Many individuals within the sporting arena advocate that diet is just as, if not more so, important as the actual exercise itself (see our editor-in-chief’s Maximuscle challenge results for proof). Regardless of whether you choose to accept this bold statement at face value or not, there is simply no escaping the fact that what you put into your body will both fuel your workouts and shape your physique.
One key section of a healthy and balanced diet is the adequate consumption of protein on a daily basis. In recent times this has attracted a great deal of press and attention, especially with the success of commercial diets such as the Atkins diet, made famous through their support of high protein consumption.
Protein can be considered the building block from which all life forms exist and is required for numerous bodily processes. From a sporting viewpoint, without adequate protein levels you would struggle to lay down lean muscular mass and ultimately develop your muscle percentage levels. Growth and recovery would also become difficult to achieve, leading to what might ultimately result in a state of catabolism.
Regardless of whether you are a world class athlete or sedentary individual, each and every one of us needs to achieve a minimum protein intake on a daily basis to remain healthy. The recommended daily allowance for protein in healthy individuals is 0.8g per kg body weight per day (National Academies Press, 2002). Utilising this formula, a 100kg male would require approximately 80g of protein per day as a working example.
The above formula should be utilised as a guide only and is applicable for sedentary individuals. These figures might vary depending upon numerous factors, including protein quality, energy intake, carbohydrate intake and the timing of protein intake (Lemon 2000).
A further factor which requires consideration and can drastically alter this ratio is exercise frequency and exercise type. Previous research has demonstrated that the 0.8g per kg body weight per day is not sufficient to counteract the oxidation of protein during exercise or the subsequent repair of lean muscle tissue (Tarnopolsky, 2004).
Meredith et al, (1989) stated that individuals who undertook regular endurance related exercise were required to up their recommended protein intake to approximately 1.6g per kg body weight per day. This figure provided optimal results for endurance related exercise.
This value is seen to further heighten with athletes who undertake strength and power related exercise such as weightlifting. Antonio and Stout (2001) demonstrated their optimal values to lie between 1.6-2.0g per kg body weight per day. Regardless of exact figures, the requirement for enhanced protein intake for sporting individuals and their continual success is clearly evident.
How accurate and beneficial are these protein recommendations? The recommended daily allowance of protein consumption for athletes are based upon two key factors: nitrogen balance assessment and amino acid tracer studies.
The nitrogen balance assessment variable is determined by monitoring the amount of dietary protein that enters the body and drawing comparisons against the total amount of nitrogen that is excreted (Rand et al. 2003). The major criticism with this technique is that its application and usage does not directly apply to sporting performance. It is therefore possible that any values produced during this mechanism might result in lower than actual readings.
As with all research investigations, the methodology if not often foolproof and the stringent control of numerous factors and variables will often leave the research exposed in other areas. From a scientific and research viewpoint, methods allowing the calculation of recommended daily allowance of protein for various sporting disciplines provides an approximate value or range which you are able to work from. This is based upon the collection of hundreds of research investigations reporting similar findings.
If protein is so good for you and your sporting requirements, can there be such a thing as too much? Is it considered dangerous to go significantly beyond the upper values of the recommended daily allowances? Long term high protein intake has been linked to various health conditions including both kidney and bone related.
Brenner et al, 1982 linked excessive protein consumption with chronic renal disease, blaming enhanced pressure and filtration within the Kidneys for this condition. It has also been reported that excessive protein levels can cause the excretion of calcium from the bone, ultimately resulting in osteoporosis. Despite such research, findings have been both disproved and discredited.
Ultimately, study flaws such as sample groups and sizes and a lack of control over the subjects during testing phase makes any cause and effect relationship difficult. Further research is therefore required to fill the gaps in this seeking research. The above ratios provided for numerous types of sporting activity can therefore be considered both safe and beneficial (Campbell et al, 2007).
Furthermore, although there is no strong cause and effect relationship within healthy individuals between excessive protein consumption and various reported medical issues, it is not known whether exceeding the recommended daily allowance will yield any further benefits from a sporting and performance viewpoint.
The purpose of this article was to consider the optimal protein requirements for athletes of various sports. Through previous research investigative findings, it is evident that as you move from a sedentary individual into an active exercise regime your demand for protein increases. These demands depend on both the frequency and type of exercise you choose to undertake, with endurance related activity providing optimal rates around 1.6g per kg body weight per day and strength and power related exercise producing results of 1.6-2g per kg body weight per day.
It should also be noted that healthy individuals who work towards these recommended daily allowances through their diet and nutrition will not experience any health related issues as a result of this increased protein intake demand. In fact, this increased intake as a result of demands placed through their chosen exercise may further enhance sporting performance. It should once again be reiterated and noted that excessive protein consumption beyond the recommended daily allowance can neither be accounted for nor commented upon.
The importance of protein simply cannot be denied. Regardless of whether you’re a sedentary individual or world class athlete, adequate protein is required for continual growth, recovery and development. Here at FashionBeans, we would advocate staying within the boundaries of the recommended daily allowances and utilising this as a guide alongside a healthy diet and training regime.
Of course, the best form of protein should be considered natural food sources and you should try to get as much as possible from your diet alone. However, as you look to increase your daily protein consumption to the recommended ratios set out in this article, it can be hard to find the time, money and effort in creating enough food in order to hit even the minimum requirements for an athlete.
This is where protein supplements come in. They are quick and easy to prepare, convenient to drink on the go and also extremely cost effective when compared to buying meat from your local supermarket. Below are a range of the FashionBeans team’s favourite protein supplements, which we have personally utilised within our diet plans and can vouch for their quality: