Protein Prescription

Why Athletes Need a Healthy Dose of this Nutrient

Protein is an essential part of human life.  You have it in every cell, muscle, and organ in your body.  You need it for growth, for strength and for energy.

This means that it is also an essential part of our diets—particularly for athletes who want to stay strong and sharp. 

 “In general, protein is important for building just about any of the tissues of the body, including the cells that support our immune system and organ health,” says fitness, health and wellness expert, Tom Nikkola. It also helps to repair muscles after strenuous exercise, which allows athletes to get back to training sooner. 


How Much?

When doctors and specialists discuss how much protein you need in your daily diet, the answer varies based on age, gender, weight, activity level and training goals.  The Institute of Medicine recommends 46 grams of protein per day for the average woman and 56 grams for the average man.

However, martial artists can benefit from much more.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Sports Medicine both recommend athletes eat 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  For a 150-pound person, that boosts the 56-gram a day intake to between 82 and 136 grams. 

The numbers can be a bit much.  But the facts are quite simple.  Whether your goal is to lose weight, improve strength or increase energy, the right amount of protein in your diet will help you get it done, so consulting with an expert and trying new dietary programs is encouraged.


Take with Food

Including protein at every meal is a smart strategy, says NikKola.  There are many ways to get your daily dose of protein, regardless of any special diet needs.  Here are a few examples of food high in protein that you should add to your daily routine:


Plant Sources

  • Beans and Peas: Green beans and green peas don’t count—it’s the black beans, lentils, chickpeas, and their relatives that are good sources of protein and fiber.
  • Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, and other nuts provide healthy fats, vitamins and antioxidants.  They’re also fat-full, so they’re filling too.  But don’t overdo it!  An ounce a day is a good guide.  For peanut butter, choose natural options without added sugar, salt and oil.
  • Quinoa: Not all whole grains are equal in protein.  This South American grain has more protein than most (about 8 to 9 grams per cooked cup) and is one of the few plant-based complete proteins.  Try substituting it for rice. 


Animal Sources

  • Chicken or turkey breast: A skinless 4 oz. chicken breast provides about 32 grams of protein.  Choose organic, pasture-raised, or antibiotic free poultry when possible.  It’s better for you and the planet.
  • Fish: Vary your meat routine by eating fish a couple times a week.  Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, herring and sardines are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and nutrients that are good for your brain and heart. 
  • Lean red meat: Add red meat in moderation.  It packs a protein punch and provides nutrients such as zinc, iron and B vitamins, but research has extended the general notion that red meat clogs your arteries.  Go for grass-fed or organic whenever possible.  Nikkola recommends lean beef options such as sirloin steak, filet and ground beef. 
  • Eggs: yes, they’re high in cholesterol, but when eaten in moderation they can be a great, inexpensive source of complete protein.  Hard-boiled eggs make an easy on-the-go snack.
  • Yogurt/Milk/Cottage Cheese: These are all good ways to get vitamins, calcium and protein for bones and bodies.  But watch the sugar, additives and hormones especially in yogurt marketed to kids.


When to Take?

It’s always important to fuel your body throughout the day and before a workout, but research shows that refueling with carb and protein post-workout is better for your body’s recovery than with carbs alone.  While the carbs help replace glycogen burned off during exercise, the protein helps repair muscle tissue and speed up recovery.

“It’s wise especially within 35 to 40 minutes to get in a high-quality protein,” says Nikkola. Whey protein, a milk byproduct gives a quick protein boost that’s easier for the body to digest than solid foods.

The primary goal post-workout should be to provide your body with an immediate fuel source to prevent it from breaking down muscle tissue for energy.  Power up with protein to repair those muscles and encourage muscle growth.


What Are the Effects?

Protein can help regulate blood sugar levels, manage weight, and make you feel full longer—which helps keep ATA athletes in top form.  It’s good for your bones, your muscles and boosts your metabolism.  What’s not to love?!

As a martial artist, it’s imperative to your performance, so the right amount of protein is sure to help you look and feel better.

It could be “just what the doctor ordered!” 



Author: Anna Befort (edited by Jenny Wolff)

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