I’ve just been reading the chapter on sports nutrition in Patrick Holford’s Optimum Nutrition Bible and also the sports nutrition section in his book 500 Health and Nutrition Questions Answered.

The recommended amount of protein intake per days is: 15% of your calories should come from protein.

Even if a bodybuilder is training extremely hard, the maximum amount of muscle they will be able to gain in a year is 9lb (4kg). Muscle is only 22 percent protein, so if you take 22 percent of 9lb (4kg) and divide it by 365 days, the amount of protein you need per day is only 0.5oz (2.4g), which is the equivalent of a few almonds. It is impossible to gain any more muscle than this, even if you eat loads of protein.

While everybody needs protein for optimum health, and protein is indeed required to build muscle, if you consume extremely large amounts of protein you are far more likely to cause health problems. Protein is hard work for the body to digest and break down, and results in oxidants which harm your health. High animal protein intake also makes your body acidic. Your body neutralises the acidity automatically by taking calcium phosphate out of your bones, using the phosphate to make your body more alkaline, and then excreting the calcium in your urine, potentially leading to osteoporosis (weak bones).

So, rather than focusing on eating loads of protein, focus more on getting enough of the following:

  • Complex Carbohydrates such as brown rice, millet, rye, oats, corn, buckwheat, quinoa, lentils, beans, wholewheat bread or pasta.
  • Fruit and Vegetables – eat lots of fruit and lots of raw or lightly cooked vegetables.
  • Vitamins – take a good, high strength multivitamin supplement, plus additional vitamin C (2,000 mg per day).
  • Minerals – take a good quality multi-mineral supplement, plus eat raw nuts and seeds.
  • Good Fats – take a good quality omega 3 supplement (fish oil or flax seed oil), and eat seeds, nuts and oily fish.

It’s worth pointing out that if you eat seeds, nuts and oily fish for their minerals and good fats, you will also be getting protein. You will also get some protein from the complex carbohydrates, particularly the quinoa, lentils and beans. The point I’m making is: if you eat a diet that covers all of the above nutritional factors, you will definitely get enough protein anyway, so you don’t need to go mad and eat loads of extra protein. You will also be eating a lot of alkaline-forming foods such as the fruit and vegetables, and lots of nutrients to keep everything running smoothly, including antioxidants to counteract the effect of digesting protein.

Additional things for sports people to consider :

  • Load up on Carbohydrates Before a Sports Event: if you eat lots of good quality complex carbohydrate 2 hours before an event, you will fill up your body’s glycogen (emergency energy) stores . This will then be available for quick use as energy during the event.
    • One little side point worth noting: if you load up on carbohydrate but don’t do any physical activity, eventually the glycogen gets converted into fat for long-term energy storage. This is why people get fat. They eat too much carbohydrate and then just sit around watching TV. So life is all about balance. Eat lots of good food, and do lots of good physical activity.
  • Drink Plenty of Water– during physical exertion our thirst reflex gets suppressed, so it is important to frequently consume water while exercising. Muscles are 75 percent water. Even just a small drop in our body’s hydration results in dramatically reduced performance and energy levels. By the time you feel thirsty it’s too late, you are already dehydrated.
    • WARNING: it is indeed possible to drink too much water. A simple but effective guide is your urine colour. Your urine should be a light straw-coloured yellow. If it is darker than that, like a dark yellow or dark orange, then that means you need to drink more water. If your urine is clear, that means you are drinking too much.
      • NOTE: Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) can make your urine turn a bright greeny-yellow colour, so if you are taking supplements you should keep this in mind when checking the colour of your urine.
      • WARNING 2: if your urine is an unusual colour, such as brown, red or cloudy, this probably indicates you have a health problem, so consult a medical professional should this occur.

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