A question that many athletes ask of Naturopaths is: ‘How much protein should I have in my diet?’.
Each athlete, depending on their particular sporting event, has different requirements regarding optimal body weight, lean tissue mass, energy intake and expenditure. The current debate on what is the appropriate ratio of the three major nutrients in the diet (protein, carbohydrate and fat) is still raging and researchers are divided on how much protein athletes need to optimise and maintain performance.
Athletic training increases the demands for the nine ‘essential’ amino acids. As these can not be synthesised in the body, they must be obtained from the diet. Research over the past decade has indicated that athletes engaged in intense training need to ingest 1.5-2 times the RDA (0.8-1.0g/kg body weight/day). The EU’s Scientific Committee on Food recommends that protein intake should comprise around 10-11% of total energy intake.
The safety and efficacy of high-protein intakes have been questioned and the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee has claimed that: ‘Individuals who follow these [high-protein] diets are at risk for….potential cardiac, renal, bone and liver abnormalities overall’. However, Finnish scientists who conducted a review of available research, did not reach this conclusion. In view of the conflicting data, it is advisable that any athlete who decides to adopt this form of dietary intake be regularly supervised by a qualified Health Professional.
With a raised protein intake there is a concurrent increase in urea production (a by product of protein metabolism). For the kidneys to clear this, greater volumes of water are required and it is recommended, that to decrease the risk of dehydration, athletes consume plenty of extra fluid, especially in warm conditions.
Athletes can safely increase their protein intake but must still be mindful of the role of carbohydrates in supplying energy for fuel and recovery. Therefore, their diet must contain high-quality, low fat sources of protein in conjunction with appropriate levels of complex carbohydrates and fluid to ensure optimum health and performance.