You've probably heard how important protein is for athletes. But how much do you really need, when do you need it, and how is it actually helping you?
Here, TrueSport Expert Stephanie Miezin, MS, a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, explains the latest research around protein intake for young athletes, and offers some practical tips to make sure that you're getting the protein you need, at the right time.
Why do athletes need protein?
Protein is the macronutrient most responsible for muscle recovery as well as muscle growth—both of which are critically important for any athlete, but especially young athletes who are still developing in terms of both bone and muscle growth.
Is protein the most important macronutrient for athletes?
It's important—but so are carbohydrates and fat, says Miezin. "In recent years, people have talked about protein for athletes as though it's the most important, or the only, macronutrient that an athlete needs," she says. "But while it's important, so are carbohydrates and fats. Carbohydrates are what fuels your workouts, so they should also be prioritized."
How much protein do young athletes need?
For every pound of body weight, a young athlete should be eating about .7 grams of protein, says Miezin. So, if an athlete weighs 100 pounds, that means they should be eating 70 grams of protein per day, while a 150-pound athlete would need 105 grams per day. While there are many factors that influence protein needs for each athlete, this is a good guideline to start with.
Is protein intake the only metric that matters in sports nutrition?
Absolutely not, says Miezin. If you're not meeting your energy needs overall by taking in enough calories in total, having plenty of protein still won't help your body recover. Unfortunately, research has shown that low energy availability in adolescent athletes who are in the midst of heavy training is common. That low energy availability can lead to issues like delayed puberty, menstrual irregularities, poor bone health, the development of disordered eating behaviors, and an increased risk of injury. In the case of low energy availability, the protein will actually be converted for energy in the same way carbohydrates are used by the body, and that means you won't be using protein for repair or muscle building, says Miezin.