The Power of Protein – The Power of Knowledge

Nutrition Spotlight

by Heather D’Eliso Gordon, RD, CSSD

It’s nothing new to athletes that protein is an important nutrient for training and recovery. Scientific studies abound about the benefits of protein in the diet. What’s missing for most athletes are specific recommendations; they are often left with too broad or too vague of guidelines. It is my intention to clear up that confusion and offer you advice that you can work with – that’s practical and to the point.

Let’s cut to the chase.

What foods contain protein? All animal foods consist of protein; providing all of the amino acids considered “complete proteins.” Plant foods contain less protein and not all of the amino acids, therefore are considered “incomplete proteins.” Consuming protein from a variety of sources (animal & plant) is a healthy way to meet your requirements.

Here’s a list of animal and plant proteins with their respective grams per unit:

Animal ProteinsPlant Proteins
Milk: 8 gms/8 fluid oz.Beans: 7 gms/½ cup
Eggs: 7 gms/eggLentils: 7 gms/ ½ cup
Poultry: 7 gms/1 oz.Soy milk: 8 gms/8 fluid oz.
Red Meat: 7 gms/1 oz.Tofu: 7 gms/3 oz.
Fish & Shellfish: 7 gms/1 oz.Nuts/seeds: 7 gms/1 oz.
Yogurt: 8 gms/¾ cupWhole grains: 3 gms/1 oz.
Cheese: 7 gms/1 oz.Vegetables: 2 gms/½ cup

How many grams of protein do I need? The “I” in this question is the most important. Protein recommendations are based on 1) how much you weigh and 2) the type (frequency, duration, & intensity) of exercise you are doing. Go on, go get on the scale and come back with a calculator. Now, take your weight in pounds and divide by 2.2; this is your weight in kilograms.

The amount of protein recommended is given in grams rather than percentage of calories. The accepted range for athletes wishing to maintain weight is from 1.4 grams – 2.0 grams/kg body weight. This is in comparison to a sedentary person of 0.8 grams/kg body weight. When speaking with a sports dietitian, all of the variables (type of exercise, food preferences, weight history, health history, etc.) are taken into account when recommending protein for the athlete. In this way, all of the bases are covered. See the box below for two scenarios of recommendations.

Example #1: Example #2
28 year old female, Cat 3 cyclist34 year old male,  Ironman champion
120lbs/2.2 = 54.5 kgEx: 190lbs/2.2 = 86.36 kg
Protein recommendations:Protein recommendations:
1.4-1.6 grams/kg body weight1.5-2.0 grams/kg body weight
76-87 grams protein/day130-173 grams protein/day
Remember the range for protein grams/kg: 1.4-2.0 grams.
This scenario is based on fictitious athletes and is used as an example to demonstrate the variability based on weight and type of exercise.

In the example #1, the female cyclist can easily consume this amount of protein from both animal and plant protein sources (assuming she is not a vegetarian) in a day’s eating.

Whereas, in the example #2, the amount of protein is much greater, and for arguments sake let’s say he is a vegan (doesn’t consume any animal products). In this case, he will have to be very prudent about ensuring that he consumes enough protein from his diet, and might have to rely on supplemental protein from soy, hemp or animal-free protein supplements. The key here is determining how much protein you need based on you.

Once you learn how much protein you need in your daily diet, all you need then is to think about food sources of carbohydrate and fat. This is where a sports dietitian can come in handy! A meal plan (examples of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks) can be the best resource for the ever-busy athlete. It will get you started in the right direction and give you more time for training and competing.

What about the supporting evidence? There are many reputable sources (with as many or more, non-reputable sources) on nutrition for exercise on the internet.

Check out these links for more information:

How do I get started with a Sports Dietitian? Sports Dietitians are Registered Dietitians that have a specialty in counseling athletes on proper nutrition. The specialist who practices under the American Dietetic Association will have the credential “CSSD” -Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics after their name. Wenzel Coaching offers four types of sports nutrition packages to get you on the right path.

So what are you waiting for? Visit the Nutrition page to learn more about what nutrition can do for your body!  ~ Heather