Plant-Based Athletics and Protein Needs: Pt. 2 of 3
Updated: Oct 18, 2019
The Nitty Gritty
In the previous article, you got a run down of what proteins are, why we need them, where to get them and their roles. Now let’s get down to some of the nitty gritty and talk about how this applies to athleticism and those wanting to adopt a more plant-based diet into their athletic endeavors.
Through a process called transamination, existing amino acids, whether eaten through food or broken down through tissue catabolism, are reused.
How much protein do we need? There is a great deal of research on protein needs and there are many different philosophies. The most basic number to consider is .8 grams of protein per kg. body weight. However, many sources cite this as what the average, inactive person may need. [49, 48]. I use this number when explaining protein needs to the average lay person. So for someone who is 150lbs, this would come out to be about 55g. of protein per day. And for someone eating 2000-2500 calories per day, this comes out to be about 9-11% of calories coming from protein. But what about athletes? Don’t they need more? Athletes need more protein, carbs and fats, which is another way of saying “Athletes need more calories”. Other ratios for athletes that are suggested in the literature range from 1.2g/kg body weight all the way up to 2.0g/kg. [48, 49, 29, 37, 27, 24]. And if you think about it, this makes sense. If you’re an athlete and you’re eating more calories, you’re inevitably going to be consuming a greater quantity of protein relative to your body weight. So, if you’re a 150lb. endurance athlete and you’re burning 4000 calories a day, 1.2-2.0g/kg would equate to between 81g-136g of protein, or 8.1-13.6% of total calories. Keep in mind, these are not hard and fast numbers and in fact, I would not recommend sticking to these ratios with pinpoint accuracy. They’re simply guidelines. “Michael Rennie, an international scholar in protein metabolism, has noted that muscle contractile activity enhances the anabolic response so that the habitual training makes individuals more efficient users of dietary protein suggesting that physically active people probably do not need to eat more protein”. [48, p.230] What this means is that athletes who exercise consistently, utilize protein more efficiently and can do more with less. Consciously eating more protein in the form of isolated powders or bars isn’t really necessary. Just eat more calories and you’ll get more protein automatically. What do I recommend?
From my review of literature and Moore’s article  that covers optimal carbohydrate and protein replacement for endurance exercise, 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kg. body weight per day appears to be the median consensus for athletes among scholars. But Moore goes on to explain “contemporary research is revealing that it is not just “How much” protein an active individual consumes during the day but more importantly “when” and in “what pattern” they consume it in that is important to maximize muscle protein synthesis during recovery. This will be elucidated in Part 3 of this series.
How do our bodies synthesize proteins? We have a ‘pool’ of free amino groups. Even if you’re not an athlete, there is a constant building up of proteins, called anabolism, and breaking down of proteins, known as catabolism. You know when you’ve heard “You’re a completely new person every 7 years?”. This is this principal in action because around every 7 years, every single one of our cells are replaced with new cells. However the validity of this statement has come under scrutiny. Approximately 250 g. of body proteins are broken down into free amino groups and resynthesized on a daily basis. 250 grams! That’s up to 5 times what we need to consume in a day from food! Dr. Garth Davis in his book Proteinahaulic describes these free amino acids being used by the body in an ‘amino pool’. Through complex physiologic reactions, this pool of amino groups can be used by the body if it needs. The body works very efficiently and reuses amino groups to construct other amino acids it needs. The liver, as said before, is the central processing organ for proteins and is constantly taking stock of what proteins are needed in the body. Through a process called transamination, existing amino acids, whether eaten through food or broken down through tissue catabolism, are reused. The nitrogen group is taken off of one amino acid and used for the manufacture of another amino acid group. So in the exceedingly rare case that you didn’t consume a particular amino acids on a particular day or if you consume very little, you’re not going to die and you won’t see your performance suffer. Through million years of evolution, your body adapts, uses and reuses the resources it already has to continue to build strong, resilient tissues without the need for animal products. [48, 49]
What questions come to mind at this point?
Have you ever calculated your daily protein?
Ever heard of someone with a protein deficiency? (Yeah, me neither)
This wraps up part 2 of 3 of Proteins. Watch your inbox for part 3 coming out in the next week or so. Share this article with everyone who wants to be a better athlete -just keep it away from your competition ;-)
Have you read my free eBook on Plant-Based Endurance Athletics?
Covered in Part 3:
Protein and Exercise
How much protein do I need after activity
High Quality and Complete Proteins
Do Plant-based athletes need more protein?
Can we consume too much protein?
What’s wrong with animal protein?