During training, race and rest days, professional riders will be using protein to promote recovery and optimal body composition. Carbohydrate can often change day-to-day depending on the workload, however, daily protein intake should be consistent throughout the training week.
What does protein do in the body?
There are 1000s of proteins in our bodies, all of which perform a variety of daily functions to promote health, well-being and performance. Proteins are present in our muscles, bones, ligaments and hair where they can act to provide structure or to perform specialised functions such as acting as hormones. For this reason, we must consume adequate protein in our diet so that we have the relevant building blocks (i.e. amino acids) to make the new proteins required for our body to function.
Why is protein good for cyclists?
There is a long history of athletes taking protein shakes in sports such as weight lifting and rugby but, endurance sports are often neglected. However, the understanding of the importance of high protein diets in endurance-based sports such as cycling is becoming more apparent.
Even for the “weekend warrior”, riding uses a huge amount of energy. This leaves you at risk of breaking down lean muscle mass to maintain energy levels if you are not providing your body with the correct amount of protein. This is why ensuring you are fuelling your rides correctly and having enough protein intake is so important.
How much protein do I need?
Recommendations of protein intake varies from person to person, depending largely on your training goals, weight and how active you are. We typically need between 1.4-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day (g/kg). However, this requirement dramatically increases if you do a lot of exercise or are really trying to build lean muscle mass(1).
Even if you train just 2-3 times per week, your protein intake is likely to increase towards 1.8 g/kg and can even reach over 2 g/kg for periods of extreme riding or carbohydrate restriction (1).
It is also good to take in mind that a rider may need more protein during training periods designed to encourage fat loss and preserve muscle mass. During these periods, athletes are often advised to increase daily protein intake to 2-2.5 g/kg. This amount has been shown to maintain muscle mass during targeted times of body fat and weight loss(3).
When to take protein
The popular opinion about protein is that it should be consumed directly after exercise or training. This is because it is seen as playing a significant part in recovery and rebuilding damaged cells.
However, this is not always the case. Protein not only helps to rebuild muscle but can also maintain lean muscle mass.
Many people talk about the metabolic window, which normally occurs 30-60 minutes after intense training or exercise, as the optimum time to consume protein for recovery. However, studies have shown that consuming protein just before training can be just as effective. As long as you consume protein around the time of exercise, either before or after, it can help deliver the recovery you need.
If you are training regularly, many nutritionists advise that protein intake should be spread throughout the day. It is advised that 20-40g of protein is consumed every 3-4hours.
Rest Day Protein
Protein consumption is just as important on rest days as it is during and after rides. To maximise recovery and lean muscle mass gains, having a high quality protein feeds of 20-40 g boluses every 3-4 hours(5) should be continued on rest days.
Sources of protein
WHEY20 provides 20g of protein, 6g BCAAs and minimal carbohydrate – perfect as a rest day protein snack. Whey protein stimulates the rate of muscle protein synthesis due to its high leucine content, supporting muscle building.
Rego Rapid Recovery combines 20g of protein, 23g of carbs, electrolytes and minerals. The perfect source of protein for after exercise to kick start the muscle regeneration process and replenish glycogen stores.
Overnight protein powder, taken 45-60 minutes before bed, allows quality protein delivery to support lean muscle growth and maintenance as you sleep.
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- Phillips, S. M., & Van Loon, L. J. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(1), S29-S38.
- Moore, D. R. (2015). Nutrition to support recovery from endurance exercise: optimal carbohydrate and protein replacement. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 14(4), 294-300.
- Pasiakos, S. M., Cao, J. J., Margolis, L. M., Sauter, E. R., Whigham, L. D., McClung, J. P., & Young, A. J. (2013). Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. The FASEB Journal, 27(9), 3837-3847.
- D’Lugos, A. C., Luden, N. D., Faller, J. M., Akers, J. D., McKenzie, A. I., & Saunders, M. J. (2016). Supplemental protein during heavy cycling training and recovery impacts skeletal muscle and heart rate responses but not performance. Nutrients, 8(9), 550.
- Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Ross, M. L., Camera, D. M., West, D. W., Broad, E. M., & Hawley, J. A. (2013). Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. The Journal of Physiology, 591(9), 2319-2331.
- Witard, O. C., Jackman, S. R., Breen, L., Smith, K., Selby, A., & Tipton, K. D. (2014). Myofibrillar muscle protein synthesis rates subsequent to a meal in response to increasing doses of whey protein at rest and after resistance exercise. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 99(1), 86-95.