Athletes need to be careful not to neglect protein in their diets, warns Eleanor Jones

Proteins are found in large amounts in animal foods (meats, eggs, dairy) as well as vegetable foods (nuts and legumes). So how much and how often do athletes need to eat them?

‘Grow’ food

Sports nutritionists have become increasingly aware that the amount, timing and type of protein intake can help improve adaptations to training.

Protein intake can reduce muscle breakdown and increase synthesis. Combined with resistance training, this can have long-term effects on improving body composition;

The maximal dose is around 20-25g of whey (milk) protein. The “active” ingredient is leucine, an essential amino acid (meaning we have to obtain this from our diet);

High intakes of protein (about 2g per kg per day) can protect lean mass when you’re dieting.

How much?

The World Health Organisation sets recommendations for our adult dietary intake of protein as 0.8g of protein for every kilogram of mass every day. For athletes, this might not be enough.

What is considered adequate for most people isn’t enough for those in hard, physical training. Therefore the following guidelines have been adopted by sports nutritionists:

Amount in g per kg per day:
Sedentary 0.8 -1.0
Endurance athletes 1.2-1.6
Power sports 1.4-1.7
Resistance athletes
(steady state) 1.0-1.2
(new phase) 1.5-1.7
Lean mass maintenance 2.0

What foods?

Eating a varied and balanced diet with sufficient energy will normally provide all your protein requirements.

The following foods contain about 10g of protein:
One egg
40g cheddar cheese
Half a can of tuna
Pint of milk
Half a can baked beans
2tbsp peanut butter
Three slices of bread


Working out when to eat what depends on your goals, training needs, energy budget and a lot more.

The key times to eat to maximise your training and recovery are:
» After (resistance) training
» Breakfast – too many athletes have a carbohydrate- heavy breakfast
» Last thing at night

Typical day

Scrambled eggs on toast
Peanut butter on rye bread crackers
Chicken salad
Yogurt and fruit snack
Salmon teriyaki, seasonal veggies

» Eleanor Jones is senior sport scientist at the University of Birmingham and a BASES- accredited sport scientist with an IOC diploma in sports nutrition