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High-Protein Diets for Athletes

By Benjamin Small

Protein is an important part of a balanced diet, and high-protein diets are often presented as a great way for athletes to stay in top physical condition. However, it’s important for athletes to maintain a balanced diet rather than overload themselves with protein. as there are many conflicting opinions regarding the benefits of a high-protein diet. Regardless, athletes should avoid foods high in sugar and salt while maintaining a balance of carbohydrates and other nutrients with their protein intake.


Meats are an excellent source of protein and usually the main protein supplier in an average diet. Fish is high in protein, contains only unsaturated fat and is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of heart disease and are helpful in reducing weight gain. Tuna in particular has high levels of protein, with 25 to 30 g of protein per 100 g. Turkey and chicken are also low in fat and high in protein. Skinless, boneless oven-roasted or broiled varieties are healthier than fried varieties and can reduce fat content by as much as 25 percent. White-meat turkey and dark-meat chicken both contain around 28 g of protein, while white-meat chicken and dark-meat turkey contain 16 g and 23 g per 100 g, respectively. Beef is an excellent source of protein but should always be chosen in the leanest cut available to minimize fat content. Beef helps the body build muscle by providing B-12 vitamins and creatine, and depending on how it is prepared can contain 24 to 36 g of protein per 100g.


Dairy products such as milk, eggs, cheese and yogurt are another good source of protein. Choosing low-fat cheeses, egg whites and skim or 1-percent milk will minimize fat content. Cheese provides the most dairy protein with cheddar, Monterrey, Colby and mozzarella all providing around 24 g of protein per 100 g. Eggs provide 13 to 15 g of protein while milk provides around 3g.

Other Foods

Nuts, seeds and beans round out the list of high-protein foods. Almonds, pistachios and peanuts all provide around 23 g of protein, while cashews, hazelnuts and walnuts contain around 15 g per 100 g. Salted and honey-roasted nuts contain more sugar and salt than their plain counterparts. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent snack and offer a particularly high amount of protein, with about 32 g per 100 g. Soybeans offer the most protein of the bean varieties with 13 g, while kidney, pinto and lima beans provide 5 to 7 g per 100 g.

Ideal Nutrition

A good athletic diet will incorporate a balance of carbohydrate-rich and protein-rich foods. Athletes should monitor calorie intake and adjust the food sources providing the calories rather than specifically regulating protein or carbohydrate intake. An athlete should balance his diet to have no more than 20 percent of calorie intake from protein-rich foods while about 55 percent of his calories are obtained from carbohydrate-rich foods.


Many athletes base their diet around the idea that protein is superior than carbohydrates for providing energy and promoting lean muscle. However, a protein-heavy diet is not necessary for athletes to achieve top physical condition, and excessive protein may actually impair performance and contribute to long-term health problems. Carbohydrates are an important fuel for the body for many reasons. They are converted into energy more efficiently than protein, contribute to important hormonal responses including insulin secretion, provide energy directly to the muscles and are the primary fuel consumed during anaerobic exercise when muscles lack oxygen.

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