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 The Real Value Of Protein
Submitted by Rickshaw :: Fri Apr 28, 2006 12:00 pm
The Sport Factory: A typical problem for athletes is that they lack the stored energy required for quality training. A contributor to this problem is the common misconception that protein is a good primary fuel source for strength training, muscle building, and intense exercise. It is difficult to find a body builder that does not rely on some form of protein or amino acid supplement, and moreover contributes their success to these products. These athletes in particular consume much more protein than they require. Because this higher than necessary consumption of protein can offset the intake of other essential energy nutrients (carbohydrates), it is not surprising that many athletes struggle with low energy during a work out. Ironically, endurance athletes require almost as much protein as body builders for their normal training. It is important to clear up the misconception of protein as ready source of energy and uncover the real value of protein- recovery.

All nutrients (carbs, protein, fat) get converted to energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Each nutrient however has unique properties that determine how it gets converted to energy. Carbohydrate is the main nutrient that fuels exercise of a moderate to high intensity. Fat fuels low intensity exercise for long durations. Once stored carbohydrate is used up, glycogen depletion occurs. This means “Hitting the wall” or “bonking;” there is no more in stored carbohydrate to burn. During exercise this can be avoided by simply replenishing carbohydrate stores (eating easily digestible carbohydrates during moderate exercise that lasts more than 90 minutes). But glycogen depletion can also occur after several days of limited carbohydrate intake. This means going into your work out on an empty tank of fuel. Limiting carbohydrate intake forces exercise intensity to be reduced to a point that relies on fat metabolism for energy production. Protein, the main function of which is to maintain and repair body tissues, is not normally used to power muscle activity, however protein will be relied on to satisfy energy requirements as a last resort if these two other resources on not available.

Protein – A poor source of energy
Dietary protein is comprised of building blocks called amino acids. Once dietary protein is broken down into these amino acids, they join together to synthesize the particular protein the body needs such as hair, nails, hormones, enzymes, and muscles. The liver is the central processing unit of protein, monitoring the needs of the body and synthesizing the particular proteins from the amino acids. The by-product of protein synthesis is Nitrogen in the form of ammonia (NH3), which is converted to urea by the liver, and extracted from the body by the kidneys in urine. Thus, the consumption of too much protein has a negative impact. The ammonia builds up and is required to be removed as urea. This offsets the pH balance of blood causing an acidic environment. The kidneys have to work overtime, using fluids to flush the nitrogenous ammonia from the blood stream, so that the pH of the blood is stabilized. This process increases the risk of dehydration. Extra protein in the diet has also been shown to cause an excretion of calcium in the urine. Both dehydration and loss of calcium are detrimental to athletic performance

Furthermore, too much protein upsets macro nutrient balance, reducing the intake of the appropriate amount of carbohydrates and fat, and causing the body to rely protein as a fuel. While energy can be derived from protein, the result is a wasting of valuable resources within the body with a number of undesirable effects. Nitrogen balance is reflective of the dietary intake of protein being balanced by the excretion of urea wastes. If nitrogen excretion is greater than the nitrogen content (protein) of the diet, one is said to be in negative nitrogen balance. This usually is indicated by the break down of muscle tissue. If the nitrogen excretion is less than the content of the diet, a positive nitrogen balance is achieved and is indicated by the formation of protein. The resulting tissue formation, as such, causes repair and recovery from exercise.

Pre work out protein can equal gastrointestinal distress

In general, a low-fiber, low-fat combination is recommended as a pre-workout fuel source because it is digested more quickly and thus reduces the risk of gastrointestinal distress. A small amount of protein with carbohydrate in combination may help blood glucose levels to be at normal concentration during the work out. Protein digestion is much slower than carbohydrate. Protein consumed alone prior to a work out may be incompletely digested causing a concentration gradient for water to be rapidly absorbed into the intestinal track. While exercising this increases the risk of gastrointestinal distress. For this reason avoid a large protein meal several hours pre-exercise.

Protein - The recovery nutrient

Research has shown that some protein consumed with carbohydrates shortly before and after exercise does help the body recover faster by initiating muscle repair and growth. Adding protein to a recovery meal does not enhance the muscle's ability to store energy, but it does stimulate the muscles to rebuild. Relatively small amounts of protein are required to achieve this repairing process. Athletes should thus consume a combination of carbohydrates and protein post-exercise. The carbohydrates are used to refill the muscles with fuel, while the protein is used to help build and repair muscle tissue. Within the scientific community there still remains the unanswered question of what the optimal ratio of carbohydrates to protein in the recovery process is. Based on experience and experimentation, most endurance athletes find a ratio 3:1 carbohydrate to protein works best. This is general and one should be aware of their uniqueness; a little more or a little less might work optimally for each individual.

Guidelines for Best Sources and Amounts of Nutrients for Recovery
A generalized equation can be used to determine recovery requirements. From experience, most athletes need to consume 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight every two hours for six to eight hours after a workout. Therefore, if you are consuming 240 calories (60g) of carbohydrate after a work out, with the generalized ratio of 3:1 (cabs to protein), 80 calories (20g) of protein should also be consumed.

The calculation for a 150 pound athlete:
1) .5 grams of carbohydrate x 150 lbs. = 75 grams of carbohydrate needed for recovery
2) Multiply 75 grams x 4 (the number of calories in a gram of carbohydrate) = 300 calories of carbohydrate
3) If the recovery ratio of carbohydrate/protein is 3:1, then you need 100 calories of protein per 300 calories of carbohydrate. (100 calories divided by 4 (4 calories per gram) = 25 g of protein).

Athletes often rely on recovery nutrition in the form of liquid mixes. Carbohydrate to protein ratios are often formulated in the pre-made mixes for optimal recovery. Creating individualized recovery drinks requires experimentation with different types of carbohydrate and protein to determine which combination works best for you.

If you prefer to refuel with solid food, here are some good options:

- Half whole wheat bagel with ¼ cup cottage cheese or 1 tbsp peanut butter
- Yogurt smoothie, berries and a tablespoon of protein powder
- Medium sweet potato and 2 egg whites
- Small turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread
- Bran cereal with skim milk and a few nuts
- Protein bars (many specially formulated with optimal carbs and protein)

Ilana Katz has a masters degree in dietetics with an emphasis in sports nutrition. She enjoys working with athletes from the elite to recreational. She specializes in body composition and weight management specific to individual goals and needs. Ilana, herself participates in many endurance and team events in order to relate personally to her clientele. Ilana is The Sport Factory's head nutritionist, has worked with many local celebrities, and is the founder of the nutrition program IndiFITualize. You may hear Ilana on the “Bert” radio show (Q100) as well as “Dave FM” in Atlanta.

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