training: get the protein to make the pro team

exactly how important is protein? crankpunk gives you the low down on the ins and outs of using protein.

a protein bubble, amazingly enough

the word ‘protein’ derives from the Greek word for ‘primary’, which is fitting, given the primary importance given to protein by some athletes, many cyclists being amongst them. yet just how important protein is for us endurance athletes is still not completely clear – whereas for power athletes such as bodybuilders, protein is proven to help them build mass – yet we cyclists do not need this extra bulk.

so do we really need protein? and if so, how much?

there has been some research (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research/National Strength & Conditioning Association, May 2012, for example) which claims that a balanced diet provides more than enough of the proteins that the human body needs to aid in repairing muscle and keeping joints healthy. however, the majority of these studies fail to take into account the fact that endurance athletes put more strain on their muscles than those people who do not exercise much.

Alberto says ‘eat yer beef’

also, long distance athletes often miss a full lunch due to training or racing, meaning that they miss the opportunity to load up on good quality protein at least once a day when in competition or heavy training. keeping a perfectly balanced diet from natural foods, with the optimal mix of carbs and proteins, is not an easy task.

for every study that claims that athletes do not need to intake extra protein as a supplement, there have been hundreds which claim we should.

as endurance athletes however we tend to focus on carb intake and not pay as much attention to protein, with some fearing that increasing protein intake beyond the amount required by a sedentary person will lead to an increase in muscle mass. however, studies have shown that taking protein supplements whilst involved in endurance sports and training does not lead to an increase in mass – but that it does increase the recovery rate of tired muscle.

despite a routine of 28 hours a week on the bike, Singh’s protein intake turned him into a brick sh*thouse

the general consensus is that serious endurance athletes do need considerable amounts of protein, far above the normal adult RDA – and there is little disagreement amongst the vast majority of pro cyclists themselves that protein supplements should form a part of your nutritional routine – because maintenance, repair, and growth of lean muscle mass all depend on it, as well as optimum immune system function. low dietary protein lengthens recovery time, causes muscle weakness, and suppresses the immune system. chronic protein deficiency will cancel the beneficial effects of your workouts. instead of improving, you will become susceptible to fatigue, lethargy, anemia, and possibly even more severe disorders. athletes with over-training syndrome often also have protein deficiency.

the current consensus in scientific circles is that particular muscle proteins are produced in response to exercise. different types of exercise stimulate different proteins to be produced. these proteins serve different purposes, such as increasing the size and strength of muscle fibres, but some also increase the number and function of mitochondria (which helps you produce more energy from fat, a great thing for endurance performance).

more recently the focus has turned to the interaction between nutrition and training in this process. it’s been shown that eating protein in the period immediately after exercise amplifies the body’s response to that training in a positive manner – so, more protein means better results.

at the end of the day what really matters to competitive athletes is performance. several recent studies have indeed shown that adding protein to carbohydrates can help you be faster. at least half a dozen studies point to a performance benefit from this mix. in one study, highly trained cyclists completed a bout of exercise to deplete muscle glycogen levels. immediately after the exercise and 2 hours into recovery they were provided one of three beverages: a commercial carbohydrate-based fluid replacement drink (31 g carbs), a commercial high carbohydrate drink (73 g carbs), and a beverage matched for energy that contained both carbohydrate (63g carbs) and protein (14 g protein). after 4 hours into recovery, the cyclists improved their performance in a ride to exhaustion test when they consumed carbohydrate with protein by a massive 51% compared to carbohydrate alone.

at least four other studies have shown that protein added to carbohydrate enhances endurance performance.

so, which protein should you take and how much?
there are two basic types of protein powders on the market, Whey Protein (made from milk) and Soy protein (made from the Soy bean), amazingly enough. Whey contains the highest amount of branch amino acids (also crucial to muscle development) and so is the most beneficial to the athlete. Soy Protein has been shown to have less effect on the muscle than Whey, which is why Whey is much more popular.

Whey-hey! you could say… if you had a particularly cheesy sense of humor.

if you are allergic to Whey then eggs, meat, fish and chicken all are great sources of protein also, it’s just that you have to eat them, rather than consume in a drink. you could try blending that lot together but i don’t fancy your chances of keeping it down long…

probably best not blended…

with the powders it’s simple, just follow the guidelines on the tub to decide how much you should take – crankpunk generally takes a little less than the manufacturer advises, as i’m a cheap a*s and figure they’re trying to con me… as for eggs, 4-6 is deemed enough (whites only), whereas about 175g of meat, chicken or fish is recommended. nuts are ok for snacking on and do contain protein but the truth is that you would need so many that the fat content would mean you’d be gaining weight, and as Granma crankpunk used to say, nuts are best for fondlin’, not for munchin’.

so, if you were stuck at home unable to leave the house for pondering the mysteries of the ‘Protein Dilemma’, i hope that’s cleared things up and that you can now go about your business.

stay punk and crank on.

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

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