Athletes of any persuasion need to ensure there is adequate protein in their diet. Protein contains the raw material that muscles use to repair and grow. It is also a valuable fuel for muscles, providing them with energy and even helps maintain an optimal state of metabolism.
Foods including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk and nuts, to name a few, are all protein dense. A varied diet rich in these foods will definitely help the retention and growth of muscle mass and increase strength. Eating six high protein meals a day at regular intervals is generally recommended. However, even then it may be difficult for an athlete to meet their needs from these whole foods alone.
That is where protein supplements come in.
Proteins are comprised of individual amino acids which are linked together to form chains called polypeptides. When protein enters the body and is digested it is broken down into its individual amino acids. They are then used as building blocks to create new proteins as necessary.
Of the 20 standard amino acids, 9 are known as “essential” because the body cannot synthesize them on its own. The only source for them is food, and all 9 of them are necessary for the synthesis of new proteins. Protein sources that contain all of the essential amino acids are referred to as complete proteins. Though complete proteins are the most desired, incomplete protein supplements have their place and can of course be combined with others to form a complete profile.
Essential Amino Acids
Non-essential Amino Acids
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
From the above list of essential amino acids, three of them are known as branched chain amino acids. They are:
Named due to their physical structure which differs from the other amino acids, BCAAs have a large presence in skeletal muscle tissue; about 16% of its amino acid makeup give or take a few percent. BCAAs are therefore key to muscle protein synthesis.
BCAAs demonstrate another very important behaviour: they are metabolized differently to the other amino acids and can be oxidized directly in the muscle tissue during training to provide energy. They also improve carbohydrate availability and can spare muscles some of the detrimental protein breakdown brought on by exercise.
Using BCAAs as a supplement can only help increase muscle size and strength and of course provide much needed energy during a workout.
Quantity of Protein
An individual’s protein needs is dependant on a figurative sliding scale of activity level, diet and training objectives.
To give you a benchmark to go by, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein in the U.S is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. That’s about 65 grams of protein a day for someone weighing 180 pounds.
Of course, the RDA was not calculated with athletic individuals in mind. Strength and weight lifting athletes may require up to as much as 2 grams per kilogram body weight if they are in an intense bulking phase. Any amount in excess of that may just be a waste of protein and numbers equal to or higher than around 3 grams per kg bodyweight could be on the verge of impairing kidney function.