Protein Requirements for Athletes


One of the most commonly asked questions by athletes is ,"how much protein do I need to eat for peak performance?" There is so much information, misinformation, fad diets and nutrition "quackery" available, it is hard to know what to believe. If you go to a health food/vitamin store, a vitamin "expert" (i.e. untrained, non-licensed sales clerk) will convince you to purchase hundreds of dollars of protein powders and protein supplements. These powders and supplements merely amount to very expensive urine. If you ask elite gymnasts, ballet dancers or runners, they will typically cringe at the thought of meat and advise you to eat as little as possible. There has to be a happy "meat"ium (sorry, I couldn't resist).

Protein is used for building and repairing muscle and tissues, red blood cells, hair and finger nails and for synthesizing hormones. Protein is necessary for reducing the risk of iron deficiency anemia and to improve healing. Excess protein does NOT build muscle bulk and strength exercise does. Think about it this way: Tom wants to make his upper body bigger and increase his upper body strength (to impress the women, of course). He goes to the local health food store where he is told to increase his protein intake by eating protein shakes at each meal. He then goes to his sports med doctor and sports dietitian who tell him to eat a moderate amount of protein and swim three times a week plus do upper body weights three times a week. Which do you think will work?

So how much protein do athletes need? To figure out your needs, simply multiply your weight in pounds by one of the following:

taken from Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook


For a 150 pound male triathlete I would recommend 0.6 for a total of 90 grams of protein per day. For a 115 pound female high school track runner I would recommend 0.7 for a total of 80.5 grams of protein per day.

It's easy to get your protein requirements because protein is found in most foods:

*One ounce of meat = 1 slice of deli meat. Three ounces of meat is approximately the size of a deck of cards or the palm of a woman's hand.


If you crave protein, are injured or sick, or think you need more protein than what's recommended, increase your intake of beans and rice, lean beef, milk, and yogurt. It's a much healthier (and cheaper) way to get extra protein. You can meet your protein needs - it's just a matter of figuring out your individual needs and tailoring your diet as such. Good Luck!