Do athletic peeps need more protein?

Do athletic peeps need more protein?

The notion that extra protein is required for athletic performance is a hot and highly debated topic among experts (and has been for centuries, dating back to the Ancient Greeks). As it turns out, there is, in fact, substantial evidence suggesting that physically active individuals do have higher protein needs than members of the general population.

I will delve into this but first, let’s quickly “101” nutrients.

Our bodies need food and its nutrients to maintain and promote optimal health. Nutrients come in two sizes – big and small. The big ones are macronutrients, and they are contained in foods in greater proportions, and we need them in larger quantities for a broad spectrum of bodily uses.

The small ones are micronutrients. Micronutrients are present in foods in lesser proportions, our bodies need them for hundreds of functions but in far smaller quantities than macronutrients.

For all intents and purposes, macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, fats, water, and fibre (yes, fibre comes from carbohydrate sources but serves a different function in the body). Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (special nutrients that come from plants).

Ok. So, protein.

We need protein to build muscle, not only skeletal muscle but cardiac and smooth muscle, too. Cardiac muscle is that of the heart and smooth muscle forms a portion of the walls of the esophagus, stomach, intestines, bronchi in the lungs, uterus, urethra, bladder, and blood vessels, and more. Protein also makes up part of tendons, skin, hair, and nails.

But our bodies’ needs for protein also include tissue repair, regulating metabolic pathways, fuel for energy production, transporting other nutrients throughout the body (including oxygen), regulating blood clotting, and to make enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters (like adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin).

A few things to remember about protein is the body is great at recycling it, breaking it down, and building more.

The body is also good at converting excess protein to sugar (glucose). This is a good thing because glucose is used for energy. But, since the body can only use so much glucose at any given moment, the rest gets stored as glycogen. And, once the glycogen stores are full, excess sugar is converted to fat and the bulk of this fat is stored around the midriff of the body.

Another thing to bear in mind is that protein is broken down into amino acids and so are naturally acidic (particularly animal protein). Plant-based p, so a diet high in animal protein may lend towards greater acidity, whereas plant protein is naturally alkaline. So if you are inclined towards animal protein, taking a day or two off each week from it and replace it with plant protein could be beneficial, so to promote balance and help to create a more alkaline environment.

Generally speaking, healthy people of average physical activity do not need to include more than 0.8-1.0g protein per kilogram of lean body mass per day (this is pretty much limited to animal protein – you can eat as much plant protein as you want). A great app to use for determining the protein content of foods is Cronometer.

Athletic individuals require additional protein to balance the increased breakdown of protein during and following exercise, and to help with muscle repair and growth. Exercise also activates a key enzyme that preps certain amino acids in the muscle that are then metabolized for fuel.

Exact protein requirements depend on the individual, as well as the type, intensity, and duration of their training; and these needs differ further for endurance athletes versus strength and power athletes.

Here are some general guidelines*:

Type of Athlete

Daily protein per kilogram of lean body mass per day

Normal, healthy individual of average physical activity


Endurance Athlete – moderate or heavy training


Strength and power athlete


Athlete on fat-loss program


Athlete on weight-gain program


*Please review my disclaimer at the end of this article. 

I would be remiss if I did not speak to the importance of good quality when choosing animal protein. Therefore, I recommend aiming for:

·      organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed/grass-finished beef and lamb– these animals have lived a stress-free existence (stress contributes to inflammation), have not been injected with hormones and antibiotics and have been permitted to eat grass. Grass is their natural food source, which converts in part to anti-inflammatory omega-3 through the animal’s digestive process. When these animals are fed grains, corn and soy, they promote inflammation.

·      organic, free-range poultry and eggs (also higher in omega-3 fats)

·      sustainably caught, wild cold-water fish (aim for SMASH fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovy, Sardine, Herring) as they are higher in omega-3 fats.

·      a note regarding dairy – dairy is acid-forming and very often an allergen, which may lead to an immune reaction (particularly cow’s dairy); both, the acidic and allergenic nature of cow’s dairy tend to promote inflammation. For this reason, it is best to minimize or avoid it. Goat and sheep dairy are far more digestible and therefore are less likely to trigger an immune reaction. For all dairy, it is best to choose organic, grass-fed, pasture raised.

Thanks for reading.

Krista is currently accepting new clients, so if you are interested in getting individualized recommendations and support, go to to book a free 30-min discovery call. If you’d like to learn more about Krista, check out her website ( or on social media (@alzheimers.nutritionist).

The information being provided to you in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. It is being provided to you to educate you about healthy eating and living, and as a self-help tool for your own use. It is not health care, medical or nutritional therapy advice, or an attempt to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any physical, mental, or emotional issue, disease or condition. This information is to be used at your own risk based on your own judgment. For my full Disclaimer, please go to (


Bean, A. 2013. The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition; 7th Ed. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, London. 331pp.
Haas, E.M. 2006. Staying Healthy with Nutrition, 21st century ed. Random House Publishing, New York. 927pp.