Should Different Athletes Consume Protein Differently?

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Do I need more protein if I’m a bodybuilder? Do I need less protein if I’m a marathon runner? These are valid questions, as athletes participating in various activities manipulate their intakes of carbohydrates, fat, and protein differently to achieve their goals. The simple answer is that protein is key in optimizing the performance of all types of athletes and anyone who exercises, offering numerous advantages when consumed at levels above the recommended daily allowance (RDA). Some studies even show that athletes can benefit from as much as twice the RDA (1).

Athletes can be categorized into three main groups based on the goals associated with their chosen activities: endurance athletes, high-intensity athletes, and strength athletes. Endurance athletes include those who participate in activities requiring stamina, such as distance runners, swimmers, cyclists, and triathletes. High-intensity athletes compete in activities that require short, intense bursts of energy focusing on technique, lasting from seconds to only a few minutes. Such athletes include sprinters, volleyball players, and gymnasts. Like high-intensity athletes, strength athletes also engage in activities that require short bursts of energy. However, their primary goal is to attain strength and muscle mass rather than honing a sport-specific skill. The term strength athlete is synonymous with bodybuilder. 

Protein has been shown to boost performance among the three categories of athletes in the following ways:

1. Endurance Athletes 

Endurance athletes engage in low to medium intensity activities that elevate the heart rate for prolonged periods. To generate the energy needed to sustain low intensity exercise over a long duration, the body mainly uses the aerobic system—a system relying on the cardiovascular system to supply oxygen to the muscle. Improving endurance in athletes demands optimizing aerobic energy production, improving cardiovascular fitness, and maximizing the ability of muscle fibers to contract. 

Historically, much more attention has been paid to carbohydrates in maximizing endurance than protein. “Carb-loading” is a popular dietary strategy used by endurance athletes to improve performance, and involves eating foods high in starch prior to events in an effort to maximize muscle glycogen. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrate that can be used by the aerobic system to supply muscles with energy. With importance placed on carbohydrate consumption in endurance activities, protein is often pushed to the wayside. Many myths regarding protein intake have circulated among endurance athletes, such as the idea that high protein intake will cause bulky muscle gains that hinder efficiency, or that high protein intake is of greater relevance to strength athletes. 

However, strength and endurance athletes each have similar protein needs, with the only difference being how the body uses the protein in relation to different training regimens. While the protein consumed by strength athletes is primarily used to build muscle, it is used by endurance athletes for muscle repair and other functions related to the effects of prolonged training. Because protein improves endurance performance in a variety of ways, false beliefs resulting in low protein intake are detrimental to the athlete. 

2. High-intensity Athletes

High-intensity athletes seek to perfect technique and train their muscles to perform the powerful functional movements necessary to their sport. They engage in activity that consists of repeated bouts of short intense exercise. Such activity draws on the anaerobic system to make energy. 

In contrast to the aerobic system, the anaerobic system is able to make muscle energy in the absence of oxygen. Although this system is able to rapidly produce the energy needed to drive intense bursts of activity, it cannot be relied upon for extended periods of time—less than a 2 minute maximum. 

The primary goal of high-intensity athletes is to improve performance by perfecting technique and increasing speed, strength, and agility. This requires developing muscle memory for optimally performing a sport-specific movement. It also requires increasing the speed and force with which a muscle contracts, optimizing the lean muscle to fat ratio, and raising the anaerobic threshold. Supplying the body with adequate protein is essential for improving the performance of high-intensity athletes, as protein plays a key role in muscular development and fat loss, and may even beneficially influence factors that affect the anaerobic system.

Protein is the primary substrate used by muscle to achieve the optimal physical adaptations that enhance high-intensity performance. Following a strenuous workout, the body is very sensitive to the effects of protein in stimulating muscle synthesis. Eating protein during the post-exercise period promotes the synthesis of new muscle fiber proteins and an increase in contractile muscle proteins, resulting in greater strength and speed (2). 

3. Strength Athletes

Strength athletes share the same goal as high-intensity athletes in improving strength, but they place a particular emphasis on aesthetics, seeking to achieve optimal muscular proportion while maximizing muscle size and definition. 

Because lifting weights primes the muscles for growth, resistance training is the central component in the work-out regimen of the strength athlete. Like high-intensity athletes, strength athletes draw on the anaerobic system to get the energy they need to fuel their grueling resistance workouts. High protein intake has always been a central component of the dietary strategy used by strength athletes, as they have long recognized its value in promoting muscle synthesis. 

In addition, the beneficial effects of protein in promoting fat loss and preserving muscle is extremely important to strength athletes, who desire a particularly high lean muscle to fat ratio in achieving their aesthetic goals. Although all athletes will benefit from using dietary strategies to maximize muscular development and body composition, this is particularly important to strength athletes. 

Timing, Type, and Source of Protein for Any Athlete 

Following intense exercise, the body is very sensitive to the effects of protein in provoking muscle synthesis. Studies suggest that there is an optimal window during which maximal benefits can be derived from eating protein. Most experts agree that protein eaten close to the end of a workout provides the greatest benefit, especially within an hour after finishing exercise. However, some benefit has even shown to be derived up to 2 hours post-exercise (1, 3). 

An optimal amount of protein is needed to maximally stimulate muscle growth. Studies have shown that a dose of about 18 to 40 grams (depending on body weight, age, and workout length and type) is necessary to trigger muscle synthesis, although no greater benefit is derived from consuming amounts above this level in one sitting (2). 

To optimize muscle growth and repair throughout the day, studies suggest that several meals consisting of about 30 grams of protein each should be eaten throughout the day (3).

Whey Protein

Whey protein, derived from milk, is superior to other protein sources for promoting muscle growth and repair. It is absorbed faster than either casein or soy protein and is higher in BCAAs, ultimately leading to greater muscle synthesis (1, 3). In addition, its high leucine content serves as a trigger for muscle growth. Whey is also the most satiating protein, helping achieve fat loss and an improved body composition.

With the numerous advantages conferred by protein, and whey in particular, incorporating this macronutrient into a dietary and training plan will help any athlete get a leg up on the competition:

  • Whey is classified as a fast-absorbing protein. It is absorbed faster to maximize peak muscle growth for high-intensity and strength athletes.
  • Compared to other protein sources, whey is higher in BCAAs. BCAAs serve as a trigger for muscle growth after resistance training exercise. 
  • Whey protein enhances recovery after exercise because it elicits a higher insulin response that speeds up glycogen resynthesis.
  • Enhanced recovery from whey protein enables greater training volume to support increased muscle growth or more frequent training.
  • Whey protein stimulates greater fat oxidation following a test meal compared to other protein sources like casein or soy.

Although the goals and training techniques used to improve performance varies by athlete, protein has unanimous benefits among all athletes and exercisers of any kind and should be a central component of any good dietary strategy. 

References

  1. Phillips SM, Van Loon LJ. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. J Sports Sci 2011;29 Suppl 1:S29-S38.
  2. Cribb PJ, Hayes A. Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2006 Nov;38:1918-25. Doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000233790.08788.3e
  3. Phillips SM, Tang JE, Moore DR. The role of milk- and soy-based protein in support of muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein accretion in young and elderly persons.J Am Coll Nut. 2009 Aug;28:343-54.
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Optimizing Nutrition for Sports Performance

Athletes are usually so focused on how macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, fat—affect their performance, but what about bioactive compounds and micronutrients? Can they improve performance? The answer is a resounding “yes!” Ageless Essentials Daily Pack has exactly what you need to take your skills to the next level. Here are seven powerful ingredients in Ageless Essentials that can help you gain a competitive edge:

1. Coenzyme 10 (CoQ10): Coenzyme Q10 (coQ10) is a vitamin-like substance that is essential in generating about 95 percent of the body’s energy. It is also a potent fat-soluble antioxidant. Exercise increases the need for oxygen—10 to 20 times more than the resting state—causing an intensified metabolic process known as oxidative stress. The coping strategies that the body has developed to combat oxidative stress can become maxed out during times of intense physical activity and can lead to tissue damage and inflammation, excess fatigue, and delayed recovery. A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that supplements of coQ10 not only decreased oxidative stress but also reduced over-expression of pro-inflammatory genes and reduced levels of creatinine, an indicator of muscle breakdown (1). Although a degree of muscle breakdown stimulates growth, minimizing damage can allow athletes to recover faster and train harder.

2. Resveratrol: Phenols are compounds naturally produced by plants and are used to protect against pests and pathogens. Resveratrol, a phenol, has exhibits similar protective properties in the human body. Now research has found that, when paired with exercise, resveratrol can enhance strength, metabolism, cardiovascular efficiency and exercise capacity. In this study, rats consuming resveratrol ran longer and faster (2). Additionally, the rats developed stronger leg muscles with an 18 percent strength gain in the calf muscle and 58 percent gain in their tibialis anterior (on the front of the leg) muscle. Even more important for athletes, scientists found that resveratrol’s ability to improve cardiovascular efficiency lead to higher levels of fat burning, increased muscle mass, and improved endurance.

3. Vitamin C: Vitamin C is renowned for quenching free radicals, as well as playing a major role in collagen synthesis, hormone formation, and fat metabolism. The newest skill to add to the vitamin C resume is its ability to act as an ergogenic (exercise-enhancing) aid. In a study conducted at Arizona State University, researchers found that subjects who supplemented with vitamin C had decreased heart rates during exercise and a 10 percent decrease in the perceived difficulty of physical activity compared to the placebo group (3). In addition to decreasing the effects of oxidative stress in athletes, vitamin C supplementation may be able to optimize performance by decreasing the discomfort of high-intensity physical exertion.

4. Fish Oil: Strength training has long been thought to have health benefits, but now research shows that supplementing with fish oil can amplify the benefits of resistance training. A study shows that elderly women taking fish oil who began a strength training regimen had increased neuromuscular responses compared to women who did not take the supplement (4). Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which can alter cell membrane fluidity. This fluidity may affect the uptake of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that triggers the process of muscle contraction. The combination of fish oil and strength training may lead to faster communication between nerves and muscles, and thus faster muscle contraction for athletes. An additional bonus for athletes is the soothing effects of omega-3s to assist with a proper recovery.

5. Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency is increasingly recognized as one of the most common health problems in the world today, with athletes being no exception. Vitamin D (cholecalciferol) is a hormone that is essential for bone growth & repair, cell function, management of inflammation, and mineral balance in the body. It can either be consumed through the diet or synthesized in the body when skin is exposed to sunlight; however, evidence is showing that people are not getting adequate amounts. Vitamin D deficiency may make an impact on training quality and injury, and as a result, athletic performance. A study of elderly patients found that supplementation with vitamin D significantly increased the mean diameter of type II muscle fibers (5). The discovery of vitamin D receptors (VDR) on muscle cells provides further evidence that vitamin D plays a significant role in muscle structure and function. Finally, apart from supporting optimal athletic performance, higher vitamin D status has been link to improved overall physical health and muscle function well into old age.

6. Calcium: Getting enough calcium in your diet is so important that your body will actually “rob” calcium from your bones if there is not enough in the blood. Lacking calcium in the diet not only leads to poor bone health, but it can also severely affect nerves and muscles causing weakness, muscle spasms, and muscle pain. Calcium is an integral part in the communication between nerves and muscle cells for muscle contraction to occur. Without sufficient amounts of calcium, muscle weakness will result in decreased athletic performance and discomfort. Athletes most at risk for inadequate dietary calcium intake are those who are involved in weight-control sports such as figure skating and distance running. Additionally, some evidence points to increased calcium losses related to intense endurance training (6). Be sure you’re getting enough.

7. Electrolytes: Ever notice that your skin feels gritty after a workout? That is actually salt that has escaped through your pores. The evaporation of sweat from the skin’s surface assists the body in regulating core temperature. Unfortunately, the side effect of this temperature-regulating mechanism is the loss of essential electrolytes and fluid. According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, 1 to 2 percent loss of body weight in sweat begins to compromise physiologic function and negatively influence performance. Greater than 3 percent further disturbs physiologic function and increases the risk of developing cramps or heat exhaustion. Electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, are important minerals that for regulating the hydration status of the body. It is not only important for athletes to rehydrate but also to replace the electrolytes lost during exercise to perform well and recovery quickly.

The greatest concern when choosing the right supplement is to find a product that is high in quality and supported by science. Isagenix Ageless Essentials Daily Packs are carefully formulated to contain proper nutrients to help you power your workouts—helping you reach athletic goals. Let Isagenix nourish your body so you can focus on preparing to win the gold

References

  1. Diaz-Castro J, Guisado R, Kajarabille N et al. Coenzyme Q(10) supplementation ameliorates inflammatory signaling and oxidative stress associated with strenuous exercise. Eur J Nutr 2011.
  2. Dolinsky VW, Jones KE, Sidhu RS et al. Improvements in skeletal muscle strength and cardiac function induced by resveratrol during exercise training contribute to enhanced exercise performance in rats. J Physiol 2012;590:2783-99.
  3. Huck CJ, Johnston CS, Beezhold BL, Swan PD. Vitamin C status and perception of effort during exercise in obese adults adhering to a calorie-reduced diet. Nutrition 2012.
  4. Rodacki CL, Rodacki AL, Pereira G et al. Fish-oil supplementation enhances the effects of strength training in elderly women. Am J Clin Nutr 2012;95:428-36.
  5. Sato Y, Iwamoto J, Kanoko T, Satoh K. Low-dose vitamin D prevents muscular atrophy and reduces falls and hip fractures in women after stroke: a randomized controlled trial. Cerebrovasc Dis 2005;20:187-92.
  6. Dressendorfer RH, Petersen SR, Lovshin SE, Keen CL. Mineral metabolism in male cyclists during high-intensity endurance training. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2002;12:63-72.