Dietary Protein in Athletes Trying to Lose Weight

Weight loss is a difficult problem in athletes because they must maintain muscle mass and performance capacity as they lose weight. A review of literature by Stuart Phillips from McMaster University in Canada concluded that high-protein diets were best for promoting weight loss in athletes. He cautioned, however, that increasing dietary protein typically comes at the expense of carbohydrates. Athletes use carbohydrates as fuel almost exclusively at exercise intensities above 65 percent of maximum effort. Protein can help maintain muscle mass during severe deficits in calorie intake, but this will come at the expense of energy necessary for intense exercise that requires carbohydrates as fuel. The best strategy for weight loss is to create a small caloric deficit, increase protein intake and maintain adequate carbohydrate intake for intense training. This is a difficult balancing act for athletes. It’s important to balance the need for fat loss, maintenance of muscle mass and the energy necessary for intense training. (Sports Medicine, 44 (supplement 2): S149-S153, 2014)

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