: Sports Nutrition Services.