Evidence-Based Nutrient Recommendations

Protein Needs of Athletes

Compiled by Ginny Messina, MPH, RD and Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, FADA

We have updated Protein Part 2—Research and Weightlifting for Vegans with this information about the protein needs of athletes.

The Institute of Medicine, which sets the RDAs, doesn’t recommend higher protein intakes for athletes. However, in a 2016 joint position paper on nutrition and athletic performance, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), and Dietitians of Canada recommend higher protein intakes for athletes and also suggest that athletes should give some attention to timing of protein intake (1). They don’t differentiate between strength and endurance athletes in making the following recommendations:

  • Dietary protein intake necessary to support metabolic adaptation, repair, remodeling, and for protein turnover generally ranges from 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg/ day.
  • Daily protein needs should be met with a meal plan providing a regular spread of moderate amounts of high-quality protein across the day and following strenuous training sessions. Muscle protein synthesis is maximized by consumption of 0.3 grams protein/kg body weight every three to five hours, including consumption of this amount within two hours following exercise.

However, there are still questions about optimal intake and timing of protein for athletes. A 2017 meta-analysis of the effects of protein intakes among strength athletes found that timing of protein intake was not important for gains in muscle mass and strength (2). They suggested that a daily protein intake of 1.6 g/kg/day, separated into 0.25 g/kg doses, was sufficient for muscle protein synthesis.

While many vegan, raw foodist athletes appear to thrive on a raw, vegan diet, many vegans who are not athletes struggle with raw foods diets—it could be that the higher caloric intake of athletes allow them to meet lysine needs while eating mostly low-lysine foods.

References

1. Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Acad Nutr Diet 2016;116:501-528.

2. Morton RW, Murphy KT, McKellar SR, Schoenfeld BJ, Henselmans M, Helms E, Aragon AA, Devries MC, Banfield L, Krieger JW, Phillips SM. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Mar;52(6):376-384.

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  • If you have a question about whether it's okay to cut supplements in half or combine supplements to achieve the dose we recommend, the answer is “Yes.” Be aware that nutrient recommendations are only estimates—it's not necessary to consume the exact amount we recommend every single day.
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