Proteins are the basis of sports nutrition, and protein food must undoubtedly be present in each athlete’s diet, regardless of the kind of training. A variety of high-quality protein-containing products can fully satisfy the need of the body experiencing increased physical activity for these macronutrients (vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal brain activity).
The Importance of Protein in Sports Nutrition
To maintain working capacity and good physical shape, the athlete must provide themselves with all the necessary amino acids contained in proteins. Against the background of considerable stress, which is a mundane thing in professional sports, proteins are the basis for the effective functioning of the body.
The mode of protein intake at different stages of the process (training, competition, recovery) is different, so the necessary amount of protein in the diet should be adjusted depending on the set goals.
Proteins are needed:
- for the formation of muscle fibers;
- for tissue repair after injuries;
- for metabolic processes, the intensity of which is exceptionally high among athletes;
- for the normal functioning of immunity;
- for hormonal processes regulation;
- for a full supply of oxygen to the body.
To ensure success in training, and the overall health and proper homeostasis of the body, the proteins in the nutrition of athletes must be complete. Protein food should contain all the amino acids necessary for humans, some of which are so-called essential amino acids that can be ingested only with food.
Animal to Vegetable Proteins Ratio
The classic ratio of animal and vegetable proteins in sports nutrition is 60/40%. During periods of competition, the proportion may change, and the percentage of animal proteins will increase by up to 80%, with vegetable protein consumption reduced down to 20%. This change is due to the following factors:
- Proteins of animal origin contain all the necessary amino acids and are almost entirely absorbed by the body, so their presence in the athlete’s diet is a must. Egg protein is best absorbed (quail and chicken eggs are recommended), as well as milk and whey protein. Cheese and cottage cheese take the second place, the third place is shared by white poultry and fish.
- Proteins of plant origin do not contain all the necessary amino acids and are absorbed worse than those of animal origin and require additional energy consumption for the digestion process. At the same time, the use of plant-based protein foods is necessary for the usual training regimen – it is rich in fiber, complex carbs, micronutrients, and healthy fats. Such products help lower blood cholesterol, control weight, and contribute to a quick feeling of satiety. The best sources of vegetable protein for athletes are legumes, soy, nuts.
Protein Consumption Norms
The amount of protein optimal for assimilation by the body during severe physical exertion is considered to be 30 g of pure substance per meal. At the same time, protein foods must be combined with carbohydrates and fats. In the diet of athletes involved in strength training, the protein ratio should be about 1.5-1.7 g per 1 kg of body weight. This amount of protein, combined with training, is sufficient to achieve maximum strength and endurance levels. In the diet of athletes for whom large muscle mass is of primary importance (i.e., bodybuilders), the amount of protein can be increased to 2 g per 1 kg of body weight. For the remaining categories of athletes, 1–1.5 g of protein per 1 kg of body weight is sufficient.
The lack of protein in the athlete’s diet causes a slowdown in the processes of muscle recovery, their growth, can cause malfunctions in all body systems and lead to severe harm to health. Protein deficiency is more dangerous for athletes than for people who lead a not so active lifestyle, due to high strain and greater intensity of metabolism.
What Causes Protein Deficiency
One of the reasons for the lack of protein in the diet of athletes is vegetarianism. Plant proteins are not able to provide an athlete with a complete (in terms of qualitative and quantitative characteristics) amino acid complex. Vegetarian athletes are advised to eat eggs and dairy products, as well as special protein complexes under the supervision of a physician.
The lack of protein in athletes can be associated with the quality of protein products and their heat treatment methods. The nutritional value of frozen foods that have been stored for a long time using preservatives that have been cooked for a long time has been reduced by about 40% compared to fresh foods that have undergone minimal treatment.
Proteins and Protein-rich Foods
It is well known that to lose weight with the help of training. It is necessary to increase the proportion of proteins in the diet up to about 36%. It is done because proteins are not getting transformed into fat for further storage, but at the same time, they can maintain the body’s energy level and contribute to fat burning.
The energy value of proteins is comparable to that of carbs and is 4 kcal per 1 g. Athletes’ need for proteins is slightly higher than that of people who are not involved in training at all. The recommended daily amount of protein supplied with food for marathon runners and bodybuilders is from 1.2 to 2 g per 1 kg of body weight, so here it also depends on the type of activity.
Our body absorbs up to 30-50 g of protein in one meal. Therefore, after training, it is recommended to take at least 30 g of protein along with carbohydrates.
Are 2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight daily enough for weight gain in strength training? According to experts, this amount of protein is sufficient. The state of nitrogen balance determines the human need for protein. For better understanding, the amount of nitrogen in the consumed food and the excreted nitrogen in the urine and feces is determined. To characterize the state of nitrogen balance, scientists introduced the concept of positive and negative nitrogen balance. A positive nitrogen balance is a state of protein metabolism in which the amount of nitrogen supplied with food exceeds the amount of nitrogen excreted from the body. A positive nitrogen balance is considered a sign of the normal functioning of the body systems. This condition is characterized by the predominance of protein synthesis processes over its destruction. In a word, with a positive nitrogen balance in the body, the processes of anabolism predominate.
Experts believe that approximately 15-20% of the total daily calories should be obtained from proteins. Naturally, this dosage is higher than recommended by doctors for a person that does not train. Therefore, to increase the amount of protein consumed, the athlete has to reduce the number of other macronutrients. As a rule, athletes reduce the percentage of fat in their diet. The benefits of fats will be discussed below. They account for up to 40% of the total energy value of food consumed. It is believed that this is more than enough. Therefore, the amount of fats in the dietary regimen can be reduced.
The common knowledge is that a combination of products such as eggs, cheese, milk, meat, fish, and chicken can fully satisfy your protein needs. To reduce the number of fats (which are an integral part of these products) as much as possible, you have to expose it to simple treatment. It is not recommended to fry, deep fry, stir of stew meat, giving preference to boiling it, and separate it from the fatty broth. Another option is steaming.
As a rule, modern athletes do not limit themselves to only proteins contained in food products and use various nutritional supplements with pure proteins and amino acid complexes in various forms. Athletes, achieving maximum effect from the use of proteins, take protein supplements throughout the day. It is recommended, depending on the type of activity, constitutional features, training time, and other conditions, to find an effective daily protein dosage. Excluding the amount of protein that is taken immediately after training, it is recommended to divide the daily norm, established independently or with the help of specialists, in strength training by five. The value obtained as a result of this simple logic is a one-time dose. Thus, every 2-3 hours throughout the day, proteins are taken in combination with carbs. It is believed that such a uniform distribution of protein intake throughout the day ensures the maintenance of an increased level of anabolic growth factors in the body.
It is possible that with the right approach to the use of proteins, it is possible to stimulate anabolic processes in the body. However, both athletes and specialists in the field of sports nutrition and the use of nutritional supplements would like to receive more accurate scientific advice on protein foods and data on the effectiveness of proteins and amino acids (especially those that come in forms of various supplements, like protein powders and BCAA complexes). Such data exist, but they come mainly from manufacturers who are interested in positive information about the action of their products.