Protein Requirements for Athletes and Active Individuals

Dr.-Taylor-C.-WallaceToday’s post comes from Taylor Wallace, PhD, CFS, FACN. Dr. Wallace is an accomplished food and nutrition expert, residing in the Washington, DC area.  He has published numerous peer-reviewed articles in addition to three academic textbooks.  Dr. Wallace has a doctorate degree in Food Science & Nutrition from The Ohio State University and frequently serves as a media spokesperson on hot topic nutrition, food safety and food technology issues.  Visit Dr. Taylor Wallace’s blog at


A few decades ago, sports nutrition science was in its early infancy; however, today many science-based solutions are available in the form of functional foods and dietary supplements. Many populations of active individuals, such as combat personnel, first responders, athletes and frequent gym goers have greater nutritional requirements as compared to the general population. Optimal nutrition, and the appropriate selection of foods and fluids, timing of intake, and supplemental choices enhance performance and recovery from exercise (1). Energy needs, especially protein and carbohydrate intakes, must be met during times of intense activity to help maintain body weight, replenish glycogen stores and in the case of protein, help build and repair muscle tissue.

Muscle growth happens as a result of combined exercise and proper nutrition. To attain peak levels of performance, active individuals clearly need to be aware of their dietary intake of protein; a large body of evidence supports that appropriate intakes of protein/amino acids can help support increased rates of muscle repair and formation (2). National and international dietary guidelines have traditionally recommend that adults need no more than 0.8-0.9 grams per kilogram body weight per day of protein (3-4). That’s equivalent to about 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women daily. However, a number of recent reviews, including a position stand by the American College of Sports Medicine (5), scrutinize the use of current dietary recommendations for protein among active individuals, such as athletes. There is general consensus that protein needs of active individuals are higher than those of sedentary persons. Intake of 1.2-1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight for endurance athletes (e.g. runners) and 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight for power athletes (i.e. weight lifters) has been suggested as an appropriate requirement for active individuals (5).  ­That’s equivalent to approximately 84-119 grams for men and 66-94 grams for women daily. Consuming high quality protein (egg, dairy and/or soy) through either food or supplements immediately following exercise enhances muscle creation. While is not difficult to obtain sufficient protein intakes from natural foods, protein shakes, bars, powders and/or amino acid supplements may be advantageous in situations such as when an athlete does not have time for a full meal post-workout. Be cautious on what products you consume, especially if you are an athlete, as many tainted products and banned substances exist. If you are considering a sports nutrition product, choose a national brand or one that is third party certified to avoid any of these potential predicaments.

  1. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dieticians of Canada, and American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2009;109(3):509-527.
  2. Burd NA, Tang JE, Moore DR. Exercise training and protein metabolism: influences of contraction, protein intake, and sex-based differnces. J Appl Physiol. 2009; 106:1692-1701.
  3. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2005.
  4. WHO Technical Report Series 935. Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition: report of a joint FAO/WHO/UNU expert consultation.  Report of a Joint WHO/FAO/UNU Expert Consultation. 2011.
  5. Rodriguez NR, Di Marco NM, Langley S. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009; 41:709-731.
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