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Dietary Protein in Relation to Exercise and Performance

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Protein is an essential nutrient in the human body and serves many roles. Protein is especially important for lean muscle mass production. Adequate intake and appropriate timing of protein intake is especially helpful if you are trying to work on your own lean muscle mass status through fitness and nutrition.

How much do I need?

1-1.2 g of protein/kg of body weight is considered a good starting point for the moderate exerciser, and more may certainly be warranted based on specific activity level. More intense movement and dedicated athletes will likely need closer to 1.5-1.8 g/kg, even up to 2 g/kg.  For example, a 150 lb person (68 kg – just divide weight in pounds by 2.2) will need 68-82 g of protein per day at the moderate exercise recommended intake.

What are good sources of protein?

  • Eggs
  • Lean meats from beef, pork, chicken, turkey, seafood
  • Legumes (chickpeas, blackbeans, kidney beans, lentils, soy, peas, peanuts, etc)
  • Nuts, nut butters, and seeds
  • Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese)

Timing is Key

Most Americans tend to eat the majority of protein at dinner. In order to maximize protein absorption and muscle protein synthesis, best practice recommendations suggest spreading protein intake out somewhat evenly over the day.

  • Some studies show a particular benefit from at least 20 g of protein intake at breakfast
  • Timing of eating around working out is also important:
    • Protein before exercise all depends on your schedule. If you have 2-3 hours before a workout, maximize recovery and increase protein synthesis capability with a protein rich meal ahead of time.
    • If you have about an hour or less, the dedicated athlete will improve muscle building capability with a protein rich snack ahead of exercise.
    • After exercise:
      • For the moderate exerciser, be sure to consume a protein rich meal within 2 hours after exercise.
      • For the dedicated athlete, research supports the consumption of a protein rich snack within 30-60 minutes after exercise to optimize recovery and to promote muscle synthesis

How Can I get to that Intake?

A sample day may look like this for our example above of the 150 lb person needing 69-81 g of protein:

  • Breakfast – 2 eggs (14 g protein) scrambled with 1 oz cheese (6 g) peppers, onions, and mushrooms and side fruit
  • Lunch – Open faced tuna (3 oz = 20 g protein) sandwich with lettuce and tomato on whole wheat bread (2 g protein) with side green salad
  • Afternoon Snack – ½ C Greek yogurt (8 g protein) with ¼ C granola
  • Dinner – 4 oz chicken breast (35 g protein) with roasted broccoli and brown rice
  • Day total day = 85 g protein (1.25 g/kg protein intake per body weight)

Content submitted by Jessica Roy, MS, RD, LDN