Protein is a vital macronutrient. You must consume enough to build, repair, and maintain muscle tissue. For active individuals, protein is crucial. When a physically active person consumes inadequate amounts of protein necessary to rebuild and repair the muscles after working out, their performance suffers. Additionally, if you are trying to maintain a healthy weight, protein helps to keep you feeling full and satisfied after meals.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Typically, the question of how much protein you should eat stems from how much protein will be used to build muscle tissue. The amount of protein you need will vary depending on age, biological gender, activity level, and body composition. However, a general goal for someone who works out is to multiply 0.4 by pounds of body weight. This calculation gives you the number of grams of protein to eat daily. This means a 150-pound athlete would need about 60 grams of protein daily.
If you have an intense workout session, your protein needs increase. After an intense workout, eat 0.5 times body weight in pounds, so that 150-pound athlete would need 75 protein grams that day. An important note – Overconsuming protein will not grow your muscles bigger. The process of muscle protein synthesis (building muscle tissue) is fully saturated with 20-35 grams of complete protein from one meal.
A sweet spot to aim for is 20-25 grams of protein per meal. After a hard workout, aim for 30-35 grams. Remember, overconsuming protein does not increase the amount of muscle tissue your body builds, and overconsumption puts unnecessary stress on organs like the heart and kidneys.
What are Good Sources of Protein?
There are many good examples of protein sources, both animal and plant-based. Sources include:
- Animal-based protein sources: Meat (beef, chicken, pork, lamb, fish, seafood), Eggs, Dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt)
- Plant-based protein sources: Soy products (tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy nuts), Nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios), Seeds (sesame, pumpkin, flax, chia, and hemp seeds), Beans and Legumes (black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lima, pinto, navy beans, black-eyed peas, etc.),
Not all protein sources are equal. Some protein sources are more complete than others. To be considered complete, a protein source provides the nine of the essential amino acids. These are the amino acids the body cannot produce. Animal-based protein sources are typically complete, whereas plant-based protein sources are not. Some plant-based protein sources are complete, such as quinoa and soy products. Combining different plant protein sources will provide the nine essential amino acids.
From an overall health perspective, it is important to consider the overall nutritional value of a protein source when choosing what to eat. Some good protein sources are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, or sodium. Saturated fat and cholesterol are found in animal protein sources, not plant protein sources. Limiting protein sources low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium is important, especially if you are at risk of heart disease.
Ultimately, the best way to get enough protein is to eat a variety of protein-rich foods from different food groups. Eating a variety will help you get all the essential amino acids and nutrients your body needs.
If you are looking for a convenient and easy way to increase your protein intake, protein powder is a good option, especially for vegetarians or individuals who don’t eat much meat. Protein powder can be used to supplement your diet or to make protein shakes and other drinks. When choosing a protein powder, it is important to consider your individual needs and preferences.
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What is the Absorption Rate of Protein?
Studies have measured the protein absorption rate in the gut per hour. Here’s what they’ve found:
- Whey protein: 8 to 10 grams per hour
- Casein: about 6 grams per hour
- Cooked egg protein: 3 grams per hour
The above absorption rates should clarify why it is important to spread your protein intake throughout the day. There is a limit to how much protein can be used at once. When possible, match the protein source at each meal to your current needs. For example, whey protein is fast-acting, so it’s your best protein choice post-workout. That being said, if you have a milk protein allergy, pea protein has the fastest absorption rate of plant protein sources. Pea protein is not as quickly absorbed as whey protein, but pea protein is comparable nonetheless.
To reiterate, spreading your protein throughout the day will help to keep your muscles fueled and help prevent muscle breakdown. You can do this by eating protein at every meal and snack.
Tips for getting enough protein as an athlete:
- Eat protein at every meal and snack.
- Choose lean protein sources, such as chicken, fish, beans, and lentils.
- Add protein powder to smoothies, yogurt, or oatmeal.
- Snack on nuts and seeds.
- Eat a protein-rich breakfast.
- Drink plenty of fluids, as dehydration can lead to muscle breakdown.
- Get enough sleep, as sleep is essential for muscle repair.
By following these tips, you can ensure that you are getting enough protein to support your athletic performance.