All About Protein for an Active Lifestyle

Ever wondered how much protein is enough? What types? And when? Well today we’ll *whey* into this subject! 

As mentioned in our first  Sports Nutrition Article, protein is important for our health, especially for physical activity. Research is now suggesting that athletes and active individuals need more protein than what most individuals need [1].

 Let’s look at why and what happens to the proteins we eat:

This last scenario is especially concerning for athletes and active individuals since they’re consistently working out and burning calories (energy). In other words, if we’re active but don’t have enough calories or protein, our muscles might become a source of fuel; i.e. our bodies would lose protein and not have enough to build and repair muscle.

So How Much Protein is Enough?

For best health and performance, the amount of protein should meet your specific needs. It depends on many factors: the type of exercise (intensity, duration), your weight, calorie intake, goals, age, etc. Generally the literature suggests between 1.2 – 2.0g of protein per kg of body weight a day [3]. This range is very broad; the higher end may be better suited for athletes training for specialized sports, while the lower end may be for individuals who are recreationally active. Talk to a Registered Dietitian (RD) to find out what your specific protein needs are.

*Note: It’s important to have enough calories especially from carbohydrates, so protein is spared from being used as fuel and can be used to build other proteins (ex. muscle) [1][4]. You can think of it like this: have protein to build and repair muscles, and carbohydrates to fuel.

Protein Timing

We know it’s important to have enough protein, but recent research shows that timing may matter just as much. 

After we exercise, our body produces proteins to repair and rebuild damaged muscle – for 24 hours after exercise. This is when our bodies are more sensitive to the protein we eat [5]. They trigger and supply building blocks to make muscle and proteins [6][7].

So When Should I Have Protein?

The key to having a good supply of protein for your body is to have moderate amounts of high-quality protein spread throughout the day and after your workout. More specifically, research recommends to:

  • Have ~ 15-25g(or 0.3g per kg of body weight) immediately after or within 2 hours of exercise to best repair and build muscle § [3]. 

Examples: 2 oz grilled chicken breast, 4 scrambled egg whites, 3 oz cooked salmon/tuna, 1 cup cooked beans, ¾ cup Greek yogurt, ¾ cup cottage cheese, 2 tbsp peanut butter 

  • Spread protein intake throughout the day (every 3-5 hours) in modest amounts in meals and snacks – since our bodies don’t store protein

Does More Protein = More Gains?

No! Extra protein will not help you build more muscle! Current research has tested this and showed that doses of more than 40g after exercise do not enhance muscle growth in most people. There’s only so much your body can use in that time!

Having excessive protein may also lower kidney function along with other negative health effects, so it’s important not to overdo it [1]!

Note: This amount is generally for the typical athlete but depends on your weight. Check with an RD.

§Note: Having enough energy (calories) is important to support muscles. If you do not (ex. if your goal is weight loss), then you may need more protein to support muscle growth and maintenance. This changes from person to person. Talk to an RD to find out what your needs are.

Which Protein Sources are the Highest Quality?

We’ve all heard the saying, “quality over quantity”. Well the same applies to the protein we choose to eat. If you’re active, consider high quality proteins because they’re easily used by muscles to promote muscle growth, repair and maintenance [1][3]. 

High-quality proteins are:

✔ Easily digested
✔ Provide essential amino acids that the body can’t make
(i.e. must come from food)

Examples of high-quality proteins:
  • Animal sources: dairy products, egg whites, lean beef, poultry, and fish
  • Plant sources: soy, quinoa, pea, beans, lentils, and peanuts
  • Isolated proteins: whey, casein, egg white, and soy [1]

Note: Choose protein from food sources over supplements as they provide a natural source of protein with other nutrients to support an active lifestyle.

But there’s one more player involved, and that’s leucine – probably one of the most important amino acids for improving muscle growth after intense exercise [1]. Proteins rich in leucine (such as whey, found in milk), have been shown to be the most effective in improving muscle growth with resistance exercise [1][6][8]. Studies point to this branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) as the trigger for the machinery responsible for making more muscle proteins [6].  

The figure explains the theory that as leucine levels rise in the blood quickly, following exercise, it reaches a certain point where it triggers the production of muscle proteins more than a lower dose would. In other words, the theory is that protein with a high amount of leucine that digests quickly, will boost the amount of muscle proteins made following exercise. 

Foods Richest in leucine:
  • Animal sources: dairy products (ex. milk, yogurt, cottage cheese), egg whites, lean beef, poultry, and fish
  • Plant sources: soybeans, beans (ex. edamame), lentils, and peanuts

Note: there is little benefit of consuming a leucine supplement, rather high-quality proteins that contain leucine and other essential amino acids should be preferred for muscle growth promotion [6].

Therefore, athletes and active individuals should consider high-quality proteins that are:

  1. Leucine-rich
  2. Rapidly digested
  3. Rich in other essential amino acids

To Summarise:

  • Athletes and active individuals require more protein, which depends on many factors
  • An RD can help determine what your specific protein needs are
  • Consider high quality proteins, rich in leucine and essential amino acids that digest rapidly  to promote muscle growth, repair and maintenance
  • Spread protein intake throughout the day (every 3-5 hours) in modest amounts in meals and snacks
  • Have ~15-25g (or 0.3g per kg of body weight) of high-quality protein immediately after or within 2 hours of exercise to maximize gains

*Please be aware that these are general guidelines. Nutrition and intake varies by age, sex, height, activity, being pregnant or breastfeeding, and medical conditions. For more information or to sit with one of our dietitians for an individualised nutrition counselling session, please contact us at or visit ourContact Us page to book your first appointment.

Until next time,

Sadaf Shaikh, PMDip, RD


[1] Webb, D. (2014, June). Athletes and Protein Intake. Today’s Dietitian, 16(6), 22. Accessed from:

[2] Unlock Food (2019). Introduction To Protein And High Protein Foods. Can be accessed from:

[3] Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: nutrition and athletic performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(3), 501-528. Chicago

[4] Rodriguez, N. R., Vislocky, L. M., & Gaine, P. C. (2007). Dietary protein, endurance exercise, and human skeletal-muscle protein turnover. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 10(1), 40-45.

[5] Burd, N. A., West, D. W., Moore, D. R., Atherton, P. J., Staples, A. W., Prior, T., … & Phillips, S. M. (2011). Enhanced amino acid sensitivity of myofibrillar protein synthesis persists for up to 24 h after resistance exercise in young men. The Journal of nutrition, 141(4), 568-573.

[6] Phillips, S. M., & Van Loon, L. J. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of sports sciences, 29(sup1), S29-S38.

[7] Phillips, S. M. (2012). Dietary protein requirements and adaptive advantages in athletes. British Journal of Nutrition, 108(S2), S158-S167.

[8] Pennings, B., Boirie, Y., Senden, J. M., Gijsen, A. P., Kuipers, H., & van Loon, L. J. (2011). Whey protein stimulates postprandial muscle protein accretion more effectively than do casein and casein hydrolysate in older men. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 93(5), 997-1005.

Nutrition for an Active Lifestyle

How to Come Out Swinging with the Help of Food

Exercise! We all do it (or at least try to 🙈) in some way, shape, or form. With the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines stating that adults under age 65 need to have at least 150 minutes of moderate to high intensity aerobic exercise per week, it’s no wonder that physical activity is becoming a hot topic amongst not only our clientele but also our family and friends. Our bodies were simply made to move and even adapt with each workout – it’s no wonder, then, that being active comes with so many other benefits as well, such as reducing the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and even some cancers [1]. Everyone seems to know this, but there is still one area relating to physical activity that is a bit of a mystery to most people, and that’s what to eat to support your work out.

A balanced diet is not just complimentary to exercise – it’s a necessity!

With so much information available online (think: almost everyone on YouTube or Instagram nowadays) it’s easy to get confused and try to figure out what applies to you and your exercise routine. The good news is that the vast majority of people who exercise don’t need to tweak their eating habits too much. The new Canada’s Food Guide is super helpful in this regard and helps to ensure that you’ll get enough of the nutrients (in particular protein, carbohydrates, and fats) that you need to improve your health and support your active living.

Let’s take a look at the new Food Guide so you can get an idea of what I’m talking about:


The amount:

Getting enough protein is important for everyone, but it proves to be crucial for physical activity. Because protein is the building block of your muscles, you need to be able to get a bit more of it in your diet if you’re working out intensely to help your muscles grow and recover from any exercise you might do. This is why you’ve probably heard that you need 0.8g of protein per kg of your body weight normally but that number goes up depending on how long and vigorous your sessions might be [2] [3]. As a result, try to have at least a quarter of your plate be a source of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In addition to having protein during your main meals, talk to a Registered Dietitian about how much more protein you might need to also incorporate into your day through snacks and pre-/post-workout bites.

The timings:

One thing that seems to be universal for most people that exercise is the benefit of having protein during or directly after your workout. Research has shown that having about 20g of protein at these times can help build muscle faster [4]. It might be easier to save the protein for after rather than during, though, as it could be a bit heavy on your stomach when moving around so much.

So what kind of protein should I be having?

You should try to reach for lean protein foods. These are good quality protein sources that are lower in fat but still have the nutrients you need. Think of skinless chicken, turkey, tuna, shellfish, and pulses like beans, chickpeas, and lentils.


The amount:

Carbs are the #1 source of energy in our bodies, so it’s no wonder they play a large role in exercise nutrition [5]. In fact, whenever you eat, carbs are broken down into glucose and are used by cells in the body that need it. After these cells have been fed, extra glucose is stored in your body as “glycogen”. During intense workouts, this glycogen can be used up, causing you to feel tired and need to stop.

To avoid this, make sure you’re having enough carbohydrates in your diet. This depends on your level of exercise intensity and how much you work out, but ensuring you have a quarter of your plate be sources of carbs (such as whole grains) during breakfast, lunch, and dinner is a good start. A Registered Dietitian will be able to guide you on how much more you might need during snacks or around workouts as well.

The timings:

If you happen to be doing intense, over 1 hour workouts (or if you’re playing intense sports for that amount of time) having carbs before and perhaps even during your exercise could help refuel your body and keep fatigue at bay [4].

So what kind of carbs should I be having?

Aim to have whole grains such as whole grain pasta, brown rice, oats, and quinoa during meal times. These will provide you with fibre and lots of B vitamins to promote bowel health and give you energy [6].

Incorporate fruits and low-fat dairy/dairy alternatives into your diet too. While these are not in the “whole grains” section of the Food Guide, fruits and dairy/dairy alternatives are sources of carbohydrates and are good sources of energy. Fruits, in particular, are also a good source of antioxidants like Vitamin C that protect your body’s cells from damage and stress associated with exercise [7] [4]. Dairy and dairy alternatives like fortified soy, cashew, and almond milk all provide calcium and vitamin D to help keep your bones strong and resistant to injury.


The amount:

Remember all the anti-fat propaganda from the 90s/00s? They were wrong! Fat is actually an important part of a balanced diet. In fact, fat provides us with energy and even helps our bodies absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K [8]. Fat even helps with your brain health too – without it, we wouldn’t be able to function and work out, so it’s a good thing you only need about 2-3 tbsp of healthier cooking oils or a 1/4 cup of certain nuts and seeds daily [9] [3]. Because fat is in so many foods, this is the only amount you’ll need to think about adding into your meals in order for you to get 20-35% of your total energy coming from this great macronutrient [10].

The timings:

More good news! Because the amount of added fat needed is so little, timings aren’t really an issue. You could easily get this amount before dinnertime even rolls around through the cooking oil and margarine you might have in your meals.

So what kind of fats should I be having?

Limit sources of saturated and trans fats, like pastries and fast food. These have been linked to heart disease and wouldn’t be conducive to an active lifestyle [11].             

Reach for sources of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats instead, like olive oil, avocados, flaxseeds, and walnuts. These will help improve your heart health and work together with exercise to build a stronger you.


The amount:

While there are a lot of fancy calculations out there to help you figure out exactly how much water you need, you can simply drink water throughout the day. This will stop you from getting dehydrated and help you achieve your best exercise performance [4].

The timings:

Before, during, and after exercise are all good times to stay hydrated. In particular, drinking water while you are active and keeping it closeby at all times is a great way to replenish any fluids your body is losing through sweat. Listen to your body: if you don’t remember having had water in a while or if you feel thirsty, don’t be afraid to take a time out and grab some H2O. Your body will thank you!

So what kind of fluids should I be having?

Water should be your drink of choice when being active. In the event that you are working out at a high intensity for over 45 minutes, consider sports drinks that contain electrolytes as well. This is because your body doesn’t just lose water when sweating – electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and chlorine escape as well [12]. These losses (particularly of sodium) can even cause cramping, so in intense cases where this can happen sports drinks should be considered [4].

In conclusion… 

As simplistic as it may seem, combining all of these ideas into one meal plan actually creates what many of us already do or are striving towards: having three meals a day (with the odd snack in between meals) as well as fluids like water and dairy beverages throughout. I hope the tweaks to this old-age formula are not too daunting and you find yourself able to adopt a diet that can support you on your exercise journey 😌. 

It is important to remember, though, that these are all very general guidelines on exercise nutrition. Every active person is different: macronutrient and caloric needs are dependent not only on age, height, weight, and sex/gender but also the type of physical activity you partake in, the amount of time you spend training/competing daily, and the intensity at which you perform. Seeing a Registered Dietitian is therefore very important and can help you create an individualized meal plan that works best for you and can contribute to optimal performance. If you feel like that’s something you’d benefit from, contact us and we can work together to build a stronger you!

Until next time 😉,

Huda Amareh, MAHN, RD


[1] Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and Participaction (2018). Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. Can be accessed from:

[2] Unlock Food (2019). Introduction To Protein And High Protein Foods. Can be accessed from:

[3] Unlock Food (2019). Sports Nutrition: Facts on Carbohydrate, Fat and Protein. Can be accessed from:,-Fat-and-P.aspx

[4] Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: nutrition and athletic performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(3), 501-528. Chicago

[5] Jequier, E. (1994). Carbohydrates as a source of energy. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 59(3), 682S-685S.

[6] Government of Canada (2019). Eat whole grain foods. Can be accessed from:

[7] HealthLinkBC (2018). Antioxidants and Your Diet. Can be accessed from:

[8] HealthLinkBC (2018). Types of Fats. Can be accessed from:

[9] Chianese, R., Coccurello, R., Viggiano, A., Scafuro, M., Fiore, M., Coppola, G., … & Meccariello, R. (2018). Impact of dietary fats on brain functions. Current neuropharmacology, 16(7), 1059-1085. Chicago      

[10] Coaching Association of Canada (2020). Training Diet Fat – Get the Essentials. Can be accessed from:

[11] Heart and Stroke (2018). Dietary Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol. Can be accessed from:

[12] Baker, L. B., De Chavez, P. J. D., Ungaro, C. T., Sopeña, B. C., Nuccio, R. P., Reimel, A. J., & Barnes, K. A. (2019). Exercise intensity effects on total sweat electrolyte losses and regional vs. whole-body sweat [Na+],[Cl−], and [K+]. European journal of applied physiology, 119(2), 361-375.