By Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD
Healthnotes Newswire (June 10, 2010)—Do you ever feel you’re slogging through your workouts, barely able to complete what you’ve planned, and anxious to hit the showers? Or maybe you’ve wondered how you might take the next step, fuel your body more effectively, and get the most “bang for your buck” from your workouts. Either way, a great place to start is with the basics, and one of the most basic nutrients for optimal athletic performance is protein.
The ABCs of protein and performance
Muscles are made of protein, so it’s no surprise that protein is vital to enhancing their performance. Knowing what type, how much, and when to fit protein into your daily routine is the key to getting the most from this important nutrient.
”Wheying” your options
For repairing hardworking muscles after a cardio or resistance training (“weight lifting”) workout, nothing beats whey protein. Whey comes from dairy and allows your muscles to refuel effectively. Whey protein is found in powder form and comes in a variety of flavors, making it easy to incorporate into your diet. It can be stirred into yogurt, added to a smoothie, or mixed vigorously with water or another liquid in a lidded container.
The body best absorbs protein when eaten in amounts ranging from 15 to 30 grams in a single meal or snack. Unless you’re a serious body-builder, there’s no benefit to eating more than 30 grams of protein at one time.
Whey protein makes its way into muscles most efficiently when taken immediately after a workout, ideally within 30 minutes. Eating whey with carbohydrates promotes the movement of the protein from your bloodstream into your muscles as well. Aim for a ratio of 1 gram of protein for every 2 to 4 grams of carbohydrate.
As an example, combine whey powder to provide about 15 grams of protein in a blender with a banana, ice, and water. A large banana adds around 30 grams of carbohydrate and most whey powders contain a bit of carbohydrate as well. This gives you a finished smoothie with 2 to 3 grams of carbohydrate for every gram of protein—an ideal ratio.
Amino acids are needed to build the various proteins used in the growth, repair, and maintenance of body tissues. Hydroxy-methyl butyrate, or HMB, is a breakdown product of leucine, one of the essential amino acids that are used as building blocks of protein. Studies have shown that HMB can improve strength and help the body maintain muscle mass. Ideally, HMB is used in conjunction with strength training to obtain the most benefit; it is not used to improve cardiovascular athletic performance. Our bodies can make some HMB, but it isn’t found in significant amounts in most foods, so taking a supplement is the best way to get enough HMB to enhance a resistance training routine. The optimal amount of HMB is about 3 grams per day, but there isn’t agreement on when to take it for best benefit. In order to avoid having HMB “compete” for absorption with whey protein, try taking this supplement in the morning, at bedtime, or about 15 to 30 minutes before a workout.
Final protein pointers
Be sure you’re eating a good quality, well-balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit, legumes (beans), and whole grains. Without these essential foods, all the whey protein and HMB in the world isn’t going to do you any good. Think about creating a nutrient network in your body; nutrients don’t work well in isolation.
Also keep in mind that while whey and HMB are considered safe for most people, there are some who should not use these supplements, including people with impaired kidney or liver function. If you have questions about whether whey and HMB are safe for you, ask your doctor or pharmacist for guidance.
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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