SSPC, Chris Rauch talks about Protein as part of a Sports Nutrition Plan.

Whether you are aiming to compete in your first 10km fun run or you are looking to achieve a personal best at your next marathon, there are many optimisations that can be made with a sports nutrition plan that that can help you achieve your training goals.

What sort of diet does an athlete aim to follow? Everyone knows that athletes have higher nutritional needs than your average person – if you burn more energy, you need more fuel. But what is not so well understood is that there is no one ‘diet’ which athletes should follow if they are looking to optimise performance. Training goals regularly change depending on where you are at in your training cycle. It is therefore important that your nutrition strategy changes with your training strategy to optimise your response to the exercise stimulus.

A few words about protein…

Protein intake is a vital part of recovery nutrition, to rebuild and repair muscles following your key training sessions. But how do you know if you are getting enough protein, or too much? Most athletes usually get an ample quantity of protein in their diet (without supplementation). What is important is not so much the total amount of protein that you consume, but the timing and distribution of high quality protein. It is important to ensure that the protein you are consuming is high quality (what we call “High Biological Value Proteins”) as it is these high-quality proteins that contain all the amino acids that are required for muscle growth and repair. One amino acid called Leucine acts as a trigger to set off the process and the other essential amino acids are required to “supply the bricks for the building”. If done correctly, you can effectively switch on your body’s “muscle building machinery” repeatedly for 48 hours following a hard training session. If overdone, the effect may potentially be blunted.

So understanding how this system works is important when developing a nutrition plan that is ideal for you, and that’s where a dietitian can be essential, especially if you are participating in periods of high training loads.

Regarding how much protein, this will depend on many factors. A male Rugby player at 100kg of lean weight will clearly have higher protein needs than a 52kg female recreational marathon runner. And for both athletes, it will depend on where they are at in their training schedule. During periods of taper, rest, or injury, protein needs remain high but energy needs are usually reduced, so it is important to balance these competing requirements, as there is always an energy budget to balance. Get the balance wrong and your performance may be adversely affected.

This leads into the question of can you get too much protein?

Like any aspect of the diet, anytime there is too much of one thing, it is very likely that something else has been displaced. Or to put it another way, if you have too much steak on your plate, then there is not enough room for sweet potato or brown rice (let alone the veges)! And as protein is only one aspect of sports or recovery nutrition, it is important to get just the right amount.

Do I need a protein supplement?

This is one of the most common questions I get asked when advising athletes who are looking to optimise their nutrition to support training. As a Sports Dietitian, I always take a “food first” approach as all of the body’s requirements can be met (and exceeded) with food alone. This back to basics approach is indeed adopted by the vast number of elite athletes around the world. It does not however mean that I would necessarily rule out protein supplements in all athletes, and in some cases they can be used to great effect for convenience and if used strategically. For athletes with special dietary requirements, supplements can have an important role to play.

Protein intake is however only one aspect of Sports Nutrition. For the next newsletter, I would like to discuss the use of carbohydrates in a sports nutrition plan.
If you are interested in a personalised Sport Nutrition plan, book in to see me at Parkdale (9584 2000) or East Bentleigh (9570 8538). Bring along an outline of your training program, as well as a copy of any recent blood test results / medical reports if applicable. I will tweak your current diet to support your training goals to give you a personalised plan.

Chris Rauch
Accredited Practising SSPC Dietitian.