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  • Writer's pictureHaley Schlechter, RD, LDN

NO WHEY! Protein and Athletes

Next up is protein. I generally do not have to argue the importance of this essential Macronutrient with most athletes but the amount necessary is often questioned. Both endurance athletes and strength athletes require more, as athletes in general require more calories overall, but how much do you need and does timing matter?

Let’s get our facts straight: SCIENCE

I am going to attempt to make this simple for us all. Protein is made up of Amino Acids (AA) which contains Nitrogen and helps build muscle. Nitrogen balance is maintained and regulated throughout all hour of the day. For length sake l will just say nitrogen balance is super important which is one of the reasons protein is a MARCOnutrient. When you train your nitrogen balance drops due to protein breakdown in your muscle (this happens at a higher rate if carbohydrate depleted). After exercise this balance is restored and protein synthesis occurs, but you need to give your body protein in order for this to happen efficiently and optimally. This answers one of our questions, timing matters. Not consuming protein after a workout will leave you at risk of losing or not maintaining the muscle mass you just strived to gain whether it is bulk muscle for weightlifters or the longer denser muscle in marathon runners.

Maximizing Muscle Mass and Recovery: All athletes

Regardless of what sport you do it is essential that, after exercise, you replenish your loses. Consuming a mixed meal of carbohydrates and protein is ideal within 1 hour of exercise but the sooner you ingest protein post workout the quicker your body will start to recover and build. Carbohydrates will aid in protein rebuilding by blunting further protein breakdown (why mixed meals are ideal). Most athletes see the most benefit from consuming around 22 grams of protein immediately post exercise within 20 minutes.

Endurance athletes:

Protein needs for an endurance athletes range from 1.2-1.8g protein/ kg body weight a day. This range includes the post exercise protein and can be higher if athletes overall caloric needs are higher. For endurance athletes protein is what is helping you build denser muscle which increases mitochondria (power house of cell) resulting in greater endurance potential for you.

Strength athletes needs:

Protein needs for strength athletes range from 1.6-1.8g/ kg body weight per day due to a need for building more muscle mass. For some strength athletes this amount is even greater, going up to 2.0g or higher depending on how high their caloric need is. Most research though, shows there is little benefit to consume more than 2.0g protein/ kg bodyweight/ day.

Post Exercise Sources:

For immediate use post practice, whey protein is optimum due to its availability to your body (Bioavailability) and how quickly it can get through your GI system. This means that your body can take it use it quicker than other protein sources. This is also a complete protein containing all 20 AA that you require and is why many protein companies sell whey protein. If you opt to take protein powder be careful, many are full of filler and “blends” which just means they do not have to disclose what is in it (supplement blog post soon to come on this). For vegan athletes pea protein is the easiest for your body to digest when compared to hemp protein and rice protein.


  1. Jeukendrup, Asker E., and Michael Gleeson. . Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2010. Print.

  2. Phillips MS, et al. A in Athletes.International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2007, 17, S58-S76 © 2007 Human Kinetics, Inc.

  3. Andersen, L.L., G. Tufekovic, M.K. Zebis, et al. The effect of resistance training combined with timed ingestion of protein on muscle fiber size and muscle strength. Metabolism.54:151-156, 2005.

  4. Esmarck, B., J.L. Andersen, S. Olsen, E.A. Richter, M. Mizuno, and M. Kjaer. Timing of postexercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans. J. Physiol.535:301-311, 2001.

  5. Holm, L., B. Esmarck, M. Mizuno, et al. The effect of protein and carbohydrate supplementation on strength training outcome of rehabilitation in ACL patients. J. Orthop. Res. 24(11):2114-2123, 2006.

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