Protein, protein, protein. I know I go on about eating enough protein quite a bit, but for athletes, your protein intake is one of the most important building blocks for performance and development. And that’s why Lilith NoFair is here with this epic roundup of *absolutely everything* a skater needs to know about protein!
Enter Lilith NoFair:
Protein helps us build, maintain and repair the tissues of our bodies. It is made up of amino acids, which are synthesized by the body or ingested from food. Our bodies can only make 11 of the 20 necessary. The nine essential amino acids which are not produced by the body must be obtained from food.
There is a specific amount of leucine (an essential amino acid) that’s needed to kickstart protein synthesis (the process that grows your muscles). You need all nine essential amino acids present for synthesis, but leucine acts as the match that lights the fire.
So, how much protein is enough?
The U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance officially recommends only 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This is just the amount you need to lead a pretty sedentary life though, not the amount you’d need to support athletic performance. Recently, protein scientists now suggest at least 0.68 grams per pound and up to 0.75 grams. This is actually down from an initial protein suggestion boom of up to 1g/lb. Why the change?
It’s kind of like over-filling the gas tank of your car. There’s no storage for protein for later use. A 2009 study took male subjects in their early 30s, all weighing about 175 pounds, and fed them each a four-ounce steak with 30 grams of protein. They then took blood samples and muscle biopsies from the volunteers. They found a 50% improvement in muscle protein synthesis, said the protein scientist. But when they repeated the test, but tripled protein intake, synthesis remained the same. “That suggests that somewhere around 30 grams [for a 175-pound male] there is a ceiling effect for your ability to use actual protein-rich foods to build and repair muscle,” said Paddon-Jones, the scientist who conducted the tests.
So, a skater of medium build and high-activity level would be looking at needing 85-95g protein daily, but would want to make sure that you’re not going over that 30g ceiling per serving.
Does when you eat protein matter?
A University of Texas study showed that muscle protein synthesis (the process that grows your muscles) was 25% greater in people who spread out their protein intake across meals, as opposed to those whose main intake was at dinnertime.
What does that mean for you? Aiming for 3-4 intakes of protein daily, each of which consists of about 22-30g protein. It’s really easy to make sure you’re having protein with all of your major meals, as well as some protein snacks or a protein booster before bed.
Also, eating your protein first during your meals can stimulate production of PYY, which is a gut hormone that helps you feel full faster. Protein will also decrease levels of ghrelin (the hunger hormone), and will increase your metabolic rate post-meal and during sleep. Not only that, eating protein first will help your body manage blood sugar and insulin levels.
Should you eat protein before training?
If you look at the research, your biggest lean muscle gains will come from eating protein 30-90 minutes after your training session. During training, your body will burn through stores of glucose and fat. Just like saving your starchy carbs for after training, saving your protein for post-training will maximize the performance of your body’s systems.
So, you’ve got a good idea of the numbers and the timing, but what does that actually mean for your meals?
What makes up a 30g (2.5g leucine) serving of protein?
Luckily, a 30-ish gram serving of protein is pretty easy to consume. Here are some good ideas for protein building blocks:
- A protein powder smoothie (20-25g)
- 1 cup Greek yogurt (25-28g)
- A 4oz T-bone steak (30g)
- 2 cups edamame (18g protein per cup, 8g fiber)
- 2 cups white, adzuki, pinto, kidney, black, navy, garbanzo or lima beans (13-17g per cup, white has the most)
- 100g seitan (21g)
- 100g tempeh (18g)
- 1 cup tofu (20g)
- 100g chicken or turkey breast (30g)
- 100g tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel (20-26g, also good source of Omega-3s)
- 2-3 hardboiled eggs (12-14g each)
- 100g cheese (22g)
- 1 cup cottage cheese (25g)
That list should give you a really good start on meal-planning around your protein blocks. You can also make sure that you’re getting enough by adding some protein to your snacks, and/or substituting some of the options you normally choose in your dishes.
Increase your protein with snacks and swaps!
2 tbsps of peanut butter with your fruit helps to add a 7-8g boost (16g if you use Power Butter). Also, just adding nuts and seeds to your snacks will help boost both your protein intake and your intake of healthy fats.
Swapping Greek yogurt for sour cream in your sizes will give you 3-4 more grams of protein per serving and some helpful probiotics, and switching rice for quinoa will boost your protein by 2 grams per serving.
Finally, incorporating a daily shake or two into your routine will keep you on the right track. Whey powder is the most quickly absorbed and contains the most leucine (choose a whey isolate), but there are also lots of great plant protein powders out there for vegans or those who can’t tolerate dairy.
For a delicious high-protein (30g) snack or meal, try combining a quarter cup of part-skim ricotta cheese, half a cup of Greek yogurt and a tablespoon of honey (or 2/3 cup berries). Top with 1/4 cup of walnuts or almonds and enjoy!
Keep in mind, if high-protein is a big shift for you, you need to drink 50% more water than you were drinking before. You also want to avoid excessive alcohol consumption (more than 1-2 drinks a day), as that will hinder your protein synthesis and limit your body’s ability to repair itself.
A day’s worth of protein!
You’ve got the basics, so how could you put that into a real day? Here’s a meal plan that would keep you well within the guidelines and contains lots of tasty ideas:
Breakfast: 2-egg omelette or a tofu scramble with veggies and cheese/daiya
Lunch: Salad with 100g protein topper (salmon, tuna, chicken breast, cheese or tempeh, etc.)
Dinner: Lean protein (steak, chicken, beans) with lots of veggies
Post-training: Protein shake
Pre-bed Snack: Straight-up protein – cottage cheese, chicken or turkey breast