Do Athletes Need Extra Protein and is it Important?

Uncategorized Dec 29, 2020

Guest Writer: Rachel Dervish (MSc, ANutr, Sports Nutritionist) 

We all hear about “macronutrients” and “protein” but do we really know what we are talking about here?!

Protein is an essential macronutrient (AKA major nutrient) found in every single cell in our body. It is required for all life functions, including growth and repair, hormones, enzymes and immunity. Made of 21 building blocks or amino acids of which 9 are considered to be essential, meaning they cannot be synthesised or made in the body so must be obtained in the diet.

The others are known as non-essential as they can be synthesised in the body.

Proteins that contain all the essential amino acids are known as “complete proteins”. For example; animal products, such as meat, fish and dairy.

Proteins that do not contain all the essential amino acids or inadequate quantity are known as ‘incomplete”. For example, most plant proteins are incomplete however quinoa and soya are an exception to this!

Plant proteins tend to have a lower amount of protein.

To obtain a complete amino acid profile you will need to eat a wide range of plant proteins. Some plant proteins can be combined to form a complete amino acid profile, such as baked beans on toast, or toast and houmous.

Protein is considered the most satiating of the macronutrients as it takes longer to digest, keeping you feeling fuller for longer! 

So how should we eat; is more better?

Generally, protein requirements are 0.8g/kg of body weight.

For an average 75kg male, this is 60g per day.

Interestingly; endurance training increases the breakdown and damage of muscle proteins. So, increased protein is required to repair the damaged muscles, as well as provide protein for muscle protein synthesis (making new muscle) and most importantly adaptation to all that training.

More is not better…..The latest research shows that we are unable to utilise more than 0.25g - 0.4g per kg of bodyweight in any one sitting. It is therefore more important to ensure we have regular inputs of protein at each meal and snack during the day.

For a 75kg male, this would be between 19g and 30g of protein. An easy way to visualise this is a deck of cards sized portion of protein at each meal, and half for each snack. 

This means the body always has a source of amino acids (or proteins) maximising recovery and adaptation to training. 

So what if we eat more?

Well excess protein is broken down for use as energy or stored as fat or carbohydrate (eventually but this is a process!!) 

To get 20-30g protein is pretty easy from animal sources  










Dairy milk 




2 large 


Greek yoghurt (Skyr or Fage)




Plant sources include : 


Soya milk 






Quorn mince 









So what about protein powders?

Food can absolutely meet an athlete’s protein needs!

However, there are some instances where the use of  “protein powder” may be useful. 

For example, think rushing around and being on the go; a  recovery shake may help meet a need. 

Or perhaps using a little extra as a top-up to meet protein requirements for an athlete who follows a  vegetarian/vegan diet.  

The important thing about a protein powder is how much of the building block leucine is in the product. This is essential for muscle protein synthesis (making muscle) plus reducing muscle protein breakdown.

Simply put, dairy milk is one of the best sources of protein containing high levels of leucine. Soya milk would be a suitable plant-based alternative. 

So remember; protein is better with little and often and more is not better!


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