Protein requirements for performance

Protein is not a primary energy source, but it does contribute to energy production. Its primary function is the repair and growth of every cell in your body, especially muscles. Carbohydrates are your body’s first choice for energy, but if you don’t get enough carbs, your body will use pro­tein for energy rather than for muscle repair and growth.

Consuming lean, high-quality protein from whole foods is the preferred way to get the protein you need, but when high-quality protein foods aren’t available or aren’t practical, protein supple­ments are acceptable.

Aim for 20–25 g of protein for a recovery meal or snack after periods of strenuous physi­cal activity lasting longer than one hour (for example, military training, combat patrols, and exercise).

Protein Intake Needs for Various Levels of Activity

Activity Level/Conditions

Grams per Pound Body Weight

Grams per Kilogram Body Weight (kg = lb/2.2)

Low-intensity/short-duration activities include exercise lasting up to 60 minutes, hiking, a recovery run, lighter workout days, and general strength training.

0.6–0.7

1.2–1.4

Endurance training involves vigorous exercise that challenges the aerobic system, including running, cycling, swimming, and sports such as basketball or racquetball.

0.5–0.6

1.2–1.4

Strength training involves resistance exercise such as weight training, lifting heavy objects, and use of resistance bands. The goal of muscle building usually is to increase lean body mass without gaining fat, so it’s important to eat right and main­tain energy balance.*

0.6–0.8*

1.4–1.7

High energy demands combined with insufficient calories

0.7–0.9

1.5–2.0

*Up to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day is enough for strength training, even if you’re a hardcore bodybuilder, as long as you’re getting enough calories overall to support your daily activities. Eating too much protein could result in weight gain in the form of fat.

A Warfighter can easily meet his or her protein needs by eating whole foods. Below is a sample calculation and one-day meal plan for a Warfighter who weighs 185 pounds and is focusing on strength training. Based on the protein requirements in the table above, the Warfighter’s estimated protein needs are:

Daily protein needs for strength = (0.6 x 185 pounds) to (0.8 x 185 pounds) = 111–148 grams/day.

Meal

Foods

Protein

Breakfast

2 eggs

One slice whole-wheat toast

8 oz low-fat milk

12 g

3 g

8 g

Lunch

Grilled chicken (5 oz) wrap

One container (5.3 oz) non-fat Greek yogurt

Veggie sticks with 2 Tbsp hummus

40 g

12 g

2 g

Dinner

5 oz baked fish

1/2 cup brown rice

1 cup grilled asparagus

32 g

3 g

4 g

Snack

1 oz almonds

One stick string cheese

6 g

8 g

Total grams of protein* =

130 g