By Senior Airman Catherine S. Scholar
59th Medical Wing
What do Muhammad Ali, Yani Tseng and other athletes have in common? They exert more energy than the average person, and their physiques need extra nutrients to recover from their strenuous activities. These nutrients include carbs, healthy fats and proteins. A combination of all three nutrients provides balance and success to an athlete’s physical fitness goals. Protein is a key component of good nutrition, but how much do we need in our diets?
Some people suggest stocking up on protein shakes and bars while others think large portions of eggs are the key to becoming a lean mean fighting machine. However, have you ever thought of what’s really happening with all that protein in your body? Some of the symptoms related to protein overconsumption include sudden urges to use the restroom, intestinal irritation, difficulty losing weight (excess protein not used converts into fat), and increased thirst. Dehydration and seizures have also been linked to excess protein intake. Inadequate water and foods high in animal protein are usually high in saturated fat, which promotes an increase in bad cholesterol and places people at risk for heart disease. So again I raise the question: how much protein do our bodies truly need?
Here are the facts about proper protein consumption:
- Adult male athletes need between 84 and 119 grams of protein each day, while adult female athletes need about 66 to 94 grams of protein daily.
- Sedentary adult males need about 56 grams of protein each day, while sedentary adult females need only about 46 grams of protein daily.
Protein plays a significant role in an athlete’s nutrition as the nutrients help renovate and support muscle tissue growth. Protein contributes about 10 percent of the overall energy an athlete’s body uses. The remaining energy is comprised of carbohydrates and fat. Athletes who consume the proper ratios of nutrients use fewer proteins for energy. Protein can aid an athlete’s efforts to attaining lean body mass. To preserve muscle, athletes need to make sure they are also meeting their body’s needs for carbohydrates and fat – not just protein.
A protein shake or other supplement may not be necessary. There are natural sources of proteins, carbs and fats most people don’t take into account like:
- High natural proteins: Cheeses, cereal, beef, bacon, beans (lima, kidney, garbanzo), eggs, ice cream, milk (also milk products), lamb, lentils, nuts, sardines and peanut butter.
- Natural carbs: Milk, beans and legumes, bread, crackers, cereals, pasta and rice.
- Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, corn, peas, fruits and fruit juices.
- Healthy natural fats: Avocados, olive oil, nuts and fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines contain omega 3 fatty acids).
If you plan to add supplements into your diet, be safe how you consume them and do your research! For more information about dietary supplements, visit is the Human Performance Resource Center.
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