Nov 23, 2016
Protein & Fat
Susan Kundrat

Last week, we took a look at the importance of carbohydrates in an athlete’s diet. This week, let’s break down protein and fat.


Protein needs are increased for athletes compared to the general population, and should equal 15 to 25 percent of total calories for most athletes. The recommended ranges of intake are: 1.2 to 1.4 gram/kg/day for endurance athletes and 1.2 to 1.7 gram/kg/day for strength athletes (.5 to .8 grams per pound per day). This recommendation equals up to roughly double the protein recommendation (0.8 grams/kg/day) for the general population.

Athletes need to make sure they are getting adequate protein to maintain lean muscle mass and build muscle, and also to repair tissues such as tendons and ligaments, in addition to other functions. Both protein quantity and quality are important for providing the materials needed to stimulate protein anabolism. Thus, high-quality protein should be consumed throughout the day in moderate amounts.

When working with athletes individually, I calculate total protein needs (for example, 140 grams of protein daily for a 185-pound strength athlete) and divide protein out into six meals/snacks a day. In the case of an athlete needing 140 grams of protein a day, each meal contains 30 to 40 grams protein, and three snacks (or pre- and post-workout fuelings) each have 10 to 20 grams of protein.


Athletes should take in adequate fat on a daily basis (20 to 35 percent of total calories), as fat not only provides energy (9 calories/gram), but also offers essential fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, and E and omega-3 fatty acids. Fat also provides essential building blocks of hormones and other tissues in the body.

Total fat intake for athletes will vary depending on their goals. For example, some athletes can decrease fat intake to the lower acceptable level for athletes (20 percent of the total intake) to aid in body fat loss, while others may need to increase fat intake to the high end of the range (30-35 percent of intake) to aid in weight gain.

The most important message to get across to athletes is that the source and type of fat they take in are key factors. Helping athletes build diets high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and low in saturated and trans fat will ensure they are getting quality sources of fat to aid in tissue repair and help keep athletes healthy. Portable or readily accessible sources of these fats include nuts, seeds, nut butters, guacamole, olives, hummus, and oil-based salad dressings.

Susan Kundrat, MS, RD, CSSD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Kinesiology and the Nutritional Sciences Program Director at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the co-founder of RK Team Nutrition.

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