While the notion that increasing protein alone helps us build muscle and improve physical performance may still have widespread belief, the reality is slightly different. Whether you’re an endurance athlete or a body builder, increasing protein to high amounts does not not actually translate into improved body composition or peak physical performance. Yes, as always you do need the right balance of macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fat, but protein is not necessarily the key element.
The right kind of carbohydrates before and during strenuous activity provides more useable energy for our muscles than either fats or proteins and will sustain us longer. When talking about something like body building, often the difficulty in building muscle has less to do with inadequate protein intake and more to do with a less-than-optimal diet that’s missing key vitamins and minerals. Adequate protein is needed, but excessive protein intake is not.
So what are the key nutrients for optimising physical performance? First, let’s talk about water. Being properly hydrated is more important than any other nutrient when it comes to physically performing at our best. Even slight dehydration leads to an increase in body temperature. Our body is always working to maintain homeostasis so in that situation more important than our performance is maintaining a safe body temp. The wisdom of our body will divert energy from our muscles in order to help cool our body. So drink up!
What else plays a role in optimising performance? Zinc and Vitamin B6 help us digest and utilise dietary protein. This can often be more important than increasing the amount of protein we take in. If doing regular endurance sports than obtaining enough antioxidants through diet and supplementation is key to protecting against the oxidation that comes from increased respiration. Vitamins A, C and E are wonderful antioxidants. L-Carnitine can be useful because it helps to balance fat metabolism and supports energy production within the cell and in the muscles. In a nutshell - it burns fat and generates energy.