So, you make a conscious effort to fuel up with protein powders, portions of lean protein at every meal, and pre- or post-workout snacks rich in protein. But do you really know why this macronutrient is essential to optimizing your performance?
Most athletes know that the main short-term benefit of adequate protein intake (about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight) equates to healthy muscles. “Protein is made of amino acids that help build and repair muscle tissue that is damaged during exercise so that it can recover and you can come back stronger than before,” says Marley Oldham Carnes, MS, RDN, CSCS.
But, it’s when we dig into the longer-term benefits of dietary protein that things get even more interesting. In addition to your muscles, protein is good for your bones, it boosts your metabolism, lowers your blood pressure, helps with weight maintenance, supports your immune system, and so much more.
Here are some surprising reasons why science (and us!) say you should eat more protein, especially as a badass Spartan looking to make big gains and stay in the OCR game for as long as possible.
Why OCR Athletes Should Eat More Protein (Beyond the Basics of Muscle Growth + Repair)
1. Protein-Rich Snacks Decrease Your Desire to Binge
Protein, versus carbohydrates and fats, takes the longest time to digest in the stomach. Eating about 25-35 grams of protein per meal, spaced out throughout the day, will keep you feeling fuller, longer, says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
But, we all have between-meal hunger pangs, especially during intense training, that need to be addressed. Here’s how that works. When you’re hungry, your stomach produces a hormone called Ghrelin, which signals to your brain that it’s time to eat. When your stomach has had enough, another hormone called Leptin kicks in and tells your brain you’re full. According to a recent study in ARYA Atherosclerosis, subjects who were eating high-protein diets experienced spikes in Leptin earlier than those eating high-fat or high-carb diets. This led to healthier weight maintenance and consumption overall. (A good thing to know, when you’re pursuing improved body composition for OCR.)
Bottom line: Don’t sabotage your training and racing game. Opt for protein-rich snacks and avoid carb/fat-only food pairings so you can feel naturally satiated, faster.
2. Protein Powers Up Your Immune System
When you eat a protein-rich diet consistently, your body has an easier time repairing tissues and fighting off viral and bacterial infections. How? In short, your body employs proteins to create immune-system antibodies and T-cells programmed to attack foreign invaders that enter your bloodstream. If you don’t get enough protein, it can impair your immune system’s ability to respond, leaving you tired, weak, and exposed to illness, according to a recent study in the British Journal of Nutrition. What’s really important, the study found, is ensuring you’re getting proteins with the full array of essential amino acids, specifically, the nine your body can’t generate on its own (hence: essential) so you can synthesize it properly.
We get it: Staying healthy is now more important than ever (hello, pandemic). One simple way to do that is eating enough protein to set yourself up for success.
3. Protein Improves Your Life-Long Bone Health
When it comes to bone health, it’s common knowledge that stable levels of calcium and vitamin D are crucial to maintaining a sound skeleton. But that’s not the whole story.
Protein actually plays a bigger part than it gets credit for. Generally, this key nutrient makes up about half of the volume of each bone, and about a third of its mass. That means taking in adequate amounts of dietary protein (regularly, and across your lifespan) not only grows and repairs muscles short term but also helps prevent bone issues later, like osteoporosis, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Bone Mineral Research. And if you want to be training and racing into old age (because, who doesn’t?) you’re going to need all the structural help you can get.
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