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Does Protein Make You Stronger?

Americans have a love affair with protein. Protein supplements fill the shelves in health food stores and body building magazines. It is true that athletes need more protein than the average American. But how much more? Strength athletes need approximately twice the amount of protein compared to those who are sedentary. This is because high intensity weight training can cause some muscular damage and the extra protein is needed to repair the intentional damage caused by appropriate strength training. Muscular damage and repair is an essential part of gaining strength.

Great research by Dr. John Ivy at the University of Texas has demonstrated that the timing of protein intake is as important as the amount.  Protein along with carbohydrate consumed right after training can aid in enhanced muscular repair and reduced muscle soreness. Examples of good recovery foods include chocolate milk and cereal and milk consumed within 30 minutes of exercise.

Milk is a great source of whey and casein proteins that the research suggests are nutritional powerhouses. Many athletes believe that they should avoid carbohydrate and sugars in order to gain lean mass.  However the ratio of 3-4 grams of carbohydrate to every 1 gram of protein is ideal for recovery. Protein alone is less effective. Appropriate high intensity weight training, adequate calories and protein are all important ingredients in the recipe for increasing lean body mass. Protein is an essential but not exclusive part of this process.

What if you are a fitness enthusiast who doesn’t lift weights? Keep in mind that most Americans overconsume protein. This is especially true for men in this country. Current dietary intake in the United States for men is approximately .7 grams per pound of body weight.  If you don’t lift weights your protein needs are about .4 grams per pound of weight.  The amount protein needed for someone lifting weights using the Roberta and Riley rep rules is about 1 gram per pound of body weight.

Not all Americans get optimal levels of protein. Adolescent girls and older women generally underconsume protein and should pay special attention to adding high quality sources of protein to the diet throughout the day. High-quality protein sources include skim or low fat milk and yogurt and lean meats such as chicken and fish. Lean sources of beef or pork include those cuts with the words “loin” or “round” in the name. Nuts, peanut butter and beans such as pinto beans and black beans are also great sources. A favorite lean protein source of many athletes is thick and creamy non-fat Greek yogurt which contains 15-20 grams of protein per serving which is about the amount of protein in 2-3 ounces of meat and can be used in a smoothie or as a sour cream substitute. It is also a great idea to have a source of lean protein at each meal to provide balance to your meals throughout your busy day.  So pump up your protein intake!