Perfecting an optimal sports-nutrition plan can be difficult to master, and many questions arise in the process. From getting enough protein, to pondering if you're exercising too much, your mind is racing with questions.
Settle those nagging thoughts and get the answers you need. These four tips will help you optimize your sports diet, manage your weight, and reach your full potential.
Protein: How Much is Enough?
Many athletes believe more protein is better. Not necessarily true, according to exercise physiologist Doug Paddon-Jones from the University of Texas Medical Branch.
Research subjects who ate a 30-gram dose of protein—about four ounces of meat—had similar rates of protein synthesis as those who ate a 90-gram dose—12 ounces of meat, i.e., a big steak. Because the body does not temporarily store extra protein as muscle, about 60 grams of the protein got wasted—or rather, burned for energy or stored as fat. Yet, if you eat only a 10-gram dose of protein at breakfast—one egg and one white—you may not have eaten enough to maximally stimulate muscle synthesis.
Paddon-Jones recommends athletes target about 30 grams of protein at three meals per day. That means, cut your hefty dinner steak into thirds and enjoy two-thirds of it the next day at breakfast and lunch.
More: Get Lean With Protein
Although 30 grams is the number often mentioned by researchers, Paddon-Jones reminds us this is not an exact science. Protein research is incredibly expensive; few researchers are able to do dose-response studies to precisely determine the number of grams of protein needed per pound of body weight. Hence, Paddon-Jones suggests athletes simply enjoy a moderate portion of protein-rich foods at each meal.
He also recommends eating protein after you exercise (back your exercise into a meal-time), so your muscles will have the tools they need to do the building and repairing that peaks in the next three to five hours.
"Mind you, following this strategy will not make a massive difference in your musculature, but it may optimize muscle maintenance. This could make a meaningful difference over the course of a year, particularly for athletes over 30 years old who slowly lose muscle as a normal part of the aging process."
Enjoying an even distribution of protein throughout the day has another benefit: you'll feel less hungry all day. For yet-unknown reasons, eating protein-rich foods for breakfast contributes to greater satiety than protein eaten at other times of the day. Research suggests a higher protein breakfast can result in consuming 200 fewer calories at dinner. Theoretically, that's enough to lose 20 pounds of fat in a year!
How about boosting your breakfast with more Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and omelets?