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Why do we need protein?

Why do we need protein?

I recently shared with you why we need carbohydrates. Today we are going to discuss why we need protein because a balanced diet for athletes is made up of  carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Protein is made up of 20 amino acids. Of these amino acids, 9 of them are essential amino acids which means we have to get them from the foods we eat. Protein is necessary to support muscle growth and recovery, and soccer players may need additional protein. Muscle protein is broken down from running, resulting in the need for adequate protein to aid in muscle repair. People often hear additional protein is needed and assume they need to add protein supplements to their diet. Eating more protein than the body needs will not lead to increases in muscle mass. A balanced diet will usually provide all of the protein our bodies need, and when following a balanced diet, protein supplements are usually not needed. Protein needs will vary depending on age, weight and activity level.

Youth soccer players need around 1-1.4 g/kg/day
(to find your weight in Kg divide your weight in lbs by 2.2)

To help reach your protein needs, I recommend including a source of protein with every meal and snack. Not only will this provide you with the protein your body needs to recover, but it will also help to keep you full until your next meal.

Some sources of protein include chicken, fish, roasted turkey, beef, eggs, milk, Greek yogurt, yogurt, cheese, nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters, beans, lentils, and tofu.

Your pre game meal should include a lean protein source, and should be consumed 3-4 hours before game time. An example of a pre game meal includes a grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce, tomato and mustard.  

To optimize recovery, I recommend consuming a balance of carbohydrates and protein 30 minutes to 1 hour after soccer practices or games.

Snack ideas to try include:

  • string cheese with whole grain crackers

  • 2 tablespoons of nut or seed butter on graham crackers

  • trail mix that includes nuts, seeds or roasted chickpeas and dried fruit

  • Greek yogurt with fruit and/or cereal

  • hummus with pretzels

  • Chocolate milk

  • Whole wheat bread with nut butter and berries

Be on the lookout for my next post about why we need fat!

Linzy Ziegelbaum, MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian with a private practice on Long Island.  Her practice, LNZ Nutrition, LLC specializes in sports nutrition, weight management and food allergies. Linzy has worked with intramural to elite athletes to help them maximize their performance through diet. Follow her blog https://lnznutrition.com/blog-media/ and instagram page LNZnutrition for more nutrition tips and product finds, and visit her website LNZnutrition.com to learn more about her and her services.

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