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.
Protein for exercise and recovery.
Protein Intake for Optimal Muscle Maintenance.

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