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How Much Protein Do You Need a Day When Training or for Sports Recovery

Samara Felesky-Hunt, B.Sc., R.D. Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist practicing in Calgary, Alberta.

Question: "How much daily protein do I need to eat each day when training or for sport recovery?"

Whether you are an amateur athlete, competing on a team, or aiming for your personal best at your next triathlon, what you eat and drink day to day will affect how well you can train and perform.

Protein is needed by all athletes to help the body build and repair muscles and other tissues. Protein is key for good energy, and if you don’t eat well you can end up breaking down your muscle mass for glucose, and this can lead to muscle wasting, muscle fatigue and poor performance. Meeting your daily protein needs will also keep your immune system healthy and strong, so you can keep up the pace with daily activity.

Current Research shows: Daily protein requirement for Adults
No regular exercise 0.86 g per kg body weight
Regular endurance exercise 1.2-1.4 g per kg body weight
Strength and power athletes 1.2-1.7 per kg body weight
Seniors 0.8-1.0 g per kg body weight

With endurance-type exercise, you need less protein than someone who works out with weights regularly. Be aware that eating more protein than your daily requirements will result in excess protein being stored as body fat, not muscle and it may lead to stress on your kidneys.

After exercise for optimal recovery and to ensure optimal lean body mass, be sure to include a meal or snack with lean protein and low glycemic carbohydrates. If you are training hard, or competing again the next day, try to eat this combination of foods within 30 minutes after exercise.

A special note: during pregnancy and breastfeeding, women need to consume an extra 25 grams of protein daily and more if they are exercising. Active children and teens may need 500 to 1500 more calories each day than their inactive peers, which will also keep their protein requirements in check.

Where do I find enough protein in the diet?

Protein can come from a variety of lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy or soy products, legumes, whole grains, nuts and/or seeds. Protein adds up quickly when you add a variety of foods. Vegetarian athletes need to ensure they are eating enough vegetarian protein choices each day. Plant foods including a variety of legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains add all the necessary amino acids to the athlete’s diet.

Lastly, eating frequent meals and snacks containing protein rich foods will make sure you get enough protein not matter which diet style you follow.

Examples of Protein in the Diet

  Protein Content (grams)
Meat or Poultry 3oz, 90g 21-25 g
Salmon 3 oz, 90g 20 g
Egg 1 6 g
Legumes ½ cup, 125 mL 8-15 g
Milk 1 cup, 250 mL 8 g
Brown rice, ½ cup, 125 mL 3 g
Almonds, ¼ cup, 36g 8 g
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