Diet and protein: training, performance and long-term health.

Protein Intake, training and performance

Diet, protein intake and performance are interwoven issues. The aim of training is improve the body’s ability to perform certain tasks (and in the case of CrossFit it is to achieve a high degree of effectiveness and competence in a wide range of skills and efforts).

Lucas Allen and Summer Rogers at the SouthCentral
Crossfit 2012 Regionals.  Both are in their thirties.

The goal of nutrition in training is to help the body (the entire thing) adapt and remodel, or at least maintain what you have and can do. Bodies like efficiency. Your body will see no point in maintaining bone or muscle that does not look like it’s going to be used any time soon and will let it go. That’s why people who have been ill and disabled for a long time become so frail. When challenged your body (which means here not only muscle and bone, but brain, nerves, biochemical pathways and efficiency, cell proliferation and organelle numbers and function, and neurotransmitters) changes to meet that particular challenge. Protein is important here for repair, strengthen and reinforcement of stressed tissue. Strength-oriented athletes have traditionally made efforts to increase protein intake and there is some evidence that this is effective in increasing muscle mass. There is also evidence that increasing protein intake can reduce the rate of loss of muscle mass seen in aged people.  That’s good for us Masters too.

Cody Zamaripa, age 46, counts burpees during the 2012 Open
at Crossfit Seven, in Fort Worth, TX.

Not all of the protein you can consume will be used to increase mass. Your body will use what it needs, or what it anticipates needing in the near future (in case you persist in doing all those squats, jerks, kettle bell swings and pushups.) Consuming more than you need will probably not hurt you (unless you’ve really gone overboard). Not consuming enough will slow repair and limit your ability to adapt to physiological and mechanical stress.

 Endurance athletes have long been encouraged to eat plenty of carbohydrates since availability of carbs can be a limiting factor in performance. This is why consuming dilute fruit juice (or sugar water) can delay exhaustion and allow an athlete to continue to run, bike or whatever longer than they would if they had been drinking plain water. However if you are always running on carbohydrates you may not adapt biochemically speaking. Normally, if you are low on carbohydrates (or glycogen) your body will attempt to increase the rate at which is uses its own fat stores for energy. Being habitually low on carbs may increase your ability to generate energy by other means. You will probably be uncomfortable for at least a while, but you might improve at this the longer you train.    There are really too many unknowns floating around at present to know exactly what is best.  What is best probably varies by individual, situation, stage of life, and training goals. New information becomes available all the time. We’ll see how things fall out.

Churchward – Venne, T., Burd, N., Phillips, S., & Research Group, E. (2012). Nutritional regulation of muscle protein synthesis with resistance exercise: strategies to enhance anabolism Nutrition & Metabolism, 9 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1743-7075-9-40  

Logan-Sprenger, H., Heigenhauser, G., Killian, K., & Spriet, L. (2012). The effects of dehydration during cycling on skeletal muscle metabolism in females Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31825abc7c  

Symonsi, T., Sheffield-Moore, M., Mamerow, M., Wolfe, R., & Paddon-Jones, D. (2010). The anabolic response to resistance exercise and a protein-rich meal is not diminished by age The journal of nutrition, health & aging, 15 (5), 376-381 DOI: 10.1007/s12603-010-0319-z

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