Q. How important are carbohydrates vs. proteins for runners?
Today's literature seems to say all sorts of things?
A. Runners (and all athletes) need carbs to fuel the muscles (and the brain)
and protein to build and repair muscles. Carbs and protein do different jobs
in the body so we need to consume both.
All carbs (fruits, veggies, grains and sugars) digest into glucose, the fuel
preferred by the brain. If you have low blood glucose, you’ll feel lightheaded
and dizzy. No need to get to that point with proper fueling
(plus being light-headedis no fun)!
Your body needs more calories from carbs than protein:
--about 2 to 5 grams carb per pound of body weight
(depending on how active you are)
--about 0.5 to 0.9 grams protein per pound
(depending if you are a fully-muscled adult or a growing teenager).
Rather than get caught up in numbers, just be sure to have wholesome grains,
fruits and veggies as the foundation of each meal (two-thirds of the plate),
with some protein as the accompaniment. You’ll end up with the right balance.
But if you have just a protein shake, let’s say for a recovery food,
you will lack the carbs needed to refuel the muscles. Make that protein
shake into a carb-protein fruit smoothie!
Or if you have a chicken Caesar salad (protein and fat), be sure to have a
whole grain bagel with it, or crackers, or add some rice to the salad.
How much protein does a weight-lifter need to get an optimal response from exercise? --Is it an absolute amount or grams per kilogram body weight?
Speaking at a symposium spononsored by PINES (www.PINESNutrition.org), protein researcher Daniel Moore PhD of the University of Guelph in Canada reported that for generalized advice, 20 grams of post-exercise protein does the job for the average athlete. More is not better. In a study that compared 20 and 40 grams, the higher 40-gram dose offered minimal additional benefits for muscle protein synthesis. Don’t waste your money on supplements, and also don’t fill up on protein while ignoring your needs for carbohydrates to refuel your muscles. You want to consume three times more carbs than protein!
For more personalized advice, the best bet is to determine post-exercise protein needs according to body weight. Moore recommends targeting about 0.25 g protein per kilogram body weight (that’s about .11 gram per pound) to maximize muscle protein synthesis. This means:
-- a 50 kg (110 lb) female would need approximately 12.5 grams protein post-exercise
--a 100 kg (220 pound) man, would need about 25 grams protein post-exercise.
Any excessprotein primarily gets burned as fuel or stored as fat.
You want to offer your muscles a continous supply of protein, so enjoy repeated “doses” throughout the day. Most athletes do this naturally with meals and snacks.
For certain! At a recent meeting sponsored by P.I.N.E.S. (an international group of sports dietitians who met at the American College of Sports Medicine’s Annual Convention, June 1, 2012 in San Francisco), Dr. Stuart Phillips, PhD of McMaster University in Canada reminded us that rapidly-growing infants require 1.3 grams protein per kilogram, whereas the RDA for fully-grown adults is 0.8 grams protein per kilogram body weight. Adults need less protein because they simply are not growing as fast as infants and young children.
The same goes for novice athletes who are building muscle; they have higher protein needs than a sedentary person. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), according to Phillips, is really a minimal dietary allowance for athletes. Just as children have higher protein needs during growth periods, athletes also have higher requirements to 1) build muscles and 2) maintain a flow of amino acids for processes that may function at a higher rates in athletes than non-athletes (such as the synthesis of protein, neurotransmitters, and immune proteins).
Phillips supported the ACSM Position Stand on Nutrition for Athletes, citing their recommended daily protein intake of 1.2 g/kg body weight (0.5 g/lb) for endurance athletes and 1.7 g/kg body weight (0.75 g/lb) for strength athletes.
Most elite athletes eat 1.6 grams protein/kg/day, spread over 4 to 5 meals and snacks, so they already meet this higher protein recommendation without the use of supplements. Hence, the real answer to the question “do some people need more protein than others?” is yes, but they likely get that extra amount in their standard diet; they just have less excess. Them ore you exercise, the hungrier you get and the more protein you are likely to eat.
What’s the right ratio of carbs and protein? I was on a high protein, low carbohydrate diet to try to lose weight but my workouts sucked. I know carbs are important for athletes -- but what’s the right balance?
The good news is carbohydrates are NOT fattening so you have no need to cut back on them as a part of a weight reduction plan. Excess calories are fattening, in particular,excess calories of fat. People lose weight when they give up carbs because they actually give up the dietary fat that accompanies the carbs:
--butter on the potato,
--mayo on the sandwich,
--cheesesauce on thepasta.
Initially,the dieters also lose water-weight, because for each one ounce of carb stored in your muscles as glycogen, your body stores about three ounces of water. When you deplete the carbs by exercising, you lose the water (weight).
The carbohydrates in fruits, vegetables and grain-foods are important for athletes because only carbs convert into muscle glycogen, the fuel that keeps you from “hitting the wall.” Glycogen depletion is associated with fatigue. You'll have trouble doing hard exercise with a low carb diet.
You should plan a sports diet that includes quality carbs as the foundation of each meal, such as
--cereal for breakfast,
--sandwich bread with lunch, and
--starch(rice, noodles, pasta, potato) with dinner.
Round out the meal with more carbs from fruits and veggies.
You want more grams of carbs than grams of protein. Include at least 200 to 300 calories of grain-food per meal—about 1/3 of your plate. Protein should take up about ¼-1/3 of the plate and be the accompaniment to the carbs, but not the main focus of the meal. Choose additional “quality carbs” from fruits, vegetables and whole grain breads to round out the meal. These are preferable to the sugary carbs (sweets and treats) that can also fuel your muscles but fail to invest in optimal health.
Do runners and body builders need the same amount of protein?
Yes—when you calculate protein needs based on body weight. A more-than-adequate intake for both types of athletes is about 0.75 grams protein per pound body weight (1.5 grams protein per kilogram). While this need will be slightly higher if the athlete is restricting calories or in a growth spurt, 1 gram protein per pound (2.0 g pro/kg) is the maximum needed per day.
Let’s do some math:
140 pound runner = 106 g protein per day
240 pound body builder – 180 grams protein per day
Either of these amounts of protein is easily obtained by enjoying a protein-rich food with each meal. Here are three easy ways to meet your protein needs:
Cottage cheese, 1 cup 30 g
Tuna, 6-ounce can 35-40 g protein
Chicken breast, 6 ounces 50 g
Because a 240-pound body builder can easily devour a 16-ounce (two cup) tub of cottage cheese, a few cans of tuna (for a mere snack), and two chicken breasts, he’ll match his protein requirements without needing supplements.
Speaking at the 27th annual symposium of SCAN (the Sports and Cardiovascular Nutritionists’ group of the American Dietetic Association), Dr. John Ivy, PhD of the Department of Kinesiology & Health Education at the University of Texas-Austin shared these pointers:
• During extended exercise, your muscles need water, carbohydrate, electrolytes, and perhaps protein. While the need for protein during exercise to enhance performance can be debated, consuming protein will not be detrimental. For example, adding protein to a sports drink can lower post-exercisce markers of muscle damage, reduce post-exercise muscle soreness, and enhance recovery.
• Consuming protein before and after you lift weights optimizes gains in muscle mass and power.
• If you are serious about building muscle, you should eat meals and snacks consistently throughout the day, to provide a steady infusion of carbohydrates (to fuel) and protein (to build and repair) muscles.
• Eating breakfast is important to take the body out of a catabolic (breaking-down) state. Don't skip this morning meal!
• Consuming a small (100-calorie) high protein snack (such as some turkey or cottage cheese) before going to bed can enhance the availability of amino acids throughout the night. Anabolic (muscle building) activity is highest at night, so this snack can help optimize muscular development.
Nancy. I’ve heard I should eat a 3 or 4 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein right after I exercise, but I don't know what that looks like in terms of food. So, to be safe, I buy commercial recovery foods and drinks to be sure I get the right ratio. Are there other options?
Answer: The goal in a sports diet is to consume about three or four times more calories from carbs than from protein. The ratio need not be exact. You just don’t want to consume a heavy amount of protein that displaces carbs (i.e., if you fill up on a big steak, you are not filling up on pasta). You also do not want heavy recovery foods (high fat, high protein, such as a burger) that sit in the stomach and slowly digest.
Commercial recovery foods and beverages are more about convenience than necessity. You can enjoyably refuel with chocolate milk, fruit yogurt, a sandwich, or pasta with meat sauce. By backing your workout into a carb-based sports meal (such as spaghetti with meat balls, stir-fried chicken and veggies with lots of rice), you'll get more carbs than protein, and plenty of fuel for your muscles.
Whether or not a protein-carb recovery beverage is superior to a carb-only beverage remains questionable. In a recent study (Green, 2008) in which athletes drank either a carb or a carb-protein recovery drink immediately after muscle-damaging downhill running, both beverages offered a similar recovery process over the course of three days. The authors conclude the meals that they ate (in addition to the recovery drink) in those post-exercise days supplied the protein and carbs needed to recover.
You won’t go wrong by refueling soon after exercise with a carb-protein combination if you done exhausting exercise and aren't yet ready to eat a meal. If you prefer engineered foods because they are convenient, buy them. But if you prefer the wholesome goodness of chocolate milk, yogurt and a banana, a fruit smoothie (milk, banana, berries), a bowl of cereal, and other tasty protein-carb combinations, save your money and enjoy real food instead. And remember, immediately consuming recovery foods is most important for the athlete who has exhausted him or herself and will be exercising again within the next six hours. Fitness exercisers need not get obsessed!
Green MS, Corona BT, Doyle JA, Ingalls CP. Carbohydrate-protein drinks do not enhance recovery from exercise-induced muscle injury. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2008;18(1):1-18.
Whether you are a health professional who works with active people or an athlete, here’s your chance to learn how to eat to win!
Sports Nutritionist Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD and exercise physiologist/protein researcher William Evans PhD will share their knowledge and experiences with helping active people of all ages enhance their performance, health, and weight management skills.
If you endure an intense workout and want to optimize your recovery, pay attention to what you eat beforeyou exercise. According to research presented at this year’s annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, consuming protein before lifting weights may enhance recovery better than consuming a protein recovery drink afterwards. That’s because your body digests the pre-exercise protein into amino acids (yes, your body can digest food during exercise) and puts those amino acids into action repairing damaged muscles.
Both your pre-exercise diet as well as your recovery diet should include some protein -- but with a foundation of carbs. That’s because protein builds and heals muscles, but carbs are needed to refuel the muscles. Don’t consume just protein, as in a protein shake or protein bar. Rather, enjoy a protein-carb combination: yogurt + fruit, bagel + peanut butter, cereal + milk, chocolate milk, apple + cheese, pasta + meatballs. There are lots of yummy food combinations that do an excellent job of both repairing and refueling your body. You need not buy engineered protein to enhance recovery. Save your money and spend it instead on real foods that offer far more than health value, if not good taste.
If you like the convenience of protein shakes, at least add carbs to them. That is, blend in some banana and frozen berries, or enjoy some graham crackers along side the shake. You’ll recover better if you consume three times more carbs than protein. That’s contrary to what many well-intentioned athletes consume when they snack on pre-exercise protein bars, drink post-exercise protein shakes, and then dine on three chicken breasts for dinner. Excess protein does not turn into a bigger bicep by breakfast! Exercise builds muscle, and your muscles need carbs for fuel to do the muscle-building exercise.
For help finding the right balance for your diet, consult with a sports dietitian. The referral network at www.SCANdpg.org can help you find someone local.
Nancy, I eat a vegan diet, hence I do not drink cow’s milk. Which is a better source of protein: soy, almond or rice milk?
There’s no debate: Soy milk is a far superior source of protein compared to almond or rice milk. That’s because soy, like cow’s milk, contains complete proteins and offers all the essential amino acids needed for building muscles and healthy bodies. Almond milk and rice milk, on the other hand, are protein-poor. Their labels even say, “Not to be used as an infant formula”. That says to me the products are not life sustaining. That is, a little baby can thrive on soy (or cow) milk, but not rice or almond milk. Note: the term “milk” can be misleading. A preferable term is “beverage”, “drink” or “dairy alternative.”
When comparing the food labels, you can see that:
• Soy milk offers about 7 to 11 grams of protein per 8 ounces (depending on the brand).
• Almond milk offers only 1 grams of protein per 8 ounces. Almonds are expensive, so not much ends up in the beverage. You’d be better off eating a handful of whole almonds.
• Rice milk offers 1 gram protein —or less—per 8 ounces. Rice milk is mostly carbohydrate and is “watery.”
Most almond, rice and soy beverages are fortified with calcium, but be sure to read the label because not all are fortified. For example, Nature’s Promise rice milk has 30% of the RDA for calcium whereas Rice Dream offers only 2%.
You want to buy a product that is not only calcium-fortified but also fortified with (at least) vitamin D and B-12.
In terms of taste and acceptability, you’ll want to sample several brands; they can vary greatly in taste and texture. The most popular options tend to be sweetened with rice syrup, evaporate cane juice or some other natural sweetener.
Here’s how some popular brands compare (8 ounces per serving):
Almond Breeze 60 calories 1 g Protein 2.5 g Fat 30% calcium
Nature’s Promise 100 calories 0 g Protein 2 g fat 30% calcium
Rice Dream 120 calories 1 g Protein 2.5 g Fat 2% calcium
Silk 100 calories 7 g protein 4 g Fat 30% calcium
EdenSoy 130 calories 11 g protein 4 g Fat 20% calcium
“Since I’ve given up meat, I’ve been eating lots of nuts and peanut butter for protein” reported my client. She thought she was eating TONS of protein, but the reality is, nuts and peanut butter are not as protein-dense as many people think.
While nuts do offer protein, only about 5 to 10% of their calories come from protein and about 70% of their calories come from fat. (The good news is, the fat in nuts is health-protective so is a positive addition to a sports diet.)
Most athletes need at least 60 grams of protein. Two tablespoons of peanut butter offer only 8 grams of protein for 180 calories. You could get three times more protein—26 grams of protein—in the same amount of calories of Greek yogurt!
Beans (as in kidney beans or hummus) are also lower in protein than many vegetarians realize. Beans offer about 6 grams of protein in a half-cup. While they are a smart choice for athletes because they offer a hefty does of carbs and can both fuel the muscles and heal/build muscles, they only offer about 12 grams of protein per 180 calories.
You also have to eat big portions of tofu and garden burgers…
The trick to getting enough protein as a vegetarian is to read the food labels for protein information. You'll discover you need to consume generous amounts of plant proteins at each meal and snack. Yes, you can successfully consume a balanced vegetarian diet; you just need to educate yourself about the protein content of the foods you choose. More information is readily available in the protein chapter of my Sports Nutrition Guidebook.
“What percent of my calories should come from carbohydrates, protein and fat?” my client asked in his efforts to improve his sports diet and his performance. “Should it be 40% carb, 30% protein and 30% fat? Or 65-15-30?” Clearly, he had been reading the popular literature and felt totally confused by the mixed messages.
According to the American Dietetic Association’s Position Stand on Nutrition and Athletic Performance, active people should target a diet with 50 to 65% of calories from carbs, 10 to 35% from protein and 20 to 35% from fat. But the paper goes on to say that percentages are not the best way to calculate a food plan for athletes. Here’s an example why:
• If you are a 150 pound high school soccer player who wants to add muscle and require about 4,000 calories a day to support your traiing and growth, a diet with 10 to 15% of calories from protein would offer 400 to 600 calories of protein or 100 to 150 grams protein. This comes to about 0.65 to 1.0 grams protein per pound. Perfect!
• If you are a light-weight rower who is trying to drop five pounds to make weight and are eating only 1,600 calories a day, 10 to 15% of calories from protein translates into 160 to 240 calories of protein, or 40 to 60 grams protein. (There are 4 calories per gram of protein.). Forty to 60 grams of protein is way too low. Dieting athletes need about 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight (1.5 g pro/kg). The rower who weighs 140 lbs. would need closer to 100 grams protein per day, not 40 to 60.
Instead of fretting about percentages of calories, try this simple concept:
--Choose three different kinds of foods with each meal (such as cereal + milk+ banana or salad + cottage cheese + chick peas)
--Enjoy carbs (fruits, veggies, grains) as the foundation of each meal and protein (meats, dairy, nuts) as the accompaniment.
You'll end up with the right balance of protein and carbs as well as vitamins and minerals.
Question: Should I use L-glutamine to reduce muscle soreness after a hard workout?
Answer: Supplementing with L-glutamine is an expensive way to get an amino acid .... you can get it in any protein-rich food. While L-glutamine might enhance recovery of patients in the hospital who have cancer, AIDS, or bowel problems and are not eating, the chances are that you, as a healthy athlete, can consume a multitude of amino acids (not just L-glutamine) through your diet.
Certainly, the best way to enhance recovery is to fuel up before exercise with a carb-protein snack (recovery can actually start pre-exercise, so the "tools" to recover are already in your system) and then to refuel afterwards, again with some carbs + protein. The carbs provide fuel and the protein heals and builds.
Some popular pre- and/or post-exercise options include yogurt, a little cereal/milk, half a sandwich, or lowfat chocolate milk--all in portions that settles well. You really don't need to buy engineered foods. Simply pay more attention to having the right foods readily available; don't let nutrition be your missing link.
What you eat pre-exercise should last you about 60 to 90 minutes, and then you want to target about 200 to 300 calories per hour. Some athletes choose gels because they are convenient, but you need not spend your money on engineered foods. They are more about convenience than necessity. Other athletes enjoy banana, gummy candy, dried fruit, rice crispie treats, twizzlers ... and carb-based food that tastes good and settles well. Experiment to figure out what foods and fluids work best for your body. By staying well fueled, you will be able to recover more easily.
My Sports Nutrition Guidebook offers abundant information and food tips about how to best fuel before, during and after exercise, so you can get the most from your workouts.
Eat wisely and well, and enjoy less muscle soreness and better workouts.