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26 April 2021



The correct nutritional balance can assist and enhance athletic performance. Just as a performance car engine needs the right fuel and oil to run at its best, athletes can optimise their performance with the right nutritional intake.


Athletes need higher protein levels than the average person to maintain energy levels, muscle growth and repair. The amount of extra protein an athlete requires depends on their body composition, weight and the type of sport they practise.



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Why do athletes use protein supplements?


Exercise can cause muscle damage and muscles need protein to grow and repair. Athletes often use protein supplements in their diet to promote this repair as this is a convenient way to increase protein intake. It’s easy to consume a protein shake or bar either pre-training or after, especially if the athlete doesn´t have the time to eat a protein-enriched meal at this time.


The amount of protein an athlete needs depends on the type of sport or training they do. For example, a runner (endurance) will need a different amount than someone who performs weight training (resistance).  


Another benefit of protein supplements is that they can speed up muscle repair. During exercise muscles can tear, even minutely, and protein helps these tears to repair quickly.


Some athletes also take protein supplements to help injuries heal faster. For professional athletes, this is essential, as long-term muscle injuries can equal a loss of career development.




What is an athletes’ typical nutritional intake?


Athletes take sports nutrition seriously and have to plan their protein and carbohydrate intake and adjust their meals and snacks depending on their activity. This takes discipline, which comes from the desire to succeed in a particular sporting field.


The RDA (recommended daily allowance) of protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram for the average person. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, strength and endurance athletes need around 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per  kilogram of bodyweight.


In addition to a high-protein diet that includes red meat, chicken, fish, dairy products, eggs and nuts, milk-based protein supplements deliver a further source of protein. In the form of protein drinks, snacks and powders, these products offer athletes a suitable alternative to consuming more protein through eating extra meals.


Milk is another athletes’ favourite for recovery after a training session or event as it contains a balance of protein and carbohydrates. It also includes whey protein (which the body absorbs quickly) and casein (which absorbs more slowly), the combination of which increase muscle repair and energy levels.



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Why is sports nutrition planning essential for athletes?


The timing of protein intake for athletes is crucial – it’s easier on the stomach to consume a protein supplement before an event or training than to eat a large, protein-fuelled meal.


Just as important is post-sports nutrition, and many athletes take protein supplements after activity to replenish energy levels and prevent muscle soreness. Plus, drinking a protein shake or eating an energy bar is easier than eating a big meal directly after training.


Milk-based proteins are particularly useful for this as they prompt the fast growth of muscle mass. A study carried out by the Journal of Nutrition concluded “The results suggest that high protein and dairy intake led to the best results in terms of weight loss and muscle gain.”


Muscle mass is the amount of muscle in the body. Not only does muscle mass contribute to a lean appearance, but it’s also beneficial for a healthy body as it can help boost the immune system, regulate glucose levels and aid illness recovery.


Timing is essential also in sports nutrition during low-intensity periods. To maintain the right balance, athletes adjust the amount of protein (and carbohydrates and fat) they receive daily depending on whether their training is light or high-intensity. This adjustment is essential out of season when athletes are only training and not performing.



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What’s the future for sports nutrition?


There is increasing demand for sports nutrition products for athletes that are convenient, taste good and benefit performance. Research carried out by Allied Market Research expects the sports nutrition market to grow to $44,003 million this year.


This is an opportunity for sports nutrition manufacturers to also grow sales by offering quality products to cater for the needs of athletes, fitness enthusiasts and the general sports market.


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