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The Best Protein for College Athletes

By Jeff Gordon

College athletes in training -- particularly those building muscle, such as football linemen or throwers in track and field -- need more than the recommended daily allowance of protein. A nonathlete should consume 0.8 g of protein for every kilogram of body weight. The Vanderbilt Nutrition Clinics recommends athletes consume 1.2 to 1.8 g of protein for each 1.0 kg of body weight. Although the consumption of protein shakes has become popular among athletes trying to build muscle, nutritionists believe college athletes can gain the extra protein they need through a well-balanced diet.

Protein's Nutritional Role

Protein builds and repairs muscles. It provides energy when carbohydrates are not available. Protein also helps athletes to maintain their blood, keep their hormones working and ward off disease by enriching the immune system. Male athletes consuming insufficient protein may suffer hair loss. Females suffering protein deficiency may develop amenorrhea.

Natural Diet Vs. Protein Shakes, Amino Acid Supplements

The Vanderbilt Nutrition Clinic notes that the body processes protein from food and protein supplements the same way. Food offers the easiest, most effective and inexpensive source for protein. Athletes believe that extra protein intake will lead to faster muscle growth, but the body burns excess protein for energy or stores it as fat. Athletes consuming excessive protein also risk dehydration. They should rely on a well-balanced diet to fuel their body rather than high-protein diets, protein shakes and amino acid supplements. A balanced diet is 60 percent food rich in carbohydrates, 15 to 20 percent food moderate in protein and 20 to 25 percent food low in fat. Energy bars are a handy post-workout option.

Meat, Poultry and Fish

Canadian bacon is a leaner breakfast meat. Turkey and tuna sandwiches work well for lunch and snacks. A 3 oz. serving of tuna offers 25 g of protein and just 111 calories. Grilled chicken or fish are popular on training tables. A 3 oz skinless chicken breast offers 26 grams of protein with 150 calories, compared to 21 grams of protein with 214 calories for lean ground beef. A 3 oz piece of salmon offers 23 grams of protein with 157 calories.

Eggs and Dairy Products

Athletes favor skim milk over whole fat milk to use with granola or cereal at breakfast and as a beverage at lunch and dinner. One egg white offers 3.5 g of protein with just 17 calories. A whole egg offers 6 g of protein, but with 80 calories.

Peanut Butter and Other Nuts

A good breakfast option is peanut butter on a bagel or English muffin. Peanut butter also is a good source of protein for light post-workout snacks, when the body is seeking protein. Walnuts can be mixed with fruit or cereal to add protein.

Beans and Tofu

Bean burritos at lunch are a good source for protein. So are chili or black beans with vegetables and rice and refried beans.

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