The Whole Story on Protein

Protein is a hot topic among athletes of all sports. They want to know how much protein they need, when they should eat it, what's the best kind of protein and if they should buy sports drinks with protein. The purpose of this article to answer some of these questions and leave you with this message: While adequate protein is important in your sports diet, protein should take its place as the accompaniment to carbs (grains, fruits, vegetables) in each meal and snack.

Q. I've been eating egg whites for breakfast. I've heard they are an excellent source of high quality protein, right?

A.Yes, egg whites offer high quality, muscle building protein. But take note: egg whites are mostly water, and are not "packed with protein." A 3-egg white omelet has only about 10 grams of protein. You could more easily swig 10 oz. skim milk and skip the cooking and dishwashing.

A whole egg has about 6 grams protein, and is rich in vitamins and minerals. The yolk is cholesterol-rich; the debate continues whether or not the cholesterol you eat affects your blood cholesterol and heart-health. Likely not.

Better than eggs or egg whites, choose to fuel your muscles with carb-rich and health-protective oatmeal for breakfast. Cook it with skim milk (instead of water). If you want more protein, add almonds, walnuts and/or 1/4 cup of powdered milk.

Q. I've been weight lifting for several years. Do I still need a high protein diet?

A. In the early stages of training, your protein needs are higher than when you have established a stable muscle mass.  Once you have built muscle, your protein needs return to the standard requirements. Yet, most strength-trained athletes habitually eat a high protein intake, and this becomes a moot point. Research suggests resistance exercise enhances the way your body uses the protein you eat, and this actually results in greater efficiency and a reduced protein requirement. (Campbell, 2007)

Q. How many protein bars per day are too many?

A. To start, you need to determine how much protein your body needs and then assess how much protein you eat via your standard diet. Most athletes eat more than enough protein without supplements! To estimate your daily needs, multiply your weight by 0.5-0.75 g protein/pound (1.0-1.5 g/kg). If you are restricting calories or are a novice exerciser who is building new muscles, your protein needs are a little higher, but 1 gram of protein/lb (2 g/kg) is more than enough!

Example:

? If you weigh ~120 lbs, the suggested intake is ~60-90 grams protein per day; 90-120 grams if dieting or starting to lift weights seriously.

? If you weigh ~160-lbs, the suggested intake is ~80-120 grams protein per day; 120-180 if dieting or starting to lift weights seriously.

To determine how much protein you eat at meals, use the information on food labels and/or analyze your diet at websites such as www.fitday.com or www.sparkpeople.com.

Once you know how much protein you eat at meals and snacks, you can then determine how many protein bars you need. (Likely none!) That is, if your diet offers 100 grams protein and you need only 90 grams, there's no need to buy a protein bar other than for calories to curb hunger. The athletes most likely to benefit from protein bars are dieters who restrict calories (including dancers, runners, wrestlers, gymnasts), vegetarians and picky eaters.

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