Proteins in sports - everything you need to know in general!

Protein, protein

This is how important proteins are for you as an athlete

General information about protein / protein in sports

Before we look specifically at the importance of protein in sports, let’s take a brief look back: “Fundamental”, “primary” –  this is the original meaning of the word “proteios” from the Greek.

In the time of the first Olympic Games, it was assumed that an Olympic athlete should consume extra protein in order to be strong and powerful. A wrestler’s diet consisted primarily of meat, for example, from particularly “strong” animals, in order to become as strong as a “bear,” was the belief at the time.

Today we know that with sufficient energy intake (from carbohydrates and fats), even for you as an athlete, it is much more about an intelligent combination of plant (rather more of it) and animal (rather less of it) foods to meet protein needs.

What is the need for protein in sports? 

Actually, one speaks of a need for 8 so-called essential amino acids, which the human organism cannot form itself and which must be taken in through food so that new cell material can be formed.

The other 12 amino acids the human being can form also from other food components, here certain amino acids for the regeneration are nevertheless important, to it later more.

If the energy requirement is covered or if proteins cannot be used as energy suppliers but primarily as building material, even the high-performance athlete can cover his amino acid requirement by the supply of approx. 1.5 – 2.0 g protein per kilogram body weight. Even during longer competitions, for example in triathlon.

During extraordinary stress, such as during cycling tours (Tour de France, Giro, Vuelta), the protein intake can rise to 3 g/kg body weight due to the very high energy intake.

However, if the diet is very one-sided, for example if primarily sweets and baked goods are eaten, bottlenecks in the supply of amino acids can certainly occur. The DOSB (see below) speaks of a recommended intake of 1.2 to 1.7 g/kg body weight in amateur sports.

Athlete 75 kg  Athlete 55 kg
1.2 g per kg KG x 75 kg = 90 grams 1.2 g per kg KG x 55 kg = 66 grams
1.7 g per kg KG x 75 kg = 127.5 grams 1.7 g per kg KG x 55 kg = 93.5 grams
>> Protein intake per day between 90 and 127.5 grams >> Protein intake per day between 66 and 93.5 grams

A calculation example based on the information of the brochure “Nahrungsergänzung” of the DOSB1 on protein intake at different training intensities and volumes (low intensity or low volume up to high intensity or high volume)

What protein sources are available to you

Your choice will only be limited if you have a food intolerance or suffer from certain allergies. The possible combinations are also limited if the protein supply is to be purely vegetarian or vegan.

Certain plant-based protein sources, such as pea, hemp or rice protein, have very low allergy potential due to their gluten and lactose-free nature. Compared with other vegetable protein sources such as soy and wheat, they are easily digestible and do not cause discomfort in the digestive tract. (3-5)

In the table below (6-8) you will find a selection of foods and the amount you need to consume to cover a protein amount of about 10g:

Food Quantity in gram Protein in grams
Cow’s milk (drinking milk) 3.5 or 1.5 % fat 300 10,1
Cottage cheese, lean 75 10,1
Natural yogurt, 3.5% 260 10
Peas green, cooked 150 10,2
Pea Protein Isolate Protein Powder 12 10
Lentils, raw 45 10
Beans green, cooked 400 10
Eggs, boiled 1 ½ 10
Pasta, uncooked 70g 10
Hemp protein protein powder 22,6 10
Pumpkin seeds 33,1 10
Parsley, dried 37,55 10
Peanuts 38,75 10
Wheat seedlings 43,19 10
Chickpeas, cooked 110 10
Almonds, raw 45 10
Rice, uncooked 100 10
Rice Protein Isolate 12 10
Muesli, fruit 80 10
Wholemeal bread 150 10,9
Oatmeal 75 9,9
Wholemeal spaghetti, uncooked 70 10
Quinoa, raw 70 10
Broccoli, raw 400 10
Beef (lean), cooked 35 9,9
Cooked ham pork 45 10,1
Pork (lean), cooked 35 10,1
Chicken, thigh 45 10
Salmon, cooked 45 10,1
Tuna (canned), drained 45 10,7

Values according to: https://vegane-fitnessernaehrung.de; Information from the DOSB’s “Nahrungsergänzung” brochureOwn research.

Plant vs. animal protein sources

As can be seen from the table, some protein intake from animal sources is a good idea from a supply perspective because they are somewhat more concentrated in essential amino acids and meeting requirements is somewhat easier than from plant sources alone.

Another option is to supplement the diet with particularly high-quality vegetable protein mixtures or the targeted supply of certain amino acids in controlled quantities and quality, for example from fermented vegetables.

Learn more about protein quality HERE .

The right timing of protein supply

It is not only the amount but also the timing of protein intake in endurance sports that is important. Thus, protein intake should ideally be spread over several smaller portions throughout the day.

New cell formation is accompanied by essential processes of regeneration, i.e. recovery from training. In this way, muscle proteins can be renewed and built up, and adaptation to the training process can take place.

After a very intense, strength-sapping workout, you can ensure a good adaptation with a quick protein intake of 15 to 25g or 0.25g per kilogram of bw (Phillips, S. M. & Van Loon, L. J. C., 2011).2

You can find more detailed information about the right timing of protein intake HERE.

The importance of essential amino acids

The essential amino acids include leucine, valine and isoleucine as branched-chain amino acids. During heavy physical exertion, the need for the semi-essential amino acid glutamine also increases. It also belongs to the so-called proteinogenic amino acids, which serve to build muscle and it is contained in many proteins and next to leucine in our RECOVERY SHAKE added.

The metabolism of the previously mentioned amino acids takes place mainly in muscle tissue. During the protein biosynthesis that takes place in muscle, they play an important role in muscle maintenance and building.

Scientific studies show how extraordinary the effect of certain amino acids is: glutamine, leucine, valine and isoleucine can repair exercise-induced muscle damage with reduced muscle function. On top of that, these amino acids reduce muscle soreness, pain and discomfort.

Another plus is the fact that they can improve training efficiency in athletes and support optimal nutrition during the recovery period.6-9

How proteins and carbohydrates interact in regeneration

If you have less than eight hours to recover after exercise, make sure you consume 1.2 to 1.5g carbohydrates/kg/h within the first four hours to quickly replenish your glycogen reserves. Alternatively, you can combine 0.8 carbohydrate/kg/h with 0.2 to 0.4g protein/kg/h (Beelen et al., 2010).1

When you combine carbohydrates and proteins, you achieve a synergistic effect. The intake of carbohydrates causes the release of insulin, which, in addition to the absorption of glucose, also promotes the absorption of proteins.

Insulin slows down the catabolic (= degrading) metabolism and also stimulates protein biosynthesis. When insulin levels are somewhat elevated (due to rapidly available carbohydrates) combined with relatively high amino acid levels (due to protein intake), effective protein biosynthesis can occur.

You can find more tips for optimal regeneration HERE.

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