The Best Protein Sources for Athletes

Some forms of this muscle growth and maintenence ingredient are better than others

Proteins are the building blocks of life and a powerful ally to any athlete. The more than 10,000 proteins found in the human body — and the amino acids contained within — help to make muscle, bone, tendons, skin, hair, and other tissues. They also play a role in nutrient transportation and enzyme production. Proteins are especially helpful to athletes because they repair and rebuild muscle that is broken down during exercise.

Why It’s Necessary
Complete proteins (those with nine essential amino acids) are found in meat, fish, and eggs, while incomplete proteins come from vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts. Regular, complete protein intake is important both because protein is not easily stored in the body and because it can only be ingested through food. The body can’t manufacture those essential amino acids on its own.

Protein is especially helpful in muscle repair and rebuilding. After exercise, particularly weightlifting, your muscles are broken down and necessarily (but minimally) destroyed. Protein aids in repairing the destroyed muscle tissue and builds it back up again, which in turn creates bigger, stronger muscles. Without protein of any kind, your muscles will not recover from the stress they undergo during exercise. Your body will not improve and has a higher chance of injury, rendering your workouts useless, even harmful.

So, what’s the best way for athletes to ingest complete proteins?

The Proof is in the Protein
Protein can be found in many of the foods mentioned above, ranging from a black bean patty to a salmon fillet. In addition, protein can be added to lots of other foods you eat without breaking your bank account—egg crumbles on salads or hummus spread on sandwiches are little changes that can have a big impact.

While good sources of protein can be found in many foods, the protein in eggs can be exceptionally beneficial for active people. Egg protein is easy for the body to absorb; it doesn’t have to work as hard to break down an egg as it would a steak or burger. 

In addition, muscle growth is stimulated by protein, and the egg has a lot of it. This is probably the result of high quantities of leucine, the amino acid responsible for stimulating muscle protein synthesis after a meal. Eggs have 10 to 20 percent more leucine than most other protein sources, and whey protein is the only source with more leucine in it.

So what does egg protein offer that soy, whey, and casein don’t? Absorption is the egg’s advantage. The Biological Value scale is used to measure the quality of a protein, including how quickly the body can absorb it. Egg protein scores a perfect 100 on the scale. Any amount of protein is good for the body and its functions. Some means are simply bigger-hitting than others.

Egg protein is not only ideal for athletes needing a high dosage of protein, but it also offers an ideal alternative for vegetarians, people who have soy allergies, or those wishing to avoid dairy.

How Will You Get Your Protein?
Even college kids pulling all-nighters find ways to get protein—bean burritos and hamburgers are staples of the 3 o’clock cram session. But there are far healthier ways to work more protein into your diet: Chicken, turkey, and fish are all lean, complete forms of protein, and legumes, vegetables and fruit are supplementary, heart-healthy methods, too. Making a stir fry of chicken and veggies can be a fast, affordable, and easy way to incorporate more protein.

If you’re looking for a quick way to add protein overall—without taking on lots of additional meal planning or costs—eggs might be the best route to take. Fried, scrambled, pickled, boiled, poached, blended, or powdered: It’s easy to add some form of egg to your diet. Whole eggs are superior to egg protein powder, which is made from egg whites and doesn’t contain the additional nutrients found in the yolk.

Another way to obtain egg protein is through a hyperimmune egg supplement, which is made from eggs that are specially cultivated to be more bioavailable, which enhances how well the nutrient absorbs into our bodies. These supplements utilize the yolk and the whites.

Egg, whey, and soy are still tried-and-true routes to protein intake. In fact, it doesn’t really matter how you get your protein; what matters is that you get it. Simply taking in more protein—in any form—will benefit your muscle and overall health; you just have to decide what the best way is for you to obtain it. 

FX Marino is the President of IgY Nutrition