How Much Protein Does An Athlete Need Per Day?

In this article, I’ll break down why protein is important for athletes, how much protein you need per day to gain or maintain muscle, and a calculator to calculate how much protein you need per day personally.

Why is Protein Important for Athletes?

Protein is a macronutrient that is essential for building and repairing muscles. As athletes, we are constantly breaking down our muscles during workouts and without protein, we would never be able to build those muscles back stronger and capitalize on our hard work.

How Much Protein Does An Athlete Need To Gain or Maintain Muscle?

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an athlete should consume 1.4g - 2.0g per kg of body weight (0.65g - 0.9g per lb) per day. However, some athletes may experience significant benefits of higher protein consumption depending on their sport and weight goals. (1)

Protein Recommendations for Losing Weight

One example of an athlete who would benefit from higher protein consumption is someone who is focused on losing body fat while maintaining their current muscle mass.

Several studies have found that when athletes are attempting to lose weight their protein requirements significantly increase (2). As a result, the recommended protein consumption per day increases to 2.3 - 3.1g per kg of body weight (1.05g - 1.4g per lb) (3).

Protein Recommendations for Endurance Athletes

One group of athletes that won’t benefit significantly from high amounts of protein is endurance athletes (4). As a general recommendation, endurance athletes should shoot for the lower end of the ISSN’s recommendation at around 1.4g per kg of body weight.

Photo of Dude working out

When athletes are attempting to lose weight their protein requirements significantly increase to 2.3g - 3.1g per kg per day

How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Serving?

Your protein consumption should be spread as evenly as possible throughout the day with an emphasis on consuming a protein-rich meal within 30 minutes of working out.

For the average athlete consuming around 4 meals throughout the day, this means around 0.4 - 0.5g per kg every meal.

Sources of Complete Proteins

Good sources of protein will contain all 9 essential amino acids allowing your body to fully utilize the protein given to it. Foods that contain all 9 amino acids include:

  • Red Meat
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Fish
  • Tofu
  • Quinoa

If you are vegetarian or vegan blending protein sources is necessary as plant-based proteins are often incomplete. For example, a combo of kale and brazil nuts will get you healthy amounts of 7 of the essential amino acids and trace amounts of the other two.

Bedtime Protein

Casein protein (derived from dairy) is especially helpful just before bed as it is a slow-releasing protein (1). As a result, throughout your sleep, your body will be slowly delivered protein leading to greater muscle growth and repair (1).

A personal favourite nighttime snack that is packed with casein protein is a bowl of yogurt with fresh fruit.

Protein Supplements

While it is possible to get all of your daily protein requirements solely from whole foods often times we don’t have the time or the hunger to pound down 5 chicken breasts per day. That’s where protein supplements can fill that gap.

Protein supplements will help you hit your daily requirements by allowing you to get your protein in through liquid sources like smoothies or shakes. However, these supplements do not have the nutritional value of whole food like chicken, beef, or quinoa. If possible, try to source as many grams of protein from natural whole foods.

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Photo of Kaizen Natural Protein Powder

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Conclusion: How Much Protein Does An Athlete Need Per Day?

The average athlete needs 1.4g - 2.0g per kg of body weight (0.65g - 0.9g per lb) to maximize their muscle repair and growth. Athletes looking to lose body fat should increase their protein intake to 2.3 - 3.1g per kg of body weight (1.05g - 1.4g per lb).

Endurance athletes need lower amounts of protein than the average athlete and should shoot for the lower range of protein requirements at around 1.4g per kg.

Protein consumption should be spread out as evenly as possible throughout the day with a focus on having a protein-rich meal post-workout and a casein-rich meal before bedtime.

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References

  1. Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, Cribb PJ, Wells SD, Skwiat TM, Purpura M, Ziegenfuss TN, Ferrando AA, Arent SM, Smith-Ryan AE, Stout JR, Arciero PJ, Ormsbee MJ, Taylor LW, Wilborn CD, Kalman DS, Kreider RB, Willoughby DS, Hoffman JR, Krzykowski JL, Antonio J. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise.
  2. Hector AJ, Phillips SM. Protein Recommendations for Weight Loss in Elite Athletes: A Focus on Body Composition and Performance
  3. Helms ER, Zinn C, Rowlands DS, Brown SR. A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes.
  4. Vitale K, Getzin A. Nutrition and Supplement Update for the Endurance Athlete: Review and Recommendations

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