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Protein Facts and Fallacies
As seen in
By Barbara Lewin, RD, LD
Sports Nutritionist

Research shows that strength training, endurance events, and some sports increase your need for protein. While the RDA (recommended daily allowance) is roughly 60 grams, many of us require more.

Factors affecting an athlete's protein needs include:

  • Body composition
    More protein is required to maintain greater muscle and mass size
  • Intensity and duration of exercise
    Longer and more difficult workouts require more protein
  • Starting an endurance or strength training program
    Protein needs are increased at the start of an endurance or strength training program. Increasing muscle mass requires much more protein than maintaining muscle mass.
  • Amount of carbohydrates and fat in the diet
    If the body does not get enough carbs (and fat) for fuel-it will use protein as an energy source.
  • Recovery from illness or injury
    An athlete who is recovering from an injury or fracture will need more protein for healing.
  • Growing teenage atheletes
    Teenage athletes need enough protein for their sport as well as for growth

While it's important to get enough protein, many athletes may be getting too much.  Protein that is not needed by the body and is not burned off will be stored as fat. Probably the biggest risk of excess protein is not getting the carbohydrates needed to maintain and replace muscle glycogen stores.

You need the energy from carbs to fuel and build muscle!

Risks of excess protein

  • Kidney damage
  • Dehydration
  • Calcium loss

Listed below are general guidelines for protein intake. This of course should be individualized based on the specific needs of the athlete.  These are not minimum requirements.


Grams of protein per pound of body weight
Current RDA for sedentary adults


Recreational exerciser, adult


Competitive athlete, adult


Growing teenage athlete


Adult building muscle mass


Athlete restricting calories


Maximum useable amount for adults


(Lemon et al., Walberg et al.)

Protein facts:

  • To add one pound of muscle the body needs an additional 10 grams to 14 grams of protein per day. This is equal to about two ounces of meat, poultry or fish, or one large egg or one cup of beans.
  • The body can only add two pounds of muscle per week.
  • Vegetarian athletes who eliminate animal protein without substituting with vegetable protein sources are not likely to get enough protein. It's important to include beans and peas, along with soy products and/or meat substitutes.
  • Egg-whites contain one of the highest quality proteins.
  • Protein intake alone will not build muscle. It's also necessary to get adequate amounts of carbohydrate (for extra calories) along with a strength-training program of course.

Protein content of commonly eaten foods


Grams of protein

Egg white-one


Cheddar cheese-one ounce


Milk-1% one cup


Hamburger  4-ounces broiled


Chicken breast 4-ounces roasted


Tuna 6-ounces


Beans 1-cup


Tofu 3-ounces


Pasta 1-cup



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Barbara Lewin R.D., L.D. Sports Nutritionist

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