How much protein does an athlete need?


Medical authorities used to tell us that athletes, including bodybuilders, do not need extra protein. That was wrong. Solid research now shows that both hard training endurance and strength athletes do need more protein than a sedentary individual. But perhaps not as much as you may have been led to believe.

The August 1997 issue of The Physician and Sportsmedicine has the results of the latest research: "Based on a wide review of scientific data, current daily protein recommendations for serious strength trainers are about 0.6 to 0.8 grams per pound (1.4 to 1.8 g/kg)." In other words, a 140-pound strength trainer needs 84 to 112 grams of protein per day and a 200-pounder 120 to 160 grams. If you are just trying to maintain muscle mass 0.6 grams per pound is enough, but if you're training hard to build muscle the protein requirement goes up to the high end of the range, 0.7 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight.

So the bodybuilding magazines are correct in telling you that protein is the basic building material for muscle tissue, and that strength trainers need more than the average Joe or Jane What they don't emphasize, however, is that the average meat-eating American consumes more than enough protein to meet the needs of the hardest training athlete. Most Americans eat too many calories and too much protein. Protein conscious bodybuilders probably overshoot their need for this critical nutritional element by even more. Eat a balanced diet and consume enough calories to meet your energy needs and you will probably be getting more than enough protein for maximum muscle gains. (I make it a practice to consume some high quality protein with every meal or snack.)

By the way, female athletes usually have proportionally less muscle mass - and more fat - than male athletes; therefore, they need less protein as well. Nitrogen balance tests show that female endurance athletes require about 25% less protein than men. Female bodybuilders probably need a little more protein than that, because they have more muscle than other female athletes.

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