Is Protein Only Good For Sports Recovery?
Physician, Martin H. Fischer once said, “Life goes faster on protein”. He was right. Without protein, it’s very difficult to put one step in front of the other. Protein is responsible for the growth of something we all want – muscle! That’s why athletes are obsessed with their protein intake. Supplementation can make consuming higher levels of protein easier and the demand for a sustainable protein source is ever-increasing.
What is protein?
At a cellular level, proteins are polymers of amino acids linked via peptide bonds. There are 20 amino acids encoded in DNA, plus 5 others—ornithine, citrulline, γ-aminobutyrate, β-alanine, and taurine—that play quantitatively important roles in the body7.
Of the 20 amino acids present in proteins, 9 are considered nutritionally essential amino acids (EAAs) because the body is not able to manufacture them3. These 9 amino acids are leucine, valine, isoleucine, histidine, lysine, methionine, threonine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine. In addition, 2 others are made from their indispensable precursors: cysteine from methionine, and tyrosine from phenylalanine3.
Protein’s Role in the Body
These proteins are the body’s main source of nitrogen which we need for growth7. It’s the catalyst for all reactions in the body. Think of it like the engine of a car, nothing really gets going without turning on the engine - right?
Amino acids are major components in body tissues including muscle, skin, bone, organs, nails, and hair, which often need repair or replacement1. Without protein, we can’t build muscle and we certainly can’t repair it, so protein is essential for sports recovery. Proteins also regulate gene expression, the immune system, and our metabolism. What’s more, Proteins can assist in hormone prediction7.
Importance of Protein for Recovery in Sport
Optimal muscle growth and recovery is more than just about meeting daily protein needs. Protein is in constant turnover. What that means is that at any given time, older damaged proteins are degraded through muscle protein breakdown and are replaced with new functional muscle proteins through muscle protein synthesis8. Muscle protein is gained if rates of synthesis exceeds breakdown. Conversely, muscle protein is lost if breakdown exceeds synthesis in a state of negative net muscle protein balance - for example weight loss5.
Damage to muscle tissue (e.g pulled hamstring or muscle tenderness) requires an increase of muscle synthesis or an increased intake of protein in order to compensate for the muscle breakdown. A good rule of thumb is to increase protein intake by 20% during muscle recovery5.
You may have heard a myth that you need to consume protein immediately after a workout to maximise muscle growth.
Is this the same with preventing recovery?
Are the gym goers and fitness fanatics who chug shakes immediately after a workout doing so for muscle repair as well?
Yes and no. Yes, they are maximising muscle growth and replacing damaged muscle. In fact, about 20 grams of high-quality protein is sufficient to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and regeneration following resistance exercise1. However, the window which muscle requires this new hit of muscle juice is several hours, not 20 minutes. So, relax Rocky’s, you have time to get home and shower first.
How Much Protein?
A question with many answers…
For starters, New Zealand Ministry of Health suggest 0.84g/kg for male adults and 0.75 g/kg for female adults4. Considering the importance of protein, research now suggests these intakes simply won’t cut it.
Let’s take a look at what the protein experts at Examine, an independent education organization that analyses nutrition and supplement research have to say - these ranges are based on your total body weight2.
- If you’re sedentary, aim for 1.2–1.8 g/kg2.
- If you’re of healthy weight and active and wish to build and repair muscle, aim for 1.6–2.4 g/kg2.
- If you’re of healthy weight and active and wish to keep your weight, aim for 1.4–2.0 g/kg2.
- If you’re of healthy weight and active and wish to lose fat, aim for 1.6–2.4 g/kg2.
- If you’re overweight, aim for 1.2–1.5 g/kg2.
- If you’re pregnant, aim for 1.7–1.8 g/kg2.
- If you’re lactating, aim for at least 1.5 g/kg2.
So, how much protein? You can see that it’s not a simple answer, but recent evidence suggests an intake of at least 18% or 1.5 g/kg of body weight. If you’re vegan, vegetarian, or obtain most of your protein from plants, then your protein requirements should be a little higher because plant-based proteins have incomplete amino acid profiles and are less bioavailable than animal proteins.
The Benefit of Protein Powder
For one, convenience. Compared with frying up eggs and bacon, adding a scoop of protein powder to a smoothie is far less work and much more heart healthy.
Secondly, if you’re an athlete or extremely active your protein intake needs to increase for two reasons: to sustain muscle growth and prevent muscle/tissue damage - even with your three meals a day, you may still fall short. That’s why supplementing your smoothies, bliss balls, yoghurts, overnight oats, pancakes etc with a quality protein powder is a great way to meet that protein threshold.
Our Clean Lean Protein has a whopping 21g of protein per serve, making it superior to most plant-based protein powders. It uses the highest quality pea protein isolate which is incredibly rich in protein and is one of the few ‘clean labelled’ vegetable proteins that’s free of nasties.
In the words of Dr Fischer, why not go faster on protein?
- Cintineo, H. P., Arent, M. A., Antonio, J., & Arent, S. M. (2018). Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training. Frontiers in nutrition, 5, 83. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2018.00083
- com (2020). Optimal protein intake guide. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://examine.com/guides/protein-intake/#how-much-protein-do-you-need-per-day_-tip-calculating-your-protein-needs
- Gorissen, S., Crombag, J., Senden, J., Waterval, W., Bierau, J., Verdijk, L. B., & van Loon, L. (2018). Protein content and amino acid composition of commercially available plant-based protein isolates. Amino acids, 50(12), 1685–1695. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00726-018-2640-5
- New Zealand Ministry of Health. (2006). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Recommended Dietary Intakes: Protein. Retrieved March 29, 2021, from https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/file/3321/download?token=RHlu4kNJ
- Poulios, A., Georgakouli, K., Draganidis, D., Deli, C. K., Tsimeas, P. D., Chatzinikolaou, A., Papanikolaou, K., Batrakoulis, A., Mohr, M., Jamurtas, A. Z., & Fatouros, I. G. (2019). Protein-Based Supplementation to Enhance Recovery in Team Sports: What is the Evidence?. Journal of sports science & medicine, 18(3), 523–536.
- Raubenheimer, D., &; Simpson, S. (2020). Eat Like the Animals. Harpercollins Australia.
- Watford, M., & Wu, G. (2018). Protein. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 9(5), 651–653. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmy027
- Witard, O. C., Garthe, I., & Phillips, S. M. (2019). Dietary protein for training adaptation and body composition manipulation in track and field athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 29(2), 165-174. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0267
The information provided in this article is intended for educational purposes only and is general advice. It should not, nor is it intended to be, relied on as a substitute for individual medical advice or care. If the contents of this, or any other of the blogs in this series raises any concerns or questions regarding your health, please consult a qualified healthcare practitioner.