Protein. Why does everyone take it? How much do I take? These are common questions that we get in the clinic, or from our athletes for those of us that belong to teams.
Now I am no nutritionist, and I don’t claim to be an expert in nutrition. To be honest most of the time, to me, nutrition looks far too complicated of a topic. So in these cases, I defer to my friend, Chelsea Ladd, who is a Holistic Nutritionist at The Soulful Co. I spent some time with Chelsea this past summer trying to come up with important off-season nutrition topics to talk to my Jr. A hockey players about. The one topic that we both agreed needed attention was protein consumption. I am consistently surrounded by hockey players who have a jug of powder in either their gym bag or hockey bag, and a shaker bottle in their hand. So how many shakes should I have in a day? 1, 2, 3? What if I’m on the ice or at the gym?
The answer, usually, is 0 . . . if you eat a healthy and balanced diet. Yes, you need protein and carbohydrates to promote tissue adaptations and repair. Many reports say athletes require more of it for optimal tissue adaptation and recovery with a range of 1.4g/kg/day to 2.0 g/kg/day. (For reference, the Recommended Dietary Allowance, RDA, for protein is 0.8-0.9 g/day for most individuals.)
But wait . . . somewhere out there, I’ve seen and heard that you need 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (or 2.2g/kg/day). This is 275% greater than the RDA. (For a 220lb athlete, that’s 320 calories vs. 880 calories of protein).
Don’t get me wrong, protein is great. It repairs our tissues, increases our thermic effect, and it creates enzymes and hormones. However, if your diet is too low in carbs, muscle protein is sacrificed for energy in order to preserve your glucose stores.
Now for the mathematical side of things:
It can be argued that the timing of consumption may be more important than the amount that is consumed. Following an intense workout, athletes cause micro tears in their muscle tissue that require amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to be repaired. Following the intense bout of exercise, the body enters a catabolic state for the first few hours of recovery. That means the body is breaking up large molecules to use for energy or to use for muscle repairing. So consumption of dietary protein, along with carbs during this time is important. Doing so has been shown to improve muscle protein synthesis by 30-400%.
So to make a long story short, (1.) YES, protein is very important, (2.) don’t forget about carbs and, (3.) consider getting what you need through a balanced diet before considering amino acid or protein supplementation.
If I’ve intrigued you enough to dive more into nutrition and the who, what, when, where, why, and how of what you should be taking or eating, reach out to my friend, Chelsea Ladd, of The Soulful Co.