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Protein in Sports Nutrition: Part 2 | Nicola Drabble

Protein in Sports Nutrition: Part 2

26 August 2016
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In part 1, I discussed why protein is essential for heath and its importance in sports nutrition. In part 2, I will be discussing protein in endurance sports before, during and after exercise.

Protein intake pre exercise

The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends that, protein should be included with carbohydrates in the pre-event meal. The amount of protein will depend on the athletes individual requirements, exercise duration and fitness level. So, adding protein to the carbohydrate suggestions in part 2 of the previous carbohydrate article:

  • Breakfast cereals: Future Life or Oats with fat free/ low fat milk
  • Toast with eggs/ cheese/ peanut butter
  • Fruit and fat free/ low fat yogurt
  • Fat free/ low fat milk, yogurt, nut and fruit smoothie
  • Liquid meal replacement

Protein intake during exercise

Research with regard to the inclusion of protein to carbohydrate solutions during exercise is inconclusive. It is uncertain to whether it’s the addition of protein or if it is because of the added energy that is available, but it does seem to improve endurance performance, increase muscle glycogen stores, reduce muscle damage and promote better training adaptations. The ISSN does recommend adding protein to carbohydrate intake during endurance exercise, but more research in this field is needed as there is insufficient evidence to support this.

Whether I’m doing a 5150/ 70.3 distance or a long bike ride, I like to snack on salted almonds during my bike ride. I feel that this is generally when I would be having my mid-morning snack so it keeps hunger at bay and the extra protein/ energy helps to minimize the breakdown of protein stores which is inevitable in any endurance sports. Almonds or any nuts do tend to cause gastric problems, so it is best you test them in training before a competition.

If I am doing a longer 70.3 distance, I also like to have a sandwich during my transition from the cycle to the run. I usually have cottage cheese and Bovril as it is easier to chew when you are in a hurry!

Other good options for the bike ride:

  • Salted mixed nuts
  • Lean biltong
  • Protein bar

and in transition:

  • Sandwich with peanut butter/ ham and cottage cheese – tip: take the crusts off as it is easier to eat and chew!
  • Liquid meal replacement i.e. Future Life High Protein

Post exercise

Muscle and body protein metabolism is a constant balance between protein breakdown and protein rebuilding. During exercise the balance shifts towards protein breakdown. During recovery after exercise, the balance tips again to protein metabolism.

I spoke about the ‘Golden Hour” in the section on carbohydrates and the same applies with proteins. Research shows that eating protein immediately after exercise increases muscle uptake and increases the synthesis of amino acids and promotes a postive protein balance. The effect of post-exercise protein intake is best seen when the protein is combined with a carbohydrate.

Therefore a protein-carbohydrate meal/ snack within 30-60minutes post exercise helps:

  • stimulate muscle repair
  • adaptation to training
  • restores muscle glycogen levels.

An intake of 10-20g (maximum 25g) protein is sufficient. Research has shown any more than this does not have a beneficial effect.

NOTE: Don’t be fooled by protein supplements! You can meet your requirements by real food! Also, in South Africa the supplement industry is not regulated so you never know what is in the product.

I’m sure you have all seen the low fat flavoured milk on offer after events. Research has shown that milk proteins increase muscle synthesis, and the ratio of protein: carbohydrate in these flavoured milks are favourable for post workout recovery. Here are some post workout examples:

  • Low fat flavoured milk – chocolate, strawberry, vanilla
  • Low fat/ fat free milk with Nesquick
  • Fruit smoothie with milk and yogurt
  • Future Life High Protein
  • Sandwich with a protein filling – tuna/ chicken/ egg
  • Chicken or beef burger

Foods containing 10g of protein

2 small eggs

45g cheese

70g cottage cheese

300ml low-fat cows milk

200g reduced fat yoghurt

400ml soy milk

150g light fromage frais

35 – 50g lean beef, pork, chicken, fish

50g canned tuna or salmon

4 slices wholemeal bread

3 cups wholegrain cereal

2 cups cooked pasta

3 cups cooked rice

3/4 cup lentils or kidney beans

200g baked beans

120g tofu/ soy meat

60g nuts or seeds

                                           Chocolate milk

Top Tips:

  • Choose a variety of protein-rich foods such as lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, milk and milk products such as low fat cottage cheese and low fat yoghurt, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds.
  • Protein should be eaten at every meal but ensure that there is enough space on your plate for carbohydrates and vegetables.
  • For vegetarians – remember to ensure your diet provides good quality protein.
  • Always remember to refuel as soon as possible after exercise

Going back to part 2 on carbohydrates – let’s now add the protein to the meal – proteins are highlighted in red:

Brick Training:              

Pre morning training < 60min:         

Sports drink

Breakfast – After training:                   

Cereal with fat free/ low fat milk and a fruit/ Sandwich with cheese and ham/ 2 slices of toast with 2 eggs


Bread/ pasta/ rice/ potato + meat/ chicken/ fish and vegetables as part of a lunch time meal

Pre afternoon/ evening training:    

Fruit and chocolate milkshake drink

After training:                                              

Pasta/ rice/ potato/ sweet potato + meat/ chicken/ fish and vegetables as part of an evening meal

 Race day:


Cereal with fat free/ low fat milk and a fruit + Sports drink

During Exercise:

Dried fruit/ cereal bar/ sports drink/ gels/ jelly beans + salted nuts or lean biltong

Post Exercise:

Sandwich with tuna/ chicken/ egg + chocolate milky drink



Campbell B et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2010, 7:7

Jeukendrup, AE. Nutrition for endurance sports: Marathon, triathlon, and road cycling Journal of Sports Sciences, 2011; 29(S1): S91–S99.

Jeukendrup, AE et al. Nutritional Considerations in Triathlon. Review Article. Sports Medicine 2005; 35 (2): 163-181.

Kreider et al. ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2010, 7:7

Phillips, S.M., & Van Loon, Luc. J.C. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: From requirements to optimum adaptation. J Sport Sciences, 29(S1), S29-S38.

 Potgieter, S. Sport nutrition: A review of the latest guidelines for exercise and sport nutrition from the American College of Sport Nutrition, the International Olympic Committee and the International Society for Sports Nutrition. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2013; 26(1):6-16.

British Dietetic Association: Food Facts. www.bda.uk.com

Australian Institute of Sports: www.ausport.gov.au


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