LifeTime WeightLoss Logo

« 90 Day Challenge: Week 2 How-To Guide | Main | 90-Day Challenge: Week 1 How-To Guide »

Performance Enhancement Part 2: Essentials of Repair and Recovery


In Part 1, we discussed the importance of optimizing micronutrient (vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient) intake. Often, active individuals become fixated on optimizing carbohydrate, protein and fat intake, but neglect the importance of vitamins and minerals in a healthy metabolism. Remember, you can only progress with your performance goals if you have a healthy, functioning metabolism. These nutrients are essential because without them, your body cannot thrive. If you haven’t yet made the first two performance principles a priority, stop and focus on them before moving on.

Performance-Enhancing Principle #1: Emphasize large amounts of vegetables at every meal and some fruit during the day.

Performance-Enhancing Principle #2: Optimize nutrient intake with a high-quality multivitamin and a greens product.

If you’ve adopted the first two priorities on a daily basis for a week or more, there’s a great chance you’re already feeling the difference. You’re now ready to take on some additional habits that allow your body to recover and repair from everyday stressors and from your training sessions.

Eating enough protein is key to proper recovery. High-quality protein sources provide the building blocks for muscular development and growth of other tissues, and a strong immune system. They also support proper blood sugar regulation, development of certain hormones, management of acid-base balance and fluid balance, and transportation of hemoglobin, fatty acids and other substances in the body. Higher-protein diets have been shown to help reduce body fat levels as well.[i] Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 22 commonly occurring amino acids used in the formation of protein, listed in the table below. Additional amino acids can be found in the diet and in nutritional supplements, such as taurine or GABA, which serve other purposes. The table below shows the essential amino acids, non-essential amino acids and conditionally essential amino acids commonly found in dietary protein.

Essential amino acids are named as such because they cannot be made by the body. They must come through the diet. Animal protein sources are the best sources of essential amino acids, though it is possible with some effort to combine plant-based foods to consume all of the essential amino acids. The difficulty is that most plant sources contain much higher levels of carbohydrate than protein. In order to achieve optimal protein intake, a large volume of carbohydrates must be consumed if individuals choose to avoid animal proteins.

A subgroup of the essential amino acids is called branched-chain amino acids. Isoleucine, leucine and valine play a significant role in protein synthesis which is important for recovery from exercise. Though these amino acids can be consumed on their own as a dietary supplement, they are also found in high levels in whey protein, which is often a more economical way to increase BCAA consumption. It is also easy to digest, so it serves as a great protein source before, during or after exercise.

A subgroup of the non-essential amino acids is called conditionally essential amino acids. Under normal circumstances, the body can create these amino acids on its own, which is why they’re part of the non-essential list of amino acids. However, under certain stressors, the demand for these amino acids exceeds the body’s ability to create them. 

We’ll discuss states in which it may be beneficial to supplement with specific amino acids in the future. For now, it’s critical to ensure your diet consistently provides enough protein coming from high-quality sources. This brings up the questions of “How much protein?” and “What does high-quality mean?”

How much protein?

There are many myths surrounding the idea of increasing protein consumption. For reference, check out Myth Busting: Protein. Suffice it to say there is little concern about eating higher levels of protein, except for those who have a history of kidney dysfunction. As good as protein may be for improving performance, there is a point of diminishing returns. Strength athletes and those looking to increase lean body mass often overdo their protein intake. High-quality protein can be expensive compared to other food sources, so overeating it may result in unnecessary grocery spending. In addition, an excessive amount of protein can be difficult to digest.

Finding the ideal level of protein intake for each individual may require some experimentation. The textbook used by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements, suggests protein intake of 0.7–1.0 grams per pound of body weight, though some studies have shown improvements in lean body mass development with slightly higher protein intakes. In addition, individuals using performance-enhancing drugs benefit from even higher protein intakes, which unfortunately misleads those who train without drugs into thinking they too will benefit from significantly higher protein levels.[iii]

Performance-Enhancing Principle #3: Athletic-focused individuals may do well to target their daily protein intake at one gram per pound of body weight, assuming they are currently at a healthy body fat percentage.

Once you’ve maintained a consistent protein intake, you can experiment to see if slightly less or more is more effective for your sport. Also, if an athlete has a high level of body fat, the “one gram per pound” goal for protein could result in an excessively high target.

What is high-quality protein?

Protein quality is determined based on the balance of essential amino acids in any given food. The more the amino acid profile resembles what the human body needs, the higher the quality of protein. There are a few methods of determining protein quality. Each method has pros and cons. However, with any of the methods, the foods that rise to the top in terms of protein quality include whey, whole eggs, milk, meat, poultry and fish. Soy protein also comes out near the top, but because most soy protein is genetically modified, we recommend eating soy on an occasional basis rather than a regular basis. It is also a common food allergen. Whey is typically a preferred protein powder source. FastFuel Complete and the Life Time Whey Protein are both made with whey.

Vegetarian and vegan athletes may face a larger challenge with optimizing protein intake. A blend of yellow pea and rice protein provides an amino acid profile similar to whey, so this can be effective as a nutritional supplement. At Life Time, we developed a product called VeganMax specifically for those individuals who choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, or who simply must avoid dairy but would like a non-dairy protein powder. Vegetarian and vegan athletes must also be careful to supplement with other nutrients like iron and B vitamins, since these nutrients are typically found in animal protein sources.

Beyond the amino acid profile of protein, whenever possible, it’s best to look for the most naturally raised sources of animal proteins. Conventionally raised animals are often fed diets inconsistent with what’s best for their genetics, and live in environments that require that they be treated with antibiotics. To help the animals grow faster, many are also treated with hormones. From strictly a protein quality standpoint, there may not be a significant difference between conventionally raised and naturally raised animal proteins. However, the fat quality changes, and the treatment of the animal itself is quite different in the two scenarios. Cattle should be free to roam and should be allowed to eat their natural diet of grass, not corn. Chickens should be free to roam and eat insects and other grub. Fish should be free to swim and eat their natural diet of other fish or marine plants rather than feed. Just as when humans veer from their ideal and see a change in their body chemistry, the same happens with animals.

Performance-Enhancing Principle #4: Eat high-quality protein, rich in essential amino acids.

Protein Timing

Protein should be consumed throughout the day, with each meal, but is especially beneficial in the post-workout “anabolic window” when muscle cells have an increased demand for amino acids. Shakes made with protein powder are often convenient right after a workout, though some athletes prefer to eat whole food meals. There may be some benefit to using whey protein over whole food as it is absorbed faster, allowing the protein to do its job following a workout. For those who choose to eat whole food instead, selecting high-quality protein following a workout is as important as, if not more important than, at other times of the day.

There are a variety of protein powders available on the market and, like most other things, you get what you pay for. Look for naturally sweetened protein powders made by credible manufacturers. At Life Time, our FastFuel Complete, Whey Protein and VeganMax are made by Douglas Labs/Alcrea Health and Thorne Research, two manufacturers well-respected for their quality standards who also produce products for health care practitioners. We specifically chose to produce FastFuel Complete as a high-quality meal replacement with a unique formulation, and VeganMax as a great-tasting, nutritious blend of rice and yellow pea protein to provide a high-quality, dairy-free, vegan protein powder option.

Protein is not the only thing people should eat to maximize their ability to recover from every day stressors, but it does play a significant role. If you are serious about improving your physical performance, make it a point to eat high-quality protein with each meal or snack throughout the day. Add this habit to your vegetables and multivitamins, and you’ll be giving your body more of what it needs for an optimal metabolism.

Written By Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition and Weight Management

[i] Evans EM, Mojtahedi MC, Thorpe MP. Effects of protein intake and gender on body composition changes: a randomized clinical weight loss trial. Nut & Met. 2012. Available Online

[ii] Wikipedia. Amino Acids. Online Article, Accessed 7/18/12

[iii] Siegenfuss TN, Landis J. Protein. Antonio, et al. The Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements. 2008. Humana Press. Totowa, NJ

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

Related Content From

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

Reader Comments (1)

High-protein diets are beneficial in bringing about weight loss and promoting general health, but consuming too much protein can have serious side effects. Furthermore, it is possible that a consistently high-protein diet could lead to joint pain as a result of a loss of calcium, dehydration or arthritis-like symptoms.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterupvc windows

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>