Dietary proteins play a fundamental role in countless physiological processes in the body. The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) by the Italian Society of Human Nutrition (SINU) for healthy adults is 0.8 grams per kilo per day. It is increasingly evident, however, that a protein intake of at least 1.4 – 1.8 g/k day would be more appropriate for active and sporty individuals who need nutrition.
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Meals And Snacks
The mid-morning snack and the afternoon snack (snack) are meals in all respects. They are essential for growing subjects (children and adolescents) but considered less “necessary” for adults. In a balanced diet, snacks should be two a day, one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon and provide, on average, between 5 and 10% of the daily energy requirement.
- A snack helps integrate the energy needed in the mid-morning and afternoon and for not arriving at lunch and dinner with excessive hunger and avoiding too great lunches or dinners.
- In some subjects with particular energy needs, they are helpful to complete the energy needs and better balance the diet.
From these considerations, the snack and its nutritional typology is different from person to person and must take into account the needs of each one; it should therefore be personalized, considering lifestyles, sporting practice and state of health.
Protein Snacks In Sport
The protein snack consumed by sportsmen and women is often a bar or drink of various flavors containing other nutrients in addition to a high protein content relative to the weight of the snack.
The popularity of protein supplements is probably influenced by some beliefs, such as increased muscle mass, more significant fat loss, improved performance and better recovery indicators, which are difficult to achieve by increasing protein consumption alone.
The increase in protein intake does not guarantee the increase in muscle mass; the conditions for the growth of muscle mass are both linked to the age of the individual and three fundamental factors:
- Train constantly and proportionately to the result you want to achieve.
- Increase your calorie intake by consuming a healthy, balanced diet.
- Give the body time to recover from the effort made by resting for 6/8 hours.
The protein snack must therefore be considered within the energy needs as a supplement to reach the desired threshold: protein and energy. But be careful not to exceed the energy balance threshold leading to weight gain, and not consume less energy than you need to avoid malnutrition.
How To Consume Protein Snacks
Before identifying the most convenient snack for everyone, it should be remembered that the glycogen present gives the energy that moves the muscles in the muscles and the liver as a reserve; its presence in the body is essential given that the major consumer of glycogen is the brain.
Currently, on the food market, there are many protein snacks or snacks (bars or biscuits/crackers with protein flours; percolated Greek yogurt, etc.), and many people are erroneously led to think that they are ideal snacks since, as known, the intake of protein supports muscle anabolism.
In reality, care should be taken because excessive protein intake (over the balanced % compared to the other macronutrients: carbohydrates and fats) is not necessary for recovery. If continued over time, it can compromise the health of the liver and kidneys.
- The body needs carbohydrates converted into glucose, which is converted into glycogen to provide energy and fuel working muscles.
- Eating a meal containing carbohydrates and proteins would be best to help muscles recover and replenish their glycogen stores after physical effort.
- On the other hand, proteins are used to build muscle tissue and repair fibers damaged by exertion; branched-chain amino acids are beneficial for this last function.
From the above, it can be deduced why the diet must be balanced and provide both carbohydrates and proteins in addition to fats. Therefore, the snack can also be mainly protein if it supplements the proteins consumed during the day in balanced quantities with the other macronutrients.
When To Consume Protein Snacks
First of all, let’s remember the general rule of nutrition for athletes:
- 2-3 hours before the competition or training, consuming a meal based on carbohydrates, proteins and fats in quantities proportionate to the energy that will have to be destroyed is advisable.
- The snack should be eaten if the main meal is not rich enough in calories and about 2 hours after breakfast or lunch, as an energy supplement and about 1 hour after the start of the activity.
However, some situations require energy supplementation, for example, after a race or training that has used up all the energy available in the muscles. It is not possible to have a complete meal.
- Eating a snack or meal with proteins and carbohydrates immediately after a workout will help give the body the energy to replenish what we have used up.
- It also helps promote muscle repair and building, mainly if it contains branched-chain amino acids.
- A quick snack can help quell hunger and give you time to freshen up, shower, change and have a full meal afterwards.
Meals eaten during your recovery window, up to one hour after your workout, should contain adequate protein, carbohydrates, and overall calories.
Protein Snacks And Natural Food
As mentioned, the protein snack can contribute to the daily protein requirement. Still, it can also be better balanced and contribute to the recovery of other nutrients such as minerals and, in particular, be rich in essential proteins, including branched-chain amino acids (valine, isoleucine and leucine ), which can be used immediately because they do not have to pass through the liver and above all useful for the repair of muscle fibers worn out by sporting activity.
Some snacks with natural foods and nutrients beneficial for athletes: The basis of the ideal snack is carbohydrates: 50g of fresh wholemeal bread or 25g of wholemeal crackers, 150g of fruit, combined with foods with a high protein content:
- 150 g of Greek yogurt contains 10% protein of animal origin.
- 20 g of Grana Padano DOP contains 33% protein of animal origin with nine essential and branched amino acids valine, isoleucine and leucine, as well as crucial minerals such as calcium, sodium, magnesium and antioxidants such as zinc and selenium.
- 30 gr of peanuts contain 28% of proteins of vegetable origin.
- 40 g of bresaola contains 33% protein of animal origin.
In any case, it must be remembered that although the scientific evidence on the indispensability of proteins is obvious, the numerous studies on the intake of protein sources before or after a workout are not conclusive as they depend on the population (ethnicity) studied, the type of physical activity performed (aerobic, anaerobic, resistance training, HIIT, etc.) and chronic diet.