How Protein Can Help Cyclists
During training, race and rest days, professional riders will be using protein to promote recovery and optimal body composition. Whereas carbohydrate can often change day-to-day depending on the workload of that day, daily protein intake should never be compromised. Find out more here on how protein can help improve your cycling performance.
There are 1000s of proteins in our bodies, all of which perform a variety of daily functions to promote health, well-being and performance. For example, proteins are present in our muscles, bones, ligaments and hair where they can act to provide structure or to perform specialized functions such as acting as hormones and enzymes. 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. We typically need between 1.4-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass each day (g/kg), but this requirement dramatically increases if you do a lot of exercise or are really trying to build lean muscle mass(1). As such, a 75 kg athlete would typically need between 105-135 grams per day.
There is a long history of athletes taking protein shakes in sports such as weight lifting and rugby, but the understanding of the importance of protein intake in endurance-based sports such as cycling is increasing.
Even for the “weekend warrior”, riding stresses the body and subsequently causes muscle protein to breakdown, which can be detrimental to performance if not managed correctly. Riding can expend a huge amount of energy, leaving you at risk of breaking down lean muscle mass to maintain energy levels if you become deficient of carbohydrate and need energy quickly. Riders must ensure that they are light enough to mountain climb effectively, but also have plenty of muscle mass to power them up and provide those valuable watts(2).
Even if you train just 2-3 times per week, your protein intake needed 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). In addition, a rider may actually need more protein during training periods designed to reduce body fat but preserve muscle mass. In the latter situation, athletes are often advised to increase daily protein intake to 2-2.5 g/kg, an amount which has shown to maintain muscle mass during targeted times of weight and body fat loss(3).
Emerging evidence is now suggesting that endurance athletes should also consume protein, in addition to carbohydrate during exercise so as to prevent the protein degradation (and hence promote better training adaptation) that occurs during prolonged exercise of moderate to high-intensity(4).
Rest Day Protein
Protein intake is just as important on rest days as it is during and after rides. To maximise recovery and lean muscle mass gains ideally you should be having a high quality protein feeds of 20-30 g boluses every 3-4 hours(5). WHEY20 provides 20g of protein, 6g BCAAs and minimal carbohydrate – perfect as a rest day protein snack. There is minimal benefit of consuming over this amount at any given time(6). Try to have a “quality” protein source, i.e. one that contains all of the key amino acids. This is largely the case with animal and dairy proteins, and some vegetarian sources such as soy.
- 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.