Firstly, proteins are made up of amino acids which are our bodies building blocks and are essential for growth and repair of our muscles and tissues while also playing a key role in the production of hormones, enzymes, antibodies and neurotransmitters within our bodies. Without adequate protein intake we can leave our bodies at risk of muscle wastage, injury and infection.
Protein Intake and The GAA Athlete?
For a GAA athlete the recommendation is outlined below:
● 1.6 - 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day.
Example 70kg GAA player:
70kg x (1.6g) - (2.0g) of protein = 112 - 140 grams of protein per day.
Once you have calculated your daily protein target this should be evenly distributed across the day with a minimum target of 20 to 25 grams of protein per meal and snack. This level of protein intake at each meal and snack enables a process known as muscle protein synthesis (MPS) in the body which is an anabolic process that basically tells our muscles to grow and adapt. Aim to include a wide variety of protein sources to ensure you are obtaining all of the essential amino acids over the course of a day. Your protein intake should also come through a food first approach as much as possible.
Protein and Body Composition?
Due to the GAA season currently being placed on hold, players are likely more sedentary or at least lacking the exposure to the training loads they are usually accustomed to during this seasonal time point. This unforeseen scenario has led to concerns in relation to body composition and further enhances the importance of optimal protein intake. As previously mentioned protein is key for muscle growth and development but it is also vital for the retention of muscle mass (keeping the muscle mass you have already developed). This retention of muscle mass should be high on the list of priorities for any GAA athlete and especially those who are currently either trying to maintain their body composition or perhaps aiming to reduce their body fat during this time. A protein intake of 2.0 to 2.2 grams per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day during calorie or energy restriction (Calorie Deficit) is sufficient for the retention of muscle mass.
Post-Exercise Protein Intake?
In the hours after exercise muscle protein synthesis (for growth) and muscle protein breakdown both increase. The balance between muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and breakdown determines whether our muscles remain constant, increase in size (Hypertrophy) or decrease in size (Muscle Atrophy).
So there are a few points we need to focus on to ensure we are getting the most from our training sessions:
● Post exercise meal to contain a minimum of 0.3 - 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight (usually between 20 - 30g) and ideally along with 1 - 1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kg body weight (As soon as possible post-exercise / Ideally within 2 hours post-exercise).
● The branched chain amino acid (BCAA) "Leucine" plays a key role in muscle protein synthesis (triggers growth). A target of 3 grams of Leucine per meal is optimal for triggering MPS through the mTOR pathway. Hitting your daily protein target through quality sources will likely ensure you are meeting your Leucine target.
The below photo is an example of food sources and portion sizes that contain 25g of protein.
(Sources can be mixed and matched)
About The Author:
MSc. MSc, BSc, ISAK L1, SENr.
Evan is a former Mayo Senior Footballer and is now the Head of Performance Nutrition with the Mayo Senior Mens and Ladies Gaelic Football Teams while also running his private business “Evan Regan Nutrition” where he offers a variety of online nutrition programmes and packages to athletes and the exercising population.