Physical Performance

Nutrition is an important aspect in athletic performance. Download these shareable videos, graphics, handouts and recipes to help promote the power of protein and eggs.

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Refueling After Exercise

In a recent blog post, I mentioned the growing acknowledgement of the importance of protein for physical performance. Much research published in recent years suggests that protein, long downplayed as a key nutrient for better performance, may play a larger role than previously thought.

But what about post-exercise? What should an active person consume after a hard workout to re-load and replenish, to minimize tissue damage, and to restore energy stores for the next workout? Once again, newer research is pointing to protein (as a part of a carbohydrate/protein blend of nutrients) as a key to recovery.  Much of the research performed in the 1970s through the 1990s pointed to carbohydrate as the principle nutrient for exercise recovery, and I don’t mean to minimize the benefits of carbs for active folks. However, many studies now indicate that a mixture of carbs and proteins (some say a 3:1 mixture of carb:protein is best, though the exact ratio is still open to debate) can more quickly convert an individual from the catabolic (or tissue breakdown) state that occurs during exercise to an anabolic (or tissue build-up and repair) state that is preferred during exercise recovery.  High protein shakes and products of that nature are preferred by many athletes after a hard workout. They are convenient and they will provide carbs and protein. But one shouldn’t forget “real” food either. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chocolate milk and hard-cooked eggs are starting to gain favor with athletes as well. Products like these taste great, they’re familiar to most folks, and they deliver additional micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that can aid in tissue recovery.

Some food for thought whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a new exerciser seeking to make fitness gains while minimizing risk of injury and overuse.

Protein for Peak Performance

For many years, athletes were advised to consume very high levels of carbohydrates, with little attention placed on the amount and timing of the protein they consumed. Personally I was very much a proponent of this sort of regimen for athletes. I worked in the sports nutrition arena for years, and provided diet and exercise advice to many professional and college athletes.

But times change, and the science supporting carbohydrate as the near-exclusive domain of athletes has changed as well. I’m not suggesting that carbs are no longer considered a key substrate for athletes; quite the contrary, carbohydrates provide the quick energy that athletes need, and they allow athletes to use their other energy substrates (fats and proteins) effectively. But newer research indicates that athletes need more protein than previously believed; about 1.5 to 2 times as much. As we learn more about the role of amino acids as messengers in various metabolic pathways, we’ve come to appreciate the need for protein to provide ample levels of these amino acids to promote, among other things, optimal muscle growth and repair. And newer studies suggest we won’t achieve ample amounts of particular amino acids (e.g., leucine) on RDA-levels of protein. Further, on  a more applied note, studies such as those by John Ivy at the University of Texas and others have indicated that an appropriate ratio of carbohydrate to protein (somewhere in the neighborhood of 3:1 carb:protein) may be better at enhancing post exercise recovery than consuming carbohydrate alone.

Here is an article that serves as a basic primer on some of the newer research on protein and exercise. While some of this work is in preliminary stages, and we still have more to learn about the effects of various substrates on exercise performance, suggesting that athletes increase their protein intake a bit (largely through food) is sound advice. Carbohydrates are still important, but the role of protein in physical activity should not be underestimated.