Everyone needs protein in their diet. It is crucial for muscle growth, as well as the repair of damaged tissue. For rugby players, in particular, an adequate intake of protein is vital to help them build and retain muscular body mass and aid the recovery after hard training sessions and matches. With insufficient protein, the body converts proteins back to amino acids to use them for essential bodily functions, which leads to a loss in muscle mass – not what a rugby player wants.
Sources of protein
A good healthy diet should give you all the protein you need. Fish and lean meats are typically good sources of protein, as are dairy products such as cheese, milk and eggs. Fresh vegetables and staples (pasta and potatoes) also contain good amounts of protein. But while these natural foods are excellent sources of protein, they can take time to prepare and take in; neither are they very convenient if you need some protein quickly, straight after training at the gym for example. This is where protein shakes come in handy.
Are protein shakes for you?
If you have a well-balanced diet, you probably don’t really need to worry about protein shakes, and they don’t need to be at the top of your diet plan. In fact, there is no scientific evidence to indicate that they offer any advantages for anyone eating a normal, varied diet. The benefits arise if, for some reason, your diet is protein deficient or you need extra protein. Here, you should know that the average daily protein requirement for an ordinary individual is about 0.8g per kg of body weight, but for a rugby player who wants to maintain or increase body mass, then about 1.8-2.0g per kg of body weight is required. Any more than that, however, and your body will store the excess protein as fat, which is not what you’re after.
You should also bear in mind that protein shakes do not provide the all-round nutrition of ‘normal’ foods and should not be used as a substitute. You also need carbohydrates for energy and natural fats for energy to help the proper functioning of the brain and nerves.
Not all protein shakes are the same
You should be careful when choosing a protein shake. Basically, there are two main types – whey and casein – and they act very differently. Whey protein is absorbed by the body relatively quickly and should therefore be taken during the day. Casein, on the other hand, is absorbed more slowly and is best taken before bedtime to keep the body nourished while you sleep.
However, protein shakes also vary widely in their other ingredients. This means that they have different calorific contents and may well contain substances that you don’t want or need. The bottom line is that, when choosing a protein shake, read the label carefully so that you know exactly what you are getting.
When should you take protein?
To keep your muscles functioning at their best, you should take protein at regular intervals throughout the day; you should eat regularly. But it is after exercise that scientists believe the body synthesises protein most efficiently, which is why top players like to get some protein immediately after training or a game. At these times, many find it more convenient to take a protein shake than a meal.