High Protein Diets and Exercise

Beyond the Zone: Protein Needs of Active Individuals

Peter W.R. Lemon, Ph.D

Exercise Nutrition Research Laboratory, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, CANADA E-mail: plemon@julian.uwo.ca

There has been debate among athletes and nutritionists regarding dietary protein needs for centuries. Although contrary to traditional belief, recent scientific information collected on physically active individuals tends to indicate that regular exercise increases daily protein requirements; however, the precise details remain to be worked out. Based on laboratory measures, daily protein requirements are increased by perhaps as much as 100% vs. recommendations for sedentary individuals (1.6-1.8 vs. 0.8 g/kg). Yet even these intakes are much less than those reported by most athletes. This may mean that actual requirements are below what is needed to optimize athletic performance, and so the debate continues. Numerous interacting factors including energy intake, carbohydrate availability, exercise intensity, duration and type, dietary protein quality, training history, gender, age, timing of nutrient intake and the like make this topic extremely complex. Many questions remain to be resolved. At the present time, substantial data indicate that the current recommended protein intake should be adjusted upward for those who are physically active, especially in populations whose needs are elevated for other reasons, e.g., growing individuals, dieters, vegetarians, individuals with muscle disease-induced weakness and the elderly. For these latter groups, specific supplementation may be appropriate, but for most North Americans who consume a varied diet, including complete protein foods (meat, eggs, fish and dairy products), and sufficient energy the increased protein needs induced by a regular exercise program can be met in one’s diet.

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