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The Swimmer’s Guide to Protein: Importance, Quantity and Types

Because swimmers burn calories at an astonishing rate, many swimmers ascribe to the statement, “I can eat whatever I want.”

While you may be able to eat that way and stay at an appropriate weight, this dietary belief will not result in optimal performance.

Food plays a crucial role in both repairing and recovering our bodies after workouts and providing the necessary fuel for optimal performance.

To unlock your full potential, it is essential to approach your diet not just as a means to get by, but as a pathway to success.

Among the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins), protein is the most important for cell growth and repair, metabolic processes, and hormone production.

And that’s why today, we’re talking about all things protein…

  • It’s importance

  • Quantity

  • Quality

  • Protein-rich Foods

What is Protein?

From the NIH, “Proteins are the basic building blocks of life. Every cell in the human body contains protein.”

From the Harvard School of Public Health, “It [protein] makes up the enzymes that power many chemical reactions and the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood.

After water, protein is the second largest component of human tissue. Protein is made from 20 different building blocks called amino acids. Of these 20 amino acids, 9 amino acids must come from foods. Those 9 amino acids are called essential amino acids. Your body synthesizes the other 11 amino acids from the essential amino acids.

Why is Protein important?

Consistently, over both individual studies and meta-analysis, protein consumption has been shown to result in greater muscle growth, strength, and body composition.

Because swimmers are involved in rigorous exercises on a daily basis, the importance of adequate protein intake cannot be overstated. Exercise results in muscle breakdown, and protein is what enables the muscle cells to repair themselves.

How much Protein should I eat?

Swimmers should aim for a protein intake of .7-1 g/lb of body weight per day. So, for example, if you weigh 175 lbs, you should be eating 122-175 g of protein per day.

Alternatively, a different way to think of it is that 20-30% of your calories should come from protein.

Moreover, protein is even more essential if you resistance train (aka weight training). Resistance training damages muscle fibers to a greater extent than endurance training; thus, more protein is needed.

How often should I eat protein?

It’s a good idea to space your protein about 3-5 hours apart to maximize its effectiveness. Every body processes, digests, and utilizes protein at a different rate. There have been no consistent studies that conclude the maximum amount of protein the body can absorb at one time. Rather, it is different for every person. So, it’s important for each swimmer to experiment with different amounts of protein, and see what your body and digestive system can tolerate.

There are two ways to build muscle…

  1. Increase muscle protein synthesis

  2. Decrease muscle protein breakdown

Things that promote protein synthesis

  • Eating Dietary protein

  • Ingestion of Carbs after Training (swim practice and resistance training)

  • Resistance Training

  • Consuming protein powder

Things that reduce protein breakdown

  • Eating Dietary protein

  • Consuming protein powder

  • Sauna use

  • Consuming electrolytes

  • Consuming carbohydrates

  • Consuming antioxidants (ex: berries, spinach, carrots, broccoli)

What types of protein should I eat?

Here are some foods that we recommend that are high in protein and nutrient dense:

  • Lean cuts of meat

    • Lean cuts of meat, such as skinless chicken breast, turkey, or certain cuts of beef, contain a high concentration of protein. Lean cuts of meat not only provide high-quality protein but also contain essential vitamins and minerals. These include B vitamins (such as niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12), iron, zinc, and selenium. These nutrients are vital for energy production, immune function, and overall health.

    • Deli Meats are also a great source of protein that are inexpensive and quick.

  • Eggs

    • Remember those 9 essential amino acids that we talked about earlier? Well, eggs contain all 9 of those essential amino acids which are the building blocks for the various tissues in our body. Eggs also contain important minerals and vitamins like vitamin B12, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin D, and minerals like iron, zinc, and selenium. Eggs are also affordable and versatile (scrambled, fried, over-easy, hard-boiled, etc).

  • Slate Milk

    • We highly recommend Slate Milk to our athletes as a delicious and nutritious option. This flavored milk is not only packed with nutrients but also free from added sugar. With an impressive 20g of protein and 0g of added sugar, Slate Milk is an exceptional choice for pre- and post-practice fuel. Moreover, it is lactose-free, making it suitable for athletes with dietary restrictions. It comes in both cans and mix packets, making it a perfect choice for swim meets and before or after practice sessions. Use code KTHOFF or TODDA for 15% off.

  • Cellucor Whey Protein

    • Leucine is one of the 9 amino acids that we must get from food. Whey protein has a higher leucine content which activates MTOR and muscle protein synthesis. Whey Protein is delicious, easily digestible, and quick. It’s easy to mix with water, milk, yogurt, smoothies, oatmeal, and different desserts.

  • Fish (ex: Salmon, Cod, Sardines)

    • Fish is an excellent source of high-quality protein. It provides all the essential amino acids that our bodies require for various functions, including muscle repair, growth, and maintenance. The protein in fish is easily digestible and absorbed, making it an efficient source of dietary protein. Fish is especially high in Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA. These fatty acids are essential for brain health, heart health, and reducing inflammation and protein degradation. Similar to eggs, fish also contains vitamins D and B12, as well as minerals like iodine and zinc.

  • Greek Yogurt

    • Greek yogurt is a great, low-calorie snack or dessert option that is packed with protein. The average greek yogurt contains 16 g of protein per serving which is much higher than other yogurt options. Furthermore, greek yogurt is a great vehicle to add protein powder and creatine as well to increase your protein intake. Siggi’s is a brand we’d recommend.

  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, macadamia nuts)

    • Nuts are a plant-based source of protein, making them an excellent option for vegetarians, vegans, or individuals looking to diversify their protein sources. Nuts offer a wide array of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds. For instance, almonds are a good source of vitamin E, cashews provide minerals like copper and magnesium, walnuts offer omega-3 fatty acids, and macadamia nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats. This nutrient density makes nuts a valuable addition to a balanced diet. Nuts are convenient and portable, and are great on-the-go protein snacks for pre/post swim practice, workouts, or swim meets.

STAY TUNED because in the upcoming weeks, we will be posting protein-packed recipes and recipe videos so you can start recovering better, getting stronger, and optimizing your performance.

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