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Protein Recommendations for Athletes

  • Posted on
  • By Katy Burkhartzmeyer
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Protein Recommendations for Athletes

Nutrition is especially important for athletes who are trying to boost their performance. Without proper nutrition, you won't be able to reap the benefits of the hard work you put into your training. Protein is especially important because helps build and repair muscles post-workout.

Learning Targets:
How to calculate energy balance
How to set a protein intake goal
How to adjust protein intake during calorie deficits
Nutrient timing and supplementation

Energy balance is referred to as someone’s total daily energy expenditure.
Determining someone's energy balance week over week is fairly simple:

  • Is their body weight trend or measurements trending downward?- If so, they're likely in a caloric deficit.
  • Is their body weight trend or measurements staying the same? - If so, they're likely in a caloric balance.
  • Is their body weight trend or measurements trending upward? - If so, they're likely in a caloric surplus.

Maintenance calories are the amount of energy your body needs to function. This is a combination of your basal metabolic rate (BMR) as well as your daily lifestyle and training activity level. Below, I have included an equation showing how to calculate an estimate of your BMR. Superior Nutrition also offers free In-Body scans which can more accurately estimate your BMR.

  • Lifestyle activity: How much or how little you move around at work or school, how much you walk around at home, take care of or are active with children, pets, housework, etc.
  • Training activity: How frequently do you exercise, how intense is your exercise, what type of exercise do you perform, do you run, go for walks, etc.


BMR Formula


BMR= (4.536 x Weight in lbs) + (15.88 x Height in Inches) - (5 x age) + 5


BMR= (4.536 X Weight in lbs) + (15.88 x Height in inches) - (5 x age ) -161


Now that you know what maintenance calories are, you can use this to calculate your energy intake according to your goal.

  • Maintenance phase: Not trying to lose fat or gain muscle & instead focusing on performance or overall health. However, body recomposition (losing fat and gaining muscle) can be achieved at maintenance, especially for those new to resistance training.
  • Cutting/calorie deficit phase: Trying to lose fat.
  • Reverse/restoration dieting phase: Increasing energy expenditure back up towards maintenance following a cutting/calorie deficit phase.
  • Bulking/surplus phase: Trying to build muscle or improve performance.


Determining Protein Intake

In 2023, the NSCA changed their protein recommendations for endurance and strength athletes, increasing the range and consolidating their recommendations into a single range for both types of athletes.

  • 1.4-1.8 g/kg of body weight for both endurance and strength athletes
    You have a 128 lbs female soccer player who's looking to maintain her current body weight but improve her performance. After having her keep track of her intake for 7 days, she reports back that on average she's consuming 130 g of protein per day. Considering her goal, should she maintain, decrease, or increase her protein intake?
  • First, you would want to calculate her weight in kilograms - in this case 128 lbs = 58 kg.
  • Then, you would want to find the lower range of protein - 1.4 g x 58 kg = 81 g.
  • Next, you would want to find the upper range of protein - 1.8 g x 58 kg = 104 g.

At this point, you'll be able to see that she actually needs to reduce her protein intake. Once she reduces her protein intake, she'll be able to allocate the 26-49 g (104-196 calories) of protein-to-carbohydrates instead. In theory, this adjustment should help to increase her anaerobic performance due to increased glucose availability while still maintaining her body weight and level of recovery.


For Athletes in a Calorie Deficit

If your goal is to shed a little weight while maintaining that hard-earned muscle and strength, keep your protein intake high while reducing your carbohydrates and fats. Protein intake should be around 1.8-2.7 g per/kg.

  • Using the above example of the soccer player, her protein intake range would be between 104 g - 156 g per day.
  • In order for your body to utilize protein optimally throughout the day, it is recommended to spread your meals out to 4-6 meals a day eating every 3-4 hours.
  • If possible, time your deficit phase for the off-season as you are not intaking as many carbohydrates in this phase, which is your body's main source of energy.


Nutrition Timing and Supplementation

After you workout the body is in a catabolic state, meaning your muscles are breaking down. In order to get our body into an anabolic or building state, we need to refuel using protein and carbohydrates. Recovery fueling increases our blood insulin levels, lowers cortisol, replenishes glycogen storages, strengthens the immune system, and stimulates protein synthesis. If we don’t refuel right after we workout, our body will turn to our hard-earned lean muscle mass for recovery and energy, decreasing our lean muscle mass. When we finish a workout our cells are wide open, begging for nutrients. The longer you wait to refuel from the time you finish your workout, the lower the recovery potential will be. This means that the longer you wait to eat, the less likely your body is to use what you consume for recovery and to build muscle.

It's recommended to eat anywhere between 0.2-0.5 g of protein per kilogram of body weight of protein post-workout and a ratio of 1:2 protein-to-carbohydrates. For example, a 120 lb person would need to eat about 11-27 g of protein with 22-54 g of carbohydrates, depending on the workout length and intensity. The sooner you refuel the better but life does get busy. The goal should be to try to get your protein and carbohydrates within an hour post-workout. However, our lives are busy; if you can't get your protein within an hour, you're not going to totally lose your gains. According to a research study done by Branco et. al, 2019, hitting your daily protein intake should be your priority over timing protein intake.


Supplement Recommendations

For post-workout protein, it is recommended to take a whey protein isolate which is essentially whey protein that has been broken down to its purest form by removing most of the lactose and fat. This allows your body to digest and utilize the protein quicker by getting you into an anabolic state post-workout.

With your protein shake, it could also be beneficial to add a scoop of Ignition by 1st Phorm, which is a glycogen replenishment powder. One scoop of Ignition contains 43 g of carbohydrates, which, added with a scoop of protein would be a great option for refueling, helping you reach that 1:2 protein-to carbohydrate-ratio. By replenishing your glycogen storages also known as energy storages after you workout, this allows protein to be used for repairing your muscles rather than trying to replenish these storages.

Taking a fish oil supplement can also be beneficial for athletes. This will help reduce post-workout inflammation as well as inflammation we all experience from time to time. I would recommend Full-Mega by 1st Phorm because it contains ample amounts of omega-3 fatty acids as well as efficacious amounts of EPA and DHA from fresh, cold water wild-caught Icelandic mackerel, herring, anchovies, and sardines. Studies on fish oils rich in both EPA and DHA have been shown to help support cardiovascular health. Omega-3 fatty acids are also shown to help support healthy brain function, which is important for athletes looking to perform their best on game day.

Making sure you are getting enough electrolytes before and after your workout is important for regulating nerve and muscle function, hydrating the body, balancing blood acidity and pressure, and helping rebuild damaged tissue. The essential minerals in electrolytes are sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, and magnesium which you can find in many powdered forms to add to your water and sip on before and after your workouts. This is especially important for endurance athletes or people who tend to sweat a lot during their workouts. 1st Phorm has a product called Intra-Formance which contains all the essential electrolytes as well as a hydration complex.



de Branco, F. M. S., Carneiro, M. A. S., Rossato, L. T., Nahas, P. C., Teixeira, K. R. C., de Oliveira, G. N., Jr, Orsatti, F. L., & de Oliveira, E. P. (2020). Protein timing has no effect on lean mass, strength and functional capacity gains induced by resistance exercise in postmenopausal women: A randomized clinical trial. Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland), 39(1), 57–66. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2019.01.008
Ignition. 1st Phorm. (n.d.-a). https://1stphorm.com/products/ignition?variant=31147471568982&a_aid=f7076c74&utm_source=GooglePLA&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=quattro&utm_content=11304424524_146767442520_2_US_9020688&chan=146767442520&tw_source=google&tw_campaign=11304424524&gad_source=1&gclid=CjwKCAiA6byqBhAWEiwAnGCA4JPvPr7_qsuD5I-py8M1BKZtKBsDZIvum_579et04j2ylqmsv8f3ihoCNrEQAvD_BwE
Intra-formance. 1st Phorm. (n.d.-b). https://1stphorm.com/products/intra-formance
Maintenance calories for athletes. The Movement System. (n.d.). https://www.themovementsystem.com/blog/maintenance-calories-for-athletes
Verstegen, M., & Williams, P. (2015). Every day is game day: Train like the pros with a no-holds-barred exercise and Nutrition Plan for peak performance. Avery.


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