Athletes understand the importance of food choices prior to exercise, or an athletic competition or event. Late night pizza, burgers or greasy food can impact performance at the next day’s track meet, soccer game or gymnastics competition. So, what is the proper diet for competitive athletes or even recreational exercisers?
For optimal performance, athletes should eat a well-balanced, low-fat diet that includes a mix of protein and energy-enhancing carbohydrates, and avoid high-fat foods, which can be difficult and slow to digest. And while the “high carb” and “low fat”rules are pretty well known among athletes, even the most experienced competitors are often unsure about protein and how much is enough.
Protein is made up of chains of amino acids and is essential for growth and repair of muscle and tissue. Here’s a quick guide to how much protein you should be consuming daily:
• For recreational exercisers, .5 to .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight is enough.
• Adult endurance athletes need .6 to .7 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
• Adults building muscle mass, including weight lifters and football players, may need .7 to .8 grams of protein per day per pound.
• Teen athletes need enough for growth and muscle building: .7 to .9 grams per pound.
To convert grams to ounces, take the number of grams for your body weight and divide by seven. For example, a 150-pound endurance athlete (using the upper end of the above scale) should consume 105 grams of protein daily (150 x .7 = 105 grams). To convert grams to protein, divide 105/7 = 15 ounces daily.
How much is an ounce? One ounce is equivalent to about one slice of deli meat. Three ounces is approximately the size of a deck of cards or the palm of a woman’s hand.
Not all Protein is Created Equal
Knowing that protein is key to a healthy diet doesn’t mean athletes should load up on steak and eggs, hot dogs or hamburgers. The best proteins are lean cuts of meat or fish. Athletes should take into consideration how many calories, grams of fat, cholesterol and sodium are in each protein source.