Most nutritionists agree that carbohydrate-rich foods are the important fuel to maintain blood glucose levels, during exercise and afterwards. But what about protein? High versus low protein is a never-ending hot topic in most sports settings.
The most common misconception is the need for greater protein intake for gains in strength, power, speed, and endurance. The truth of the matter is that South Africans are usually already eating too much protein! There is seldom the need to increase the amount you’re eating.
However, timing of protein intake is vital. Get it right with small amounts of protein after workouts, and you’ll be providing the basic blocks for muscle building and repair. You’ll also see improved recovery rates if you’re training more than once a day.
Your protein strategy
Your protein intake should mirror your training, building onto it when training picks up and tapering when training decreases. It seems so obvious, but this is how you manage your weight and prevent unwanted gains between big events. You should eat around your training, and have the three main meals evenly spaced with a number of snacks in between. For heavy training sessions aim to have a snack 1-2 hours beforehand, and have a small snack on hand for afterwards.
These snacks should be largely carbohydrate-based. Good choices include drinking yoghurt, fruit, crackers with Bovril and raisins. The dairy options are perfect for that little kick of protein to speed your recovery.
What about supplements?
These are designed to provide a rapid supply of energy that is portable and concentrated, so should be reserved for use during endurance events and heavy training sessions. They can also be used as an energy source before or after a heavy training session when it is not convenient to eat or drink a normal food or drink.
Supplements should only be decided upon once a weakness in one’s eating habits has been identified. A dietitian is helpful with this, and the appropriate serving size of the supplement can be calculated to suit each person and remember that the manufacturer’s guide does not necessarily apply to all!
For those who need to lose weight, I would suggest working out whole-food alternatives. It is easier to gauge how much you are getting and thus prevent unwanted weight gain.
Limit your protein per serving to no more than 10-15g. As little as 6g is sufficient to promote muscle building and to promote recovery – regardless of your body size. Don’t neglect the carbs either. Aim for carbohydrate intake of 20-45g, depending on your body size, the type of training session and how long before you next eat.
For supplements, never choose one without considering what your diet already provides.
by Keri Strachan RD (SA)
Originally published in Go Multi issue 13.5 (January/February 2010)