As a healthcare professional who works and trains many NFL players, I am often asked questions about a proper diet to maximize their performance and recovery. How much protein is needed daily for a football player? How much is too much? What kind of protein should I take?
There are so many conflicting reports in the public, on the Internet and even among nutritionist themselves. So this article will attempt to clarify some of the "protein confusion" with the latest scientific information concerning the proper use of protein in a football player's diet.
What are proteins? Why are they so important?
Proteins are one of the three major nutrients that the body needs to function. The others are carbohydrates and fats. Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids. There are 20 different types of amino acids that can be combined to make up certain types of proteins. The function of proteins are many, but a few are to help the body build, strengthen and repair cells and assist with the immune system, muscles and hormone production.
How do we get protein? What are good types of protein to ingest?
Great sources of protein are items such as lean meats, poultry, fish and fish eggs, insects (yes, insects), dairy products, seeds and nuts (such as Chia seeds), soy products (i.e. tofu, edamame), eggs, grains (such as quinoa), vegetables (i.e. green peas) and legumes (i.e. green peas, garbanzo beans). According to dietitian Samantha Heller, R.D., a rough estimate of how much protein is in common foods we eat are the following: one serving of fruits and vegetables is around one gram of protein, five grams of protein for every handful of nuts, one cup of milk or yogurt has around 10 grams, 15 grams of protein for every cup of beans, or 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, and 25 grams of protein for every 3-4 ounce serving of meat.
Looking to Up! your game? Take a look at NFL Up! to view workouts and tips from NFL players and trainers to ensure you're ready for game day. More...
How much protein is ideal? Are supplements a good idea for a proper protein source?
The answer to how much protein is optimal is based on two variables: the weight of the individual and the activity level of that person. For football players that is obviously on the high side. Currently, the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for protein is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, but this is not based on a highly active athlete. In fact, the latest science for power and speed athletes, like a football player, recommends around 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. So for example, 180 pound players need 144 grams to 180 grams of protein daily. Too little protein in the diet of a highly active athlete can lead to muscle mass loss and poor recovery.
Registered dietitian and PhD Denise Webb wrote a few guidelines on protein consumption in her June 2014 article in "Today's Dietitian":
Are protein shakes and supplements good for you?
Yes, if one is not getting the recommended amount of protein (0.8 to 1 gram per pounds of bodyweight), then a protein supplement is useful. Furthermore, many of the protein supplements/shakes will either contain high-quality protein sources called whey protein or casein protein. Whey protein is a specific kind of protein supplement that is absorbed very quickly and provides an immediate supply of amino acids to the body. Casein on the other hand is a different type of protein source, which is absorbed slower than whey protein but provides a longer lasting effect of providing protein to the body. So in reality, a mixture of both whey and casein protein is most advantageous.
How about postgame/post-practice?
As stated before, it is important not only to ingest high-quality protein before competition but afterwards as well. But know that there are certain preparations of proteins to avoid. This would include any proteins that are fried or fatty such as fried chicken, fatty sausages and bacon because the fat slows down the body's ability to digest foods.
To be a successful football player, dedication and hard work is a necessity. And just as important as the physical training, practicing and film study are, a proper diet, especially with the correct quality and amount of protein, is equally paramount to a player's success. Take these guidelines and go properly fuel your body with the correct amount of daily protein and watch the results.
- Brett Fischer is the owner/founder of the Fischer Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. He is a licensed physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, certified strength and conditioning specialist and a certified dry needling provider. He has worked with the University of Florida, New York Jets, PGA & Senior PGA Tour and the Chicago Cubs.