Most of us know that our body needs protein to build and maintain muscle as well as help perform in many other bodily tasks. Protein has an important part to play in any cyclist’s life. After all, without protein, how are you going to make gains? So how much do we need and is there such a thing as too much protein?
Proteins are the building blocks of the body. They help make muscle, tendons, organ tissue, skin, hormones, neurotransmitters, enzymes and so much more. Without adequate protein we cannot maintain our bodies. That’s before factoring in exercise.
Proteins are made up of nitrogen and amino acids which form together to make protein chains. Some of the amino acids we need are manufactured within the body, others need to be ingested. The ones we need to take in are those referred to as ‘essential amino acids.’
Current thinking has the average daily requirement of protein at 0.8g per kg of body weight. That equates to 56g per day for the average office working male or 46g per day for a sedentary female. That’s the average amount for the average person. As we know, cyclists are not your average people. J
It’s important to note that these calculations are grams of protein, not grams of the food containing protein. You need to get the maths right if you are to make gains!
Protein and muscle mass
Ask any cyclist how they got to where they are and they will likely say lots of miles, lots of sweat and plenty of protein. As muscles are worked, they break down. The harder you work them, the more damage is caused. Repairs to the muscles are where gains come from.
The body recognises that more is being asked of the muscle so builds it a little larger and a little stronger as a result. That’s how they grow when we exercise. To do this they need enough protein to build that muscle and perform all of those other tasks it is needed for. So we need to keep a positive protein balance, or nitrogen balance, depending on who you talk to.
To increase muscle mass we therefore need to increase our protein intake. So from a measly 0.8g per kg of body weight, we increase it to a minimum of 1g per kg.
But many cyclists are endurance athletes, so therefore need even more. We need to further increase our intake to between 1.2 and 1.5g per kg of bodyweight. To maintain what muscle we have and leave enough left over to grow our leg and core muscles.
So the average cyclist who rides three or more times a week, who isn’t old, overweight and is in otherwise good health needs to eat 1.2 and 1.5g per kg of bodyweight or more. There’s nothing wrong with eating more than that as there are currently no known side effects of too much protein in our diet. The only difficulty comes in eating enough quality protein in a day to manage it!