How Much Protein Do Athletes Need?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in How Much Protein Do You Need

Position of the International Society of Sports Nutrition On Protein & Exercise

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

how much protein do athletes needThere is so much conflicting information about how much protein we should be getting. Some experts say we are eating too much. Others say we are eating too little. Some experts say we should just eat fruits and vegetables. Others say we should load up on meat. Some experts say athletes need more protein. Others say they get plenty of protein in the standard American diet. No wonder you are confused!

So, how much protein do athletes need?

Because of all the conflicting advice, I thought it would be worthwhile to share with you the International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Statement on protein and exercise (R. Jagr et al, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 14:20, 2017. DOI: 10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8).

How Much Protein Do Athletes Need?


Before summarizing the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommendations, I should start by pointing out that these recommendations are focused on the effect of protein on exercise performance. They are also focused more on high performance athletes than on those of us who are just trying to stay fit.

I have covered protein needs of people of all ages and exercise intensities in my article “How Much Protein Do You Need?” and will refer to that article from time to time.

Here are the ISSN recommendations:

exercise and protein#1: “An acute exercise stimulus, particularly resistance exercise, and protein ingestion both stimulate muscle protein synthesis and are synergistic”. In simple English, exercise and protein work synergistically to help you increase muscle mass.

#2: “For building and maintaining muscle mass…, an overall daily protein intake in the range of 0.6 – 0.9 gm/pound body weight/day is sufficient for most exercising individuals”. This is 1.7-2.5 times the RDA for sedentary individuals, and is more appropriate for elite athletes than for your average weekend warrior or fitness enthusiast.

Protein Requirements Calculator

They make the point that protein alone is sufficient for increasing muscle mass following resistance training. However, they also say that addition of carbohydrate to a protein supplement improves muscle glycogen recovery and reduces post-workout muscle soreness.

I also prefer some carbohydrate with a protein supplement because of a phenomenon called “protein sparing.”  In brief, in the absence of carbohydrate, some of the ingested protein is converted to glucose to restore blood glucose levels and muscle glycogen stores. If you include carbohydrate with the protein, the carbohydrate will be used to restore blood glucose & glycogen, and all the protein can be used to increase muscle mass.

#3: “There is novel evidence that suggests higher protein intake (>1.36 gm/pound body weight/day) may promote loss of fat mass in resistance-trained individuals”. This recommendation is primarily for body builders.

#4: “Optimal protein intake per serving…depends on age and [the intensity of] recent resistance exercise. General recommendations are…a dose of 20-40g”. In general, young people require less protein following exercise than older people. I have covered age-specific protein recommendations in my article “How Much Protein Do You Need?”. As for intensity of exercise, most of us engage in moderate intensity exercise and should aim for the lower dose recommended by the ISSN. The higher dose is more appropriate for elite athletes engaged in high intensity training.

leucine protein and exercise#5: “Acute protein doses should strive to contain 700-3,000 mg of leucine…in addition to a balanced array of the essential amino acids”. Older people also need more leucine than younger people. I have discussed age-related leucine needs in my article “Does Leucine Trigger Muscle Growth?”.

It is worth noting that in their position statement, the ISSN did not recommend any of the other ingredients that you often find in protein supplements.

#6: “These protein doses should be evenly distributed, every 3-4 h, across the day”. If you consume too much protein at one time, the excess will not be used for building muscle.

#7: “The optimal time period during which to ingest protein is likely a matter of individual tolerance…However, the anabolic effect of exercise is long-lasting (at least 24 h), but likely diminishes with increasing time post-exercise”. While the anabolic effect of exercise lasts for 24 hours or more, the maximum anabolic effect occurs during the first 2-4 hours after exercise. This is why a post-workout supplement is generally recommended immediately following a workout. Because there is a limit to how much protein can be consumed at any one time, additional protein should be consumed at regular intervals over the next 24 hours (recommendation #6).

#8: “While it is possible for physically active individuals to obtain their daily protein requirements through the consumption of whole foods, supplementation is a practical way of ensuring intake of adequate protein quality and quantity, while minimizing caloric intake.”

protein shakes#9: “Rapidly digested proteins that contain high proportions of essential amino acids and adequate leucine are most effective in stimulating muscle protein synthesis.”  This recommendation is most appropriate for protein(s) ingested during the acute 2-4 hour anabolic phase immediately after exercise. During the remaining 24 hours of the anabolic phase, it is more important to maintain a constant amino acid concentration in the bloodstream. For this reason, I generally recommend more slowly digested proteins, such as meat or soy, between 4 and 24 hours after exercise.

#10: “Different types and quality of protein can affect amino acid bioavailability following protein supplementation.”  Simply put, there are a lot of “junk” protein supplements out there. Look for a manufacturer with a reputation for integrity and for product quality.

#11: “Athletes should consider focusing on whole food sources of protein that contain all the essential amino acids.”  Simply put, you should avoid supplements that contain only a few selected amino acids. Instead, choose supplements that provide whole protein from natural sources. Leucine, for example, is very beneficial when added to a whole protein supplement containing all the essential amino acids, but leucine by itself would be of little value.

protein endurance#12: “Endurance athletes should focus on achieving adequate carbohydrate intake to promote optimal performance; the addition of protein may help offset muscle damage and promote recovery.”  In short, endurance athletes benefit from a combination of carbohydrate and protein, but carbohydrate is of primary importance.

#13: “Pre-sleep casein intake (30-40 g) provides increases in overnight muscle protein synthesis and metabolic rate without decreasing the overnight fat breakdown.”  The definitive studies on this have been fairly recent. This recommendation is most appropriate for elite athletes who are primarily interested in increasing muscle mass. For the rest of us, calorie considerations would outweigh the small increment in muscle mass we could gain overnight.

The above gives a summary the ISSN statement on protein and exercise and offers an answer to the question how much protein do athletes need?


The Bottom Line


This article is different from my previous articles in that it is a summary. It would be pointless to make a summary of a summary, so I have done away with “The Bottom Line.”  Read the article above for a quick summary of the International Society for Sports Nutrition position statement on protein and exercise.


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

Stress and Jaw Pain

Posted September 19, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Get Rid Of Jaw Pain Forever

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney


In this article we will show a connection between stress and jaw pain. 

stress and jaw painStress is a part of everyone’s life, but the way you handle it makes a huge difference.  People think of stress coming from challenges like divorce, bills, etc., but it can also come from happy situations. Positive life changes such as getting married or having a baby can also cause stress.

For some people, the solution to stress is to take a yoga class or practice tai chi regularly.  For others, running, exercising, or listening to music eases their mind.

In my Muscular Therapy office, people frequently tell me “I hold my stress in my shoulders,” or “…in my back.” However, a common stress reaction is to clench your teeth tightly. Actually, people hold stress all over their body, from headaches and clenched jaws to foot pain. I want to discuss how clenching your jaws is a common cause of TMJ. Fortunately, it’s a condition that is easy to treat by yourself.

Stress And Jaw Pain

jaw painJaw pain is commonly caused by a shortening of the masseter muscle. The masseter muscle (circled on graphic) is the muscle that contracts to enable you to chew your food.  Normally, as you chew the muscle shortens and then lengthens as you put more food into your mouth.  How can stress and jaw pain be related?  If you are under stress and your teeth are clenched, you miss the lengthening movement. This imbalance causes the muscle to shorten.

Put your fingers on your cheeks so you are pressing into your back teeth.  Now, clench your teeth and you’ll feel the muscle bulge.  If you clench your teeth when you sleep or you tend to clench your teeth when you are upset, you are setting yourself up for TMJ.

Stress And Jaw Pain (TMJ)

TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) pain is a condition where your jaw bone rubs or “clicks” over the bone that is just in front of your ear. It is painful, and over time it will damage the bones. When you are under stress and clenching your teeth, you are shortening your masseter muscle. A phenomenon called “muscle memory” will cause the muscle to actually get stuck in the shortened position. The now-shorter muscle prevents you from opening your jaw completely.  For example, when you yawn.  As you are trying to yawn, your jaw flips over the bone and it hurts.

Several years ago, I had a client who had such tight masseter muscles that a dental surgeon was going to sever them so she could open her mouth.  This is a terrible solution because it would mean her mouth would hang open for the rest of her life. Fortunately for this client, she had to get medical approval before she could have the surgery.  When Dr. Cohen (the doctor I worked with) felt her masseter muscles, he refused to sign the permission form. He told her that she had to see me first.  Fortunately, I was there at the time.  It took just 30 minutes for me to release the spasms and teach her how to do the treatment.  At the end of the session she was pressing into both masseter muscles and opening her mouth.  She did it easily and without pain!  She started to cry because she came within one day of having this unnecessary surgery.

Her life was changed by just a simple self-treatment!

Self-Treatment For TMJ Pain

stress and jaw pain reliefHere is how to administer TMJ pain relief to yourself.  Place your fingers as shown in the picture to the left.  Clench your teeth so you can feel the muscles bulge.

Apply deep pressure on just one side for 5 seconds. Then release that pressure and apply deep pressure to the opposite side for 5 seconds. Go back and forth until it doesn’t hurt anymore.  Then find a different “hot spot,” and repeat.  Continue doing this until you can’t find any more tender points on your muscle and jaw.

To stretch the masseter muscle, just press deeply into the original point on the muscle pain free living book coverand slowly open your mouth wide.

Hopefully, you can now see the connection between stress and jaw pain.  Stress is a killer, and is the cause for pain all over your body.  It’s also important to find the cause of stress and do all that is necessary to resolve it.

My book, “Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living,” will show you how to self-treat painful spasms throughout your body.  Don’t let the pain caused by stress stop you in your tracks. You can become pain-free, and then go and enjoy a yoga class to release stress from your life.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly

julie donnelly

About The Author

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.