Nutrition: The Power of Protein|
Reprinted ASCA News Vol. 96-4
Source: The Physician and Sportsmedicine
Written By: Nancy Clark, MS, RD
Once upon a time, the "best" sports diets were based on steak and eggs. Supposedly, meat-eating athletes were stronger, more muscular, and more aggressive. Today, we know that strength and muscles are built with exercise (not extra protein), and that carbohydrates provide the fuel needed for muscle-building exercise.
But in the transition from a high-protein to high-carb diet, many athletes have eliminated meat-and have also overlooked the importance of protein. Some have taken the public health recommendations to eat less saturated fat to the extreme and are surviving on fat-free bagels and pasta. This type of diet may seem ideal, but in addition to being low in protein, it lacks important nutrients such as iron (needed to carry oxygen to working muscles) and zinc (needed for healing).
Many of these so-called "vegetarian' athletes are simply non-meat eaters who have not bothered to replace meat protein with plant proteins. They may think they are gaining a competitive edge, but they are actually hindering themselves. They often have lingering colds, nagging injuries, poor recovery from workouts, and overall fatigue as dietary imbalances take their toll.
Protein has recently reentered the spotlight. Some sports nutrition gurus advocate getting as much as 30% of daily calories from protein, double the standard 12% to 15% recommendation. Confused? Join the club. Here are some protein questions and answers that should help.
Why is protein important for athletes?
How much protein do athletes need?
Do bodybuilders need more protein than runners?
Lean cuts of red meats are not bad for athletes. The best choices include flank steak, London broil, eye of the round, and extra-lean ground beef. Besides being protein-rich, lean red meat is an excellent source of iron and zinc.
Some athletes are afraid of the cholesterol in red meats. But actually the cholesterol content of red meat is similar to that of chicken and fish. Yes, fatty hamburgers, pepperoni, bacon, and ribs are unhealthy and should be eaten only occasionally, if at all. But athletes can healthfully have about 4 oz of lean meat two to four times per week. In fact, a lean roast beef sandwich could be a healthier choice for the heart than a veggie sandwich packed with cheese.
Can athletes who choose a vegetarian diet get adequate protein?
The key for total vegetarians, or vegans (who eat no milk, eggs or other animal proteins), is to eat a variety of grains that have complementary amino acids. For example, beans and rice is an example of mixing legumes (peas and beans) and grains. Also, tofu is an excellent addition to a vegetarian diet. Tofu has made headlines because it is a high quality plant protein that contains all essential amino acids and offers the bonus of phytochemicals that protect against heart disease and cancer.
A word of caution: Although vegetarian athletes can consume adequate protein from their diet, they have to be willing to eat large amounts of plant proteins. This is often easier for men with hearty appetites than for weight-conscious women. If you are eating a vegetarian diet that consists primarily of grains, fruits, and vegetables, you are probably eating an unbalanced diet. You might want to consult with a sports nutritionist who can help you add the right amount of protein. For a referral to a local sports nutritionist, call the American Dietetic Association's referral network at 1-800-366-1655.
Remember. You, your physician, and your nutritionist need to work together to discuss nutrition concerns. The above information is not intended as a substitute for appropriate medical treatment.
Where to Find Protein Sources Protein (g) Animal Tuna, 6-oz can 40 Chicken breast, 4 oz 35 Pork loin, 4 oz 30 Hamburger, 4 oz 30 Haddock, 4 oz 27 Cottage cheese, 1/2 c 1.5 Yogurt, 8 oz 1.1 Milk, 1%, 8 oz 8 Cheddar cheese, 1 oz 7 Whole egg, 1 large 6 Egg white, 1 large 3.5 Plant Baked beans, 1 c 14 Lentil soup, 10.5 oz 11 Tofu, extra firm, 3.5 oz 1.1 Refried beans, 1/2 c 7 Hummus, 1/2 c 6 Kidney beans, 1/2 c 6 Peanut butter, 1 Tbsp 4.5 Almonds, dried, 12 3