Why Proteins Are Important In Triathlon Training

In the athletic world, protein is mainly synonymous with weight training and bodybuilding. The reason is that it’s a vital part of building and repairing muscles. But it also plays a significant role in so many other sports and disciplines.

In this article we want to explore a bit more about the benefit to triathletes.

What are proteins?

They are linear chains of amino acids which linked together by peptide bonds. There are two kinds of amino acids: non-essential which can be synthesized by the body; and essential which cannot be produced in the body in sufficient amounts.

It’s important to be aware of 9 essential amino acids: isoleucine, histidine, lysine, threonine, phenylalanine, leucine, tryptophan, methionine and valine. They must be supplied daily through proper diet. Complete protein can be sourced from meat, eggs, fish, milk and soy. These foods provide all of the nine essential amino acids the body needs.

How Proteins Work For Triathletes

Proteins are one of the macronutrients needed by the body in large amounts. They help with the proper functioning of the immune system, respiratory system and cardiovascular system; improve memory and thinking ability; and improve resistance to stress and anxiety.

Triathletes requires a higher protein intake than a healthy non-exercising individual. However, care must be taken when choosing the kind and amount of protein to consume. Unlike carbohydrates, proteins cannot be stored in the body for future use. Excess amounts turn to fats and that would not be ideal in triathlon training.

Here are the main benefits and reasons it’s so important:

  1. Build And Repair Muscles

    Proteins are important in the maintenance of body tissues especially the muscles which include the heart. For endurance athletes which put muscles under stress and strain, proteins help build and repair damaged muscle fibers during training and competitions.

    The wear and tear of muscle tissues need immediate repair after workout to improve muscle mass and strength. Branched-chain amino acids or BCAA such as leucine, isoleucine and valine are powerful proteinogenic amino acids to help grow and repair muscles. Best food sources are chicken, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts and soy.

  2. Act As Hormones

    Protein hormones are amino acid-based hormones which regulate the physiological and behavioral activities of the body. They are very important in the metabolism and cell functions that include digestion, respiration, sleep, sensory perception, movement, growth, excretion, reproduction, heart rate, hunger, thirst, body temperature, and mood.

    Protein hormones are water soluble so can be carried easily into the bloodstream by the endocrine glands. One of the endocrine glands is the pituitary gland, also often referred to as “master gland” because it produces many hormones which control various physiological processes and stimulates other glands to produce other hormones.

    Here is a list of a few pituitary hormones and their vital functions in triathlon training:

    1. Adrenocorticotropic hormone stimulates the production of steroid hormone cortisol. It breaks down carbohydrate, fat and protein into glucose to make available during the training for the working muscles and after the training for muscle repair and maintenance.
    2. Growth hormone, also called somatotropin or human growth hormone promotes muscle and bone growth; regulates body composition and fluids; promotes sugar and fat metabolism.
    3. Thyroid stimulating hormone stimulates the production of thyroid hormone. It regulates the metabolic rate of the body, digestive functions, muscle control, brain development, bone maintenance and mood.
  3. Transport Oxygen

    The name hemoglobin is derived from two root words: heme and globin which suggests the fact that it is a globular protein surrounded by four heme groups. Each heme group is associated with an iron atom that binds one oxygen molecule. These four heme groups bind four oxygen molecules to form oxyhemoglobin.

    Hemoglobin is a red pigmented protein in the blood cells that transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and brings carbon dioxide and hydrogen back to the lungs from the tissues. When the oxygenated blood reaches the individual cells, it causes aerobic oxidation to provide energy or fuel to the body for metabolism.

    Increased amount of hemoglobin and iron are needed when the body is under a lot of strain like during a triathlon.

    As the muscle mass grows, there is a corresponding increase of blood vessels.  Consume protein and iron rich foods such as eggs, liver, oysters, beef, pork, dried beans, spinach, asparagus, and almonds with cofactors such as vit C, B6, B12, and folic acid.

  4. Boost Immunity

    Antibodies, also known as immunoglobulins are blood proteins produced by the immune system. They boost immunity by responding to and counteracting the presence of an antigen. Antigens are toxins or other foreign substance including disease-causing microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria or allergens from insect bites.

    Understanding the immune system:

    1. B-lymphocytes or B-cells are specialized white blood cells that manufacture antibodies and defend the body against infection and disease. They neutralize antigens by attaching themselves to the invading foreign materials and changing their chemical compositions.

    2. T-lymphocytes or killer T-cells patrols the body in search of antigens and destroy them. They secrete proteins called cytokines.

    3. Cytokines give off signal on how other immune cells respond to foreign invaders either to act or inhibit. They are responsible for the check and balance of the immune system. When an antigen is detected, they stimulate other cells such as lymphocytes towards the sites of inflammation, infection and trauma.

      To keep the immune system in healthy condition, choose lean protein like seafood, beans, white meat poultry (without the skin), fish, lentils, eggs and soy products. Avoid high-fat diet because it impairs and immune system by inhibiting T-lymphocytes response.

Protein Requirements

To ensure training goals are achieved and you keep your body in excellent shape, athletes should consume the recommended daily dietary protein requirement which ranges from 0.64 to 0.91 gram of protein for every pound of body weight. Protein supplements such as whey protein are generally used to improve protein levels of endurance athletes.

We have a detailed list of recommended protein products for runners and triathletes, that will help you keep up the minimum levels needed.

Food sources and approximate protein content:

FoodWeight (gram)Protein (gram)
Lean beef10026
Chicken breast10031
Salmon10020
Egg10013
Lean pork10027
Tuna10030
Almonds10021
Broccoli1002.8
Kale1004.3
Asparagus1002.2
Shrimp10024
Mussels10024
Tilapia10026
Turkey breast10022
Lamb and Mutton10025
Peanut butter10025
Quinoa10014.1
Barley10012
Walnuts10015
Soya bean10036

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