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Health and Nutrition

Protein and Athletes


What is protein?

Protein is a nutrient that is necessary for life. Protein is a major building block for cells in the body. When people talk about protein they are typically referring to dietary protein, the proteins that we eat.

Why do we need protein?

Cells in our body are constantly being broken down and rebuilt. Protein is what allows our bodies to rebuild these cells. When we eat protein our body breaks it down into amino acids which are then used to rebuild different cells throughout the body including, skin, organs and muscle tissue.

Why is protein important for athletes?

Protein is especially important for athletes. The reason for this because when you work out your muscle tissues tear and break down. Protein is essential in repairing the damaged muscle tissue, and this is how we get stronger. When our bodies rebuild these tears in our muscle tissues, it rebuilds them stronger than they were prior to the workout. If we give our muscles the right balance and amounts of amino acids (proteins), we allow our bodies optimal muscle growth. Without proper protein intake we may end up with only a fraction of the muscle growth that we are capable of achieving.

How much protein do I need?

There are a lot of theories out there about this question. Some people say the more the better, but realistically too much protein can lead to dehydration (which inhibits muscle growth), and can cause damage to the kidneys. To find out how much you should eat simply convert your body weight to kilograms (Weight in pounds / 2.2). From there, the recommended protein intake is 1 - 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram body weight. It would be very hard to get too much protein, but figure this formula out and use your food journal to help you stay on track with the right amount of protein.

How do I get protein?

Some protein rich foods include; beans, nuts, meat, poultry, fish and dairy. Though these are some of the most protein dense foods, protein is found in much of the foods you eat. Making sure you get a variety of protein sources is important to ensure that you get all of the right amino acids in your diet.

Protein intake advice for athletes:

Here is some final advice for getting proper protein for athletes. First, make sure your diet is high in protein rich foods. Next you want to make sure you are eating snacks high in protein and carbs about 30-60 minutes prior to your workout! A good option here is a protein bar, and yes sugar is good at this point, as long as it has protein as well. Protein shake during and/or after a workout is HIGHLY recommended! The quicker protein gets in your system after a workout the quicker your body can start to rebuild muscle. Your body starts to lose the benefits of a workout within 15 minutes if it does not have proper amounts of protein to begin rebuilding the muscles. Protein shakes are the preferred method here because liquid protein is digested quicker than solid. This means the protein will enter the blood stream much quicker than if your body has to break down solid food before it can absorb the protein. Eating dinner high in protein will help your body continue to rebuild the muscles. Having a protein rich snack about 1 hour prior to going to sleep can help provide your body with the right tools to continue building muscle while you sleep. During sleep your body tends to run out of carbs and other energy sources and is forced to eat away muscle tissue instead. A protein rich snack before bed can help prevent this. As mentioned before, your body may turn to muscle for energy during sleep. Eating protein first thing in the morning can help your body maintain muscle growth instead of eating away muscle tissue.

What to look for in a protein shake:

Whey. You should find a protein shake that is 100% whey protein. If you are concerned about adding supplements you should know: MANY protein shakes add creatine. If you don't want creatine, check the ingredients. They don't typically advertise that a protein mix includes creatine. I can say honestly I don't believe creatine to be harmful, it is produced naturally in the body and is used to to complete the energy cycle in the cells. Here is additional information about creatine.

Final piece of advice:

Athletes should be careful to make sure they are eating plenty of protein all day. Making sure your body always has enough is important. DRINK PROTEIN SHAKES AFTER A WORKOUT, at the gym is best, not when you get home. Without protein your body CAN NOT build muscle. Without building muscle you CAN NOT get stronger.

Health and Nutrition


Parent / Rower Nutrition Information:

Here are a few basic guidelines for rowers to follow to help achieve peak performance as a result of a healthy diet. Proper nutrition requires the correct combination of nutrients to help the body recover and reach high performance.


The first nutrient athletes should be concerned with is protein. 20% of daily calorie intake should be made up of protein. Proteins are made up of amino acids that the body uses to rebuild. There are 8 essential amino acids that the body cannot create; the rest the body can create using the 8 essentials. If you are on a vegetarian diet, you must be concerned about these essential amino acids, as they are much harder to get a complete balance if you are not consuming animal products. Proteins are mostly found in meat, poultry, fish, beans, nuts and legumes.


The second nutrient athletes should be concerned with is carbohydrates, or “carbs”. Carbs should comprise of about 50% of an athletes diet. Essentially the body uses carbs as energy and should be consumed throughout the day to keep high glycogen levels. Glycogen is the energy source that athletes rely on the most. Athletes should consume approximately 50-75 grams of carbs about one hour before exercise. They should consume approximately another 75 grams of carbs directly after exercising (within 30 minutes) to replenish depleted glycogen stores. The carbs consumed after exercise should be in the form of glucose, such as juice or sports drinks. Carbs can be found in foods such as rice, bread, cereal, pasta, fruits, vegetables and beans. When consuming carbs athletes should try to consume whole grains (wheat does not make a difference unless it specifies “whole grain” in the ingredients). They should also try to avoid simple sugars except directly after exercise. Simple sugars are found in things like soda, candy, cookies or ice cream. Sugars in fruits and vegetables are not simple sugars.


Another nutrient athletes need to be concerned about is fats. Around 30% of calories consumed by athletes should be fats. Fats are necessary for many things in the body and should not be ignored. Not eating enough fats could be very detrimental to an athlete’s performance. Fats are in foods such as dairy, meat, poultry, fish, nuts, beans, and oils. Fats found in fish, olive oil, and nuts are especially helpful to the body.


Water is one of the most important nutrients in the body. The human body is made of about 60-70% of water, and muscles are made up of 70-75% water. Water is essential for almost everything the body does, including the immune system. The first thing a rower should do if they are beginning to feel sick is increase fluids in their diet. Rowers should not wait until they feel thirsty to drink water. When a person feels thirsty they are already 2-3% dehydrated, which leads to 15-20% decrease in muscle endurance. Any higher than 2-3% dehydration is much more serious than that even. Once a person is dehydrated it takes 2 hours, after consumption of a proper amount of water, for the body to go back to a healthy hydration level.


A good idea for rowers is to eat a breakfast high in calories. This should be a well balanced meal with carbs, fats, proteins and fruits and/or vegetables. Rowers should also be taking a daily multi-vitamin. For lunch a rower should eat a meal a similar to breakfast, but with more of a focus on carbs. Snacks during the day should include more carbs (preferably fruits and veggies). Directly after practice a rower should consume foods high in glucose (sports drinks and fruit juices are recommended) as well as proteins. This combination will help the rower replenish electrolytes (with the sugar) and help begin rebuilding muscles damaged by exercise (with the protein). Dinner for the athlete should be lower in carbs and fats, and should consist highly of protein. A good dinner would include plenty of meat, fish or poultry, as well as a generous serving of vegetables.


All athletes should also be taking a daily multivitamin. It is very important to make sure that athletes are getting all of their vitamins daily. The best way to do this is to include a daily multivitamin.

Gaining/Losing Weight

Athletes attempting to put weight on should increase calories all around, but focus on proteins. Athletes attempting to lose weight should consult their coach before attempting to do so. Losing weight too quickly, or in the wrong ways can be extremely dangerous to rowers.

Calories Burned

To give you an idea of what kind of calories you are burning each day:

Basal Metabolic Rate measures the calories you would burn in a day if you did not step foot out of bed. A 15 year girl that is 5’6” and weighs 120lbs has a BMR of about 1400. Going to school for 6 hours plus 2 hours at the gym is burning approximately an extra 1,150 calories for the same 120lbs girl. This means that this 5’6” 15 year old, 120lbs girl is burning approximately 2550 calories per day. The BMR and calories for a 5’10” 150lbs 15 year old male would total to be about 3230 calories. This is an approximation, and more likely than not these are lowball estimates for these calorie amounts.

Find other resources online

Find an online calorie tracker here: http://www.livestrong.com/thedailyplate/
This site is great for keeping track of calories, and making sure you have a good balance of fats, carbs and proteins. It will also help you keep on track with a weight goal

Find out what your BMR is by visiting http://health.discovery.com/centers/heart/basal/basal.html

Calories burned for specific activities: http://www.healthstatus.com/calculate/cbc
I like this calculator because it includes common activies, such as studying.

Find more nutrition info here: http://www.livestrong.com/diet-and-nutrition/

New! Nutrition article: http://www.theathlete.org/fitness/caloric-efficiency.htm
This article is very detailed and a little wordy. If you're very interested in nutrition it's a good read with good information.