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Guide to Protein Powders for Cyclists – Why Are They Useful?

By Jiri Kaloc

Should you be using a protein powder as a cyclist? When is it useful? Is whey the best option or are plant-based proteins better? What’s the difference between a protein concentrate and isolate? This series will answer all questions you ever had about protein powders as a cyclist.

A lot of cyclists probably think that protein powders are something that’s meant for people pumping iron in the gym. Protein powders can definitely help with muscle building but that’s not their only function. Protein itself is an essential nutrient and getting the right amount at the right time can have benefits for everyone.

Why all athletes should be interested in extra protein

There are several reasons why having plenty of protein in the diet is beneficial to athletes. Just consider the following seven points and see how many you could benefit from.

• Improved satiety, better appetite control, and lower chance of overeating.
• Better muscle retention during weight loss and more calories burned through digestion.
• Better muscle maintenance, especially in older age, when combined with exercise.
• Better strength gains when combined with exercise.
• Improved immune function, less susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections.
• Faster exercise recovery and tissue repair after exercise and injury.
• A decrease in mood swings and skin problems.

Protein powder offers faster exercise recovery and tissue repair after exercise and injury. © Profimedia

Why is protein from real food not enough?

Protein is important, no question about that. Most of the time, the best way to get it is from real food but there are some instances where protein powders are superior.

#1 Convenience

Having a tasty warm meal with a nice piece of salmon sounds like a great idea after a workout. Unfortunately, real life often gets in the way of such luxuries. Busy workdays, travelling or diet restrictions are just some of the reasons why it’s not always possible. That’s when having a convenient powdered source of protein handy is really helpful.

#2 Appetite

Sometimes it’s also about appetite. If you’re feeling unwell and can’t imagine shovelling a lot of meat down your throat, a tasty shake with protein powder might seem more palatable. Or if you’re trying to put on some muscle or improve recovery and the quantity of food you need to eat seems daunting, protein powder can make it easier to hit the daily protein goal.

Salmon with broccoli and carrots © Profimedia

How much?

Endurance athletes should eat between 1,2-1,7 g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. That means about 85-120 g of protein per day for a 70-kg cyclist. Even if you have a decent portion of protein (20-30 g) for each of your three main meals of the day, you could probably use an extra kick in the form of protein powder. And when you don’t manage to have three warm meals then protein powder can save the day. And athletes that are older than 50 should focus on protein intakes that are even higher, closer to 1,7-2 g per kg per day.

As a good rule of thumb, about 20-40 g of protein per day can come from a protein powder. You can push it to 80 g on occasions but keep in mind that the majority of protein should always come from real food. Protein powder is only there as a supplement.

Next up in Guide to Protein Powders for Cyclists series