On Friday, I talked about the importance of carbohydrates in the diet of someone who exercises frequently. Carbs provide the main source of fuel for athletes, and are absolutely necessary for optimal performance. However, protein is also very important.
The role of protein is to build things that our bodies need to run efficiently. Protein creates enzymes, hormones, lipoproteins, muscle tissue, connective tissue, red blood cells, and immune system cells. Proteins are the building blocks of all of our cells and are used to build muscle during strength training and repair muscle after a hard workout. When we consume protein, our neurotransmitter and hormone production increases, which enhances our performance.
Protein also replenishes our hemoglobin, which is a protein found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin binds to oxygen and transports it during exercise so we can breath more easily. If we don’t consume enough protein, we will be unable to replenish our hemoglobin and it will be more difficult to get oxygen during exercise.
About 20% of our muscle tissue mass is made up of protein, particularly the parts that are responsible for muscle contraction. If we are not consuming enough protein, it will be difficult to maintain muscle mass and the muscles we do have will not work as efficiently as they could.
There are two types of proteins: complete proteins and incomplete proteins. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids, and can be found in foods such as eggs, beef, poultry, fish, quinoa and soybeans. Incomplete proteins are missing one or more amino acids, and can be found in vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. Since complete proteins are most likely to be found in animal food sources, it is very important for vegetarians to eat a varied diet. This will help ensure they are receiving enough of each type of amino acid so they can get all the benefits from their proteins. I recommend getting your protein from a whole food source rather than a protein powder whenever possible. Protein from whole foods is more bioavailable to us, and will be more efficiently used within our bodies.
Tomorrow… the importance of fats for athletes.