High Performance Doesn’t Require a High Protein Diet

There is a misunderstanding regarding claims that athletes must eat high protein low carbohydrate diets in order to maximize performance. Following this type of diet may actually lower performance and create long term health issues.

528463_wing_steakCarbohydrates are the most important source of energy for athletes. Athletes should typically eat between 55-60% carbohydrates in total calorie intake from unrefined and unprocessed sources such as whole wheat breads, pastas, crackers, brown rice, oatmeal, and fruits and vegetables. The body is able to convert carbohydrates to energy more quickly and efficiently than protein or fat. Carbohydrates provide several B vitamins as well as important minerals. Carbohydrate consumption does not in itself cause weight gain. Any overeating, whether fat, protein, or carbohydrate will cause weight gain.

Protein is important with the production of hormones, blood cells, enzymes, and assists with immune function. It is used as fuel when the body runs out of carbohydrates. However, substituting protein for carbohydrates can actually result in a reduced performance while exercising as well as added fat storage in the body. Athletes can “hit the wall” from the body’s inability to manage energy correctly from a lack of carbohydrates.

A good rule of thumb for an athlete’s diet is 12-15% protein, 25-30% fat, and 55-60% carbohydrates. Protein requirements for an athlete are slightly higher than for non-athletes.

Sports Nutrition

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