Protein requirements for athletes and highly active people

Protein is an essential part of our diet and we normally ingest it in from a range of foods such as meats and beans. To make effective use of the protein we eat, we must be able to digest it in the stomach and then absorb the breakdown products through the digestive tract. The process of digestion is complicated and involves a cascade of stimuli to release factors which break down the food in an appropriate fashion.

When should people consider taking protein supplements?

Some athletes undergo extensive training programs that place excessive demands on their body’s resources and the demand for protein is high. Sometimes this demand can exceed normal recommended dietary intakes, and the use of whey protein supplements can provide a cheap and efficient way of meeting these demands.

Some people lead extremely active lives and skimp on meals or find that they too place large demands on their body’s resources, and that these protein supplements can be beneficial. Some people who have suffered injuries and illness may also benefit from protein supplements to aid in recovery processes that would place extra demands on body resources.

What are proteins?

Proteins are large molecules built of smaller molecular building blocks called “amino acids”. There are around 20 amino acids that are commonly used for protein construction and these building blocks are joined in a continuous chain. The sequence of the amino acids in a protein determines its ultimate structure and function. Proteins play important roles in

  • processing the chemical reactions in the body,
  • regulating body processes by acting as hormones and
  • play important structural and mechanical functions within the cells that make up the organs, tissues and muscles.

Thus, proteins represent vital nutritional components in the diet and a lack of adequate protein intake will potentially upset a vast array of body functions ranging from muscle performance through to vital organ function including brain function.