Athletes are often told that they need to consume more and more protein in order build muscle and perform well. They actually need to eat more of all macronutrients but the ratio of those nutrients should stay the same. Most Americans consume far too much protein and if protein were necessary for muscle building we would all look like Mr. Universe… but when you look around… you don’t see very many rippling muscles. Oh well… so much for that theory. The only thing that builds muscle is resistance training. If an athlete isn’t building muscle they simply are not working vigorously enough or their workouts are not being done properly.
The proper diet for an athlete is the same as for anyone else but they should consume more calories (the diet should be based on complex carbohydrates). This is the source of our energy regardless of who you are and what you do. A study was conducted at the University of Birmingham in England on athletic performance. Two groups of male runners were given diets of 40% and 65% carbohydrate. It was an 11 day test; the runners were timed on a daily 16K run. Those who ate the lower carb diet were 8% slower than the other group, experienced more mood swings and many of them were forced to drop out of the study. Wow! That’s significant!
I’ll bet you can guess why this happened. Since we need glucose to fuel our cells the lower carb diet just did not give the runners enough energy to finish an endurance run. As for the mood swings… our brain requires lots of glucose and cannot function well without the fuel. Our body uses glucose for fuel and the most efficient way to get it into our body is with complex carbohydrates… not protein. Also protein is a source of IGF-1 (see email 148). Lean runners who consume a high-protein diet have elevated levels of IGF-1.
So the theory that athletes need more protein is not such a great idea. Their level of physical activity does not protect them from dietary excess. They need the same diet that you and I need with the addition of more calories but not more protein.