Nutrition for the Athlete

Tuesday, September 25, 2012
When considering nutrition for the athlete, protein comes up as a topic. This is because, during exercise, 15% of the energy used can come from protein. First the body burns carbohydrates, and then, if the exercise is long enough, the body burns lipids and protein.

Protein is what muscles are made of, and the muscles are continually being renewed. During exercise, however, muscle synthesis is reduced greatly. Instead of proteins going to build up muscles, the proteins are broken down into their components parts - amino acids, and put into the bloodstream. One particular class of amino acids is called branched chain amino acids (BCAA's). This class is comprised of leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Muscles use the amino acids for fuel in two different ways. First, the BCAA's are taken from the bloodstream by the muscles and used directly as fuel. Second, the BCAA's are taken by the muscles and nitrogen is removed. Then, with a muscle compound called pyruvate, the amino acids are converted to alanine. The alanaine goes to the liver where it is converted to glucose and put back into the bloodstream. The glucose can then be used as fuel.

It is widely believed that supplementing an athlete's diet with BCAA's can improve endurance, reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness, and improve recovery. Some sources suggest that BCAA's be taken before and after exercising.

One of the best sources of BCAA's is whey protein, specifically whey protein isolate (WPI). In fact, whey proteins contain the highest concentration of BCAA's available from any natural food protein source.