The importance of protein for athletes

Sports Med. 1984 Nov-Dec;1(6):474-84. doi: 10.2165/00007256-198401060-00006.


Although it is generally believed that carbohydrate and fat are the only sources of energy during physical activity, recent experimental results suggest that there are also significant alterations in protein metabolism during exercise. Depending on several factors, including intensity, duration and type of exercise, as well as prior diet, training, environment and perhaps even gender or age, these changes may be quite large. Generally, exercise promotes: a decrease in protein synthesis (production) unless the exercise duration is prolonged (greater than 4h) when increases occur; either an increase or no change in protein catabolism (breakdown); and an increase in amino acid oxidation. In addition, significant subcellular damage to skeletal muscle has been shown following exercise. Taken together, these observations suggest that the protein requirements of active individuals are greater than those of inactive individuals. Although the underlying reasons are different, this statement applies to both endurance and strength/power athletes. At present, it is not possible to precisely determine protein requirements. However, because deficiencies in total protein or in specific amino acids may occur, we suggest that athletes consume 1.8 to 2.0 g of protein/kg of bodyweight/day. This is approximately twice the recommended requirement for sedentary individuals. For some athletes this may require supplementation; however, these quantities of protein can be easily obtained in a diet where 12 to 15% of the total energy is from protein. Although the effect of exercise on protein metabolism has been studied for many years, numerous questions remain. Hopefully, with the recent renewed interest in this area of study, most of these answers will soon be available.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dietary Proteins / metabolism*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Humans
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscles / metabolism
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Physical Endurance
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Dietary Proteins
  • Proteins