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The Role of Protein In Exercise and Recovery

ProteinPowderJacquieIconBy Jacquie Eubanks


Healthy nutrition involves a balance of complex carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats and fiber rich foods. Unless you are an athlete, you may not be aware that physically active people require more protein than sedentary folks. Vast research supports the belief that higher protein intake may actually improve exercise performance and optimize exercise recovery. The International Society of Sports Nutrition takes the following stand on the relationship between protein and exercise:

  • Adequate protein is essential to proper exercise recovery, immune function and the growth and maintenance of lean body mass
  • Factors that determine an optimal amount of protein for regular exercisers include protein quality, carbohydrate intake, type and intensity of exercise and timing of protein intake
  • Higher protein intake for healthy, active people may improve exercise training
  • Appropriately timed protein intake is an important part of an overall exercise training program
  • In healthy active people, higher protein intake, when part of a balanced nutrient dense diet, is not detrimental to kidney function or bone metabolism.
  • Protein supplementation is a practical way to ensure adequate quality protein intake for athletes
  • Specific amino acid supplements, such as branched-chain amino acids, may aid in exercise recovery or improve performance
  • Consuming insufficient amounts of protein can result in a negative nitrogen balance, which can lead to increased catabolism and impaired recovery

Not surprisingly, there is controversy regarding the safety and effectiveness of consuming protein in excess of daily recommended amounts. It is often reported that a long-term high protein diet may be unhealthy or put unnecessary strain on the kidneys, or contribute to osteoporosis by leaching calcium from bones and increasing calcium excretion. Others suggest that a higher protein intake will not have adverse effects in healthy, physically active individuals with normal kidney function. Currently, the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein, 56 grams per day for men and 46 grams per day for women, is based on body weight and a sedentary lifestyle. This is a fairly meager protein intake recommendation, enough to prevent deficiencies but maybe not quite enough for optimal health and body composition.

It’s fair to say that the right amount of protein varies considerably for each individual, and depends on factors such as activity levels, age, muscle mass, physique goals and current state of health. Whether your goal is to lose weight or build muscle, train for a marathon or improve overall health, an increase in quality complete proteins may work to your advantage. According to the National Institutes of Health, “There is significant evidence that individuals who are engaged in intense training require more dietary protein than their sedentary peers and that consuming protein and/or amino acids before, during and after exercise can enhance recovery, immune function and the growth and maintenance of lean body mass. Supplementing with protein and amino acids is a convenient way to ensure timely and adequate intake for the physically active. Adequate intake and appropriate timing has been shown to be beneficial in endurance, anaerobic and strength training exercise. “

The American College of Sports Medicine states that exercising on an empty stomach can lead to an increase in protein loss, making it more difficult for the body to repair and build muscle. Protein supplementation pre-exercise can help to improve body composition by increasing resting energy expenditure for up to 48 hours after exercise, helping to increase muscle mass and strength, improving recovery and aiding weight loss. Protein supplementation after exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis for up to three hours, while failing to eat after exercise may limit potential progress in lean muscle tissue development.

In short, physically active individuals require more dietary protein than those who are sedentary, and this can be obtained through whole foods and high quality supplemental protein sources:

Protein Plus GFCF - (Natural Vanilla)Protein Plus GFCF – Natural Vanilla by Neurobiologix – This well rounded plant protein blend features 5 hypoallergenic, vegan sources including pea, rice, hemp, chia and cranberry. This formula provides a well balanced amino acid profile and other unique ingredients to support detoxification and immune, digestive, bone and urinary tract health. Gluten, soy and dairy free vegetarian formula. Also available as Chocolate Delight.
Klean Isolate (KA57534P)
Klean Isolate (KA57534P) by Klean Athlete – One serving provides 20 g of pure, whey protein isolate. Gluten and soy free.   NSF certified for sport.
PaleoMeal - ChocolatePaleoMeal Chocolate by Designs for Health – This great tasting, nutrient-rich powdered meal supplement is designed to promote an optimal intake of the protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals necessary for overall wellness. Contains biologically active proprietary whey protein with a complete complement of amino acids. Also available in Vanilla and Strawberry flavors.
Perfect Protein Vanilla
Perfect Protein Vanilla by Metagenics – This product is designed for athletes or those who desire naturally occurring whey protein isolate with a high biological value and an increased branched-chain amino acid profile. Mixes easily with food, water or juice.   Gluten free, non-GMO formula. Also available in Chocolate flavor.
International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. http://www.jissn.com/content/pdf/1550-2783-4-8.pdf
Protein for exercise and recovery.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20048505
Protein Intake for Optimal Muscle Maintenance.  https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/brochures/protein-intake-for-optimal-muscle-maintenance.pdf?sfvrsn=4

Sports Nutrition

Sports NutritionBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

Whether you are an elite athlete in training, an everyday exerciser or a weekend warrior, all physically active people need to eat a balanced, nutritious diet in order to sustain energy and support health and wellness.  To gain a winning edge, athletes need a diet that will support increased energy expenditure, decrease recovery time and reduce the risk of injury.  Getting the right nutrients helps to maintain desirable weight, helps you to reach your peak physical conditioning level and allows for the most advantageous nerve-muscle response.  Optimal nutrition is very essential for maximizing performance.

The nutrients–carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and very importantly, water– are required in the correct balance for the athlete as well as the less active person. 

  • Carbohydrates are an athlete’s most efficient fuel source.  During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is stored in the muscles as glycogen.  During exercise, glycogen is converted back to glucose and is used for energy.  Glycogen provides endurance and the power for high-intensity, short duration activities.  Eating a carbohydrate heavy diet for a few days before a competition or a meet will allow for the maximum amount of glycogen-loaded muscles.  Consuming carbohydrates during exercise that lasts longer than an hour will replenish energy and delay fatigue.  If and when glycogen stores are depleted, the body will burn fat and protein for fuel.
  • Physically active people require more protein than those who don’t exercise.  Protein’s primary role is building muscles.  Endurance athletes, body builders and those who perform intense, strength-building activities often burn protein for fuel. 
  • Fats also provide body fuel.  The burning of fats by the body depends upon the intensity and duration of the exercise and the condition of the athlete.  Fat provides the primary fuel source for low to moderate intensity activities.  As intensity increases, the body will use its glycogen supply. 
  • Water is a critical nutrient for athletes.  Dehydration causes muscle cramps and fatigue.  Cool water helps to cool the core body temperature, aiding in fluid loss through perspiration.  To stay hydrated, drink small amounts of water frequently, before, during and after exercise or training.  For workouts lasting an hour or less, water in sufficient amounts is best.  For longer events, sports drinks diluted with 50% water may be the better fluid for rehydrating. 
  • B vitamins, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, are needed to produce energy from fuel sources in the diet.  Active individuals who restrict their energy intake or have nutrient poor diets are at the greatest risk for B vitamin depletion.  Vitamin D, necessary for calcium absorption, promotes bone health, immune and muscle function, and helps to reduce exercise-related inflammation.
  • Minerals also play an important role in performance.  Heavy exercise can affect the body’s supply of sodium, potassium, iron and calcium.  Sodium and potassium are lost through perspiration and should be replenished after strenuous exercise.  Calcium-rich foods support bone health and help to maximize recovery after strenuous exercise.  Young athletes, females and vegetarians who are competing in endurance sports are at risk for iron depletion and should regularly consume iron-containing foods.

After a workout, practice or competition, restore fluids and electrolytes, eat carbohydrates to replace muscle fuel and protein to repair damaged muscle tissue and stimulate muscle growth.  Be sure to begin every exercise session well hydrated.  All individuals should aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise daily.  This level of activity helps to maintain a healthy weight, builds healthy bone density, supports a positive mental outlook, and decreases the risk of developing chronic diseases. 

Supplements that support physical training and performance include:

Athletic Nutrients
Athletic Nutrients by Pure Encapsulations combines activated vitamins, superior mineral cofactors, antioxidants and pH balanced creatine to promote energy and endurance and lessen muscle fatigue.
Klean Isolate (KA57534P)
Klean Isolate (KA57534P) by Klean Athlete provides pure whey protein isolate with no artificial sweeteners or flavorings.  Klean Isolate provides 20 grams of protein per serving along with calcium, sodium and potassium.  NSF Certified for Sport. 
Energy/Sports Formula (4543)
Energy/Sports Formula (4543) by Douglas Laboratories provides comprehensive, synergistic vitamins, minerals, enzymes, herbals and other nutrients carefully formulated and designed to support energy metabolism during sport and exercise. 
Endura Orange Flavor
Endura Orange Flavor by Metagenics provides a unique blend of electrolytes in a patented rehydration formula.  Endure provides 29 grams of carbohydrates plus vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and amino acids.