Protein and Exercise

Why is protein important?

  • Consuming protein after exercise enhances muscle protein building
  • Eating protein within the hour after exercise helps to prolong the muscle building effect of exercise, promotes muscle gain and prevents muscle losses
  • It helps to maintain muscle mass
  • It promotes satiety and fullness
  • It is the building block of every cell in body
  • It is needed for the growth & repair of every cell in our body
  • Helps make enzymes, hormones, and other important body chemicals
  • Important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, blood
  • Good source of nutrients such as iron, vitamin B12 and zinc

What are the good sources of protein?

Animal-based foods are the best sources of protein, however, protein can be found in non-animal foods as well. It is best to get a variety of different protein based foods such as fish, eggs, dairy, legumes and red meat as they each have a unique nutritional profile. Vegetarians or vegan protein foods such as beans and rice tend to be lacking in one or more essential amino acid. Protein matching is a great idea where two vegetarian foods are paired to provide a complete protein

  • Lean red meat e.g. lamb, beef, kangaroo
  • Lean chicken
  • Turkey
  • Free range eggs
  • Fish and seafood: Salmon, white fish, tuna, prawns
  • Yoghurt e.g. Greek yoghurt, Danone Yopro, Chobani
  • Milk: Cow’s milk or soy milk
  • Cheese
  • Tofu
  • Quorn mince
  • Legumes e.g. chickpeas, lentils, black beans
  • Protein powders e.g. WPI, WPC, Soy protein
  • Quinoa
  • Fake meats e.g. veggie delite sausages, nut meat

Plant protein vs Animal protein for muscle building?

  • Proteins are made up of 20 amino acids (AA), 11 are essential amino acids(EAA). We need to eat enough protein to get the EAAs which are the tiny building blocks of protein that our bodies can’t make
  • Animal proteins provide all essential amino acids, whereas plant proteins are deficient in at least 1 of the EAAs. Animal proteins are therefore more effective for muscle building
  • For our overall health and wellbeing however it is important to not overdo meat as it can be harmful in large amounts. Incorporate some meat free meals which include legumes or fish throughout the week.

How much protein should I eat if I am exercising?

How much protein you should eat depends on lots of different factors including:

  • What type of exercise you are engaging in e.g. running for 90mins vs heavy weight session for 60mins
  • Your age
  • Your gender
  • How much lean muscle mass you have?
  • What your goals are i.e. fat loss vs muscle gain

Make sure to speak to book in and speak to one of our Sports Dietitians to get a personalised plan based on your goals and current exercise routine.

As a general rule of thumb it is ideal to consume protein within 3hrs after finishing exercise. We used to think there was a magic window of 60mins where protein had to be consumed to build muscle, however, even protein consumed over the next 24-48hrs helps to build muscle. Approximately 25-30g of protein immediately after exercise and every 3-4 hours after over a 12-hour post-exercise recovery period is best for building and maintaining muscle. For total body workouts which may involve all major muscle groups such as a CrossFit session or total body weight session, 40-60g of protein post-exercise may be more ideal.

If we consider protein needs over a day, 1.6g protein/kg bodyweight/day appears to be optimal for building muscle. The highest level of protein intake that may help with building muscle is 2.2g protein /kg bodyweight/day. Protein intakes above this do not yield any additional benefit in building muscle.

e.g. 60kg woman = 1.6 x 60 = 96g protein = 25g of protein at breakfast lunch and dinner and 10g at morning tea and afternoon tea.

Breakfast is most common meal people fail to meet protein intake so be conscious of including it in your meal. It is important to eat every 3-4h hours and spread your protein intake out.

Protein counter

The foods roughly equate to 25g of protein

  • 80-100g chicken breast, lamb, beef, pork, turkey
  • One serve (30g) whey protein or soy protein
  • 100g tuna or tinned/fresh fish
  • 600mL milk
  • 250g Greek yoghurt
  • 200g tofu
  • 4 x eggs or 2 whole eggs + 4 egg whites
  • 400g legumes e.g. chickpeas

Remember that consuming protein with carbohydrate helps replenish muscle stores faster so include carbohydrates with your protein too!

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