The Importance of Protein: Part 1

Chocolate Whey Casein Protein Drink Sachet

Protein is an essential part of a healthy balanced diet. As athletes, many of us know that we should be consuming higher amounts of protein than the average person. However, it is often understanding why and when we need to consume protein that leaves us confused. OTE Sports are here to help.

What is Protein?

Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. Amino acids play vital roles for our bodies both structurally (building connective tissues and muscles cells) and functionally (as transporters and enzymes). Our bodies contain around 20 different amino acids, 9 of which are ‘essential’ amino acids.

Essential Amino Acids are those which our bodies cannot synthesize and therefore need to be obtained from food. Your health will be compromised if you are deficient in these for long periods. The best sources to obtain essential amino acids are meats and dairy products. Soy beans are the only plant based food that contains all the essential amino acids.

Did You Know? Leucine is one of the key essential amino acids shown to elevate protein synthesis. OTE Protein Drinks contain added L-Leucine to aid training adaptations.

Non-essential Amino Acids are those that can be synthesized by the body and are different from essential amino acids that are obtained from food. The term ‘nonessential’ does not infer that they are any less important, the body is simply capable of creating them on its own. Non-essential amino acids serve many functions to create optimal health, examples of these are alanine and glutamine.

Why is protein important to athletes?

• Protein intake can aid repair and replace old proteins damaged by strenuous exercise.
• Improvements in lean muscle mass is built by protein.
• Protein can help to maintain an optimally functioning immune system.
• Remodelling of the structures of muscles, tendons and ligaments can take place when protein is present. This allows us to adapt to the demands of our training.
• Protein also contributes to metabolic pathways that supply us with energy.

Our bodies are constantly in a battle of nitrogen balance. We are in negative nitrogen balance when protein is being broken down during exercise. Being in negative nitrogen balance for too long can cause our muscles to be broken down and with this comes a loss of strength and power. Positive nitrogen balance is when your protein intake is greater than the rate at which it is being broken down. This is called ‘anabolic state’ and is the optimal state for muscle growth and repair.

Endurance Athletes: Despite the links between protein consumption and building large volumes of muscle, there is still a great need for protein for those who do not necessarily want the muscle bulk. The training you do alongside your protein consumption will elicit different adaptions to your muscle fibres. For an endurance athlete, as well as aiding recovery and adaptation, protein will help develop a leaner, stronger, faster muscle to accompany their training. If a good protein intake and training protocol is followed taking extra protein on board will not necessarily lead to building unproductive muscle mass.

In simple terms: Without protein consumption an athlete will not see training adaptations and their health and immune systems may be compromised

How Much?

Research is ongoing into the optimal amount of protein required for athletes. With big differences between athletes, their sports and their training programmes it is very difficult to pin point an exact text book amount. The daily protein requirement for endurance athletes is higher than the average populations’ guideline of 0.8g per kg of bodyweight. Athletes should aim for around 1.2-2.0/kg/bw depending on training loads and goals. There is no real need for athletes to adjust their diet to meet these recommendations. Due to the higher activity levels, an athlete’s food intake is generally higher and therefore protein intake is usually elevated above normal.

One recurring finding in the current research is the notion that our bodies can only process a certain amount of protein at one time. Consuming 20-30g of high quality protein (10g of essential amino acids) in one sitting is considered optimal for maximising muscle protein synthesis. Consuming any more than 40g of protein has not been found to have any benefit, so think about your protein portions.

However, timing of protein ingestion can really make a difference. Head to The Importance of Protein: Part 2 to find out more.