When it comes to athletes’ protein intakes, timing is much more important than quantity, according to protein metabolism expert Daniel Tomé, keynote speaker during the Foodvalley Summit Sports & Nutrition, 11 October 2018 in The Netherlands. Tomé is a professor at AgroParisTech and director of INRA’s Research Unit for Nutritional Physiology and Eating Behaviour, and has significant expertise in protein requirements and quality of intake. He says that most sportspeople tend to think they need large amounts of dietary protein, but most already consume enough. 

“It’s true that muscle needs protein to support the turnover but this can be provided by normal protein intake,” Tomé said.

He explained that energy is usually a more important consideration for athletes, and when energy is increased, protein tends to increase as well. Protein requirements for the general public are about 55-60 grams per day, and athletes need about an extra 10-15 grams. He added that the total should not exceed more than 25% of total energy intake.

“In the European diet, the level of protein intake is closer to 80 grams, so in exercising and non-exercising populations, their protein is already sufficient,” he said.

However, the structure of the food and when it is supplied are important for ensuring optimal use of protein for building and repairing muscle.

“We know that after exercise there is a window of maybe half an hour for protein synthesis,” he said. “That means protein has to be provided to the muscle in the half hour after the exercise. This has to be done either before the exercise, but then there is a problem with digestion […] or we provide it after the exercise, but then we need very rapidly absorbed food to allow for the amino acids to be taken up in the muscle.”

High protein foods before exercise can be difficult to digest because exercise blocks stomach and gut motility, Tomé said, but he suggests providing protein as a liquid supplement can help get around this problem.

For food companies looking to target sportspeople with new protein products, he says the main consideration should be ensuring a good balance of amino acids.

“In some cases the quantity is too high of branched-chain amino acids, mainly leucine,” he said. “…For the food supplements associated with exercise, you could use soluble protein and protein hydrolysates – which are also soluble – and then pay attention to the amino acid composition.”

However, he said athletes could easily get all the protein they need from their diet, whether from animal or plant sources.

“It is the same for non-exercising people,” he said. “In the diet there is a need for an adequate quantity of well-balanced amino acids, and they can be obtained in different ways. Generally, with plant protein we can obtain a good balance.”

Interested? Join the Foodvalley Summits Proteins of the Future & Sports & Nutrition, 10-11 October, Ede, The Netherlands with a.o.:

Protein metabolism, protein and amino acid requirement and body functions
Daniel Tomé | Professor in Human Nutrition | AgroParisTech
11 October, 09.30 hrs

More information: Program & Registration