Iceberg lettuce with grilled chicken, high protein shake, and hard boiled eggs. Not my idea of balance, but some believe this to be the perfect balance when trying to maintain or build muscle. You may not be trying to achieve a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it is important to build muscle and maintain it to ensure power, strength, and explosiveness as an athlete. So, is protein intake only important for Arnold? Absolutely not! Whether you are 16 years old and focused on building muscle or 65 years old and trying to maintain what you’ve got, protein plays a very vital role.
Understanding protein is pretty simple: rebuild, recover, and repair muscle. Did you know that muscle protein synthesis continues for 24 hours after a single resistance exercise session? That’s a complicated way of saying your body continues to build and repair proteins for a full day after strength or weight training. Since your body is hard at work for a full day after training, it is important to supply protein regularly through the day to help this process.
How much protein do you need in a day? Rather than concentrating on a daily total, research is showing that it is more helpful to think about timing. Americans tend to eat the majority of their protein in the afternoon and evening hours (think BIG Texas steak for dinner!). What you need to start doing is distribute protein intake throughout the day.
Choose lean proteins: chicken, fish, lean pork and beef, egg/egg whites, beans, low fat and fat free dairy, tofu.
Each lean protein with each meal
Try to eat 15-20 grams of protein following weight training
Following the new guidelines for protein intake, your day may look like this…
Breakfast – Whole wheat toast with Greek yogurt and a scrambled or hard-boiled egg.
Lunch – Leafy green salad with grilled chicken, a whole grain roll, glass of skim milk, and a piece of fruit.
Snack – Grab a string cheese and graham crackers with peanut butter for a post workout snack
Dinner – Marinara sauce with lean ground beef and whole wheat pasta
The more research tells us about sports nutrition, the more I begin to understand the importance of balance. Protein intake should be balanced throughout the day, not heavy towards the end of the day. Don’t worry so much about meeting a daily total, but rather including a source of lean protein each time you eat. The American diet is rich in protein, so spacing it through the day will help your body rebuild, repair, and recover.
Caroline Sullivan, MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a sports dietitian based in College Station, TX. She works with all athletes from recreational to elite. Follow her on Twitter @SullivanRD