What You Need to Know About Protein

The third installment in STACK's series on macronutrients focuses on protein.

This is the third installment of a three-part series on macronutrients. Read Part I, Carbohydrates, and Part II, Fats.

One of protein's many functions is repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue. That's why proper protein intake is extremely important for athletes.

Types of Protein

There are two types of proteins: complete and incomplete. Complete proteins come from animal sources, and incomplete, from plants. Athletes should consume both types to achieve a balanced intake, however animal sources are higher quality and should be consumed in greater quantities.

Understanding Amino Acids

Amino acids, of which there are 20, are the building blocks of proteins. Nine of them are essential, meaning they cannot be synthesized naturally in the body, and you must get them from your diet. Eleven are nonessential, meaning the body synthesizes them.

The amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAAs are the main amino acids that aid the body in muscle protein synthesis (MPS).

Consuming a variety of complete and incomplete proteins in your diet will ensure that you fill all your amino acid needs and increase your body's ability to perform and recover.

Protein Supplements

Whey protein powders are an extremely popular supplement among fitness and training people. These powders are convenient and relatively inexpensive compared to other protein sources. Using whey supplements after a workout or game is a great way to help your body recover. They are also important for ingesting carbohydrates post-workout or game. You should have a 4-to-1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio to ensure optimal MPS.

Whey is great after workouts because it is fast-digesting. Casein sources, on the other hand, are slow-digesting. This makes casein the ideal supplement to take before bed to help your body recover while you sleep.

How Much Protein?

How much you consume depends on the sport you play. The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends endurance athletes consume 0.8 to 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight daily, and strength- and power-based athletes 1.5 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight daily.

Food Options

Healthy sources of protein include:

  • Lean meats (turkey, chicken)
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Natural peanut butter
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Soy products
  • Whole grains (small source)

Foods you should avoid:

  • Red meat (in large amounts)
  • Whole milk
  • Energy bars with high sugar content
  • Bacon
  • Hot dogs
  • Fried meats
  • Anything fast food

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