Do we need more protein when exercising?
Verdict: In most cases – no.
The Australian Institute of Sport says a few specific groups of elite athletes may need extra protein on occasion:
Endurance athletes (such as marathon runners) undertaking a heavy training program or an extreme competition or race may need extra protein to cover a proportion of the energy costs, and for repair and recovery after a workout. Protein needs: anything from 1.2–2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
Strength-trained athletes (such as body builders) undertaking a heavy training program use additional protein to increase muscle size and strength in response to resistance training. Protein needs: 1.2–1.7g/kg body weight per day.
Adolescent athletes have greater protein needs: 2g/kg body weight per day.
For normally active people, the maximum protein need is only about 1g/kg body weight per day, or just 0.8g/kg for people who are sedentary.
Are we getting enough?
The last National Nutrition Survey found that on average men were getting 109g of protein per day and women 74g from their diets — more than enough for your normally active average weight man (80kg) or woman (65kg). And even the protein needs of elite athletes in the groups described above can usually be taken care of by eating a varied diet that focuses on nutrient-rich foods.
Good sources of protein include:
- Lean meat, fish, eggs and dairy foods.
- Many plant foods (soy, bread, cereal, nuts, pasta and rice, for example) contain significant amounts of protein too.
For most people, the 20, 30 or 40 grams of protein in these protein bars and drinks is surplus. With a bar costing as much as $6, that’s a lot of money to fork out unnecessarily.
Can we have too much?
The short answer is yes.
- If you have more protein than you need for growth and repair, the excess is used to provide energy.
- Once energy requirements are met, surplus protein, just like carbohydrate or fat, tends to be stored as body fat.
Energy and exercise gives you an indication of the exercise you’d need to do to use up the energy these bars and drinks can provide.