How Much Protein? New Guidelines From the International Association of Athletics Federations

Another sporting body has gone on the record to say athletes need more protein than the average person.

The International Association of Athletics Federations — that’s the international governing body for the sport of athletics — has published a new consensus statement in The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.(1) It includes a position statement on the contested question of how much protein an athlete should consume. Is it more than the standard recommendations for the general population?

Yup. Take a look at what was written below.

Current recommendations based on available evidence

  1. The optimum daily protein intake for weight stable Athletes exceeds the protein RDA (0.8–1.0 g/kg BM/day) set for the general adult population.
  2. The optimum daily protein intake for Athletes who have a goal of weight maintenance or weight gain ranges from 1.3 to 1.7 g/kg BM/day. (Editor’s note: that’s 0.59 to 0.77 grams per pound of bodyweight.)
  3. The optimum per meal/serving of protein for Athletes who have a goal of weight maintenance or weight gain ranges from 0.3 to 0.4 g/kg BM/meal.
  4. Very high protein intakes of >2.5 g/kg BM/day offer no adaptive advantage.
  5. The optimum daily protein intake for Athletes who are undertaking high-quality weight loss exceeds 1.6 g/kg BM/day and may be as high as 2.4 g/kg BM/day.
  6. Athletes who consume a high-protein diet (e.g., 2.4 g/kg BM/day) during weight loss are not at increased risk of kidney problems or poor bone health.

[Read our take: Can You Absorb More than 30 Grams of Protein at Once?]

This is practically identical to the position taken in a paper published by the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine in 2009, which suggested between 1.2 and 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, or 0.54 to 0.77 grams per pound.(2)

It’s the kind of answer that draws surprise from dietitians who work with the general population (It’s more than the body needs to avoid a deficiency) and from readers of old bodybuilding magazines (It’s less than the widely circulated rule of one gram per pound of bodyweight).

It’s true that many folks have built serious muscle on a gram per pound of bodyweight, but as the new paper states, exceeding that threshold of 0.7-ish grams per pound of bodyweight doesn’t appear to offer advantages, although studies don’t suggest it has any drawbacks either. One study published in 2014 compared athletes consuming roughly 1.7 grams per kilogram of bodyweight with those consuming 4.4 grams and found that going higher protein didn’t confer any real difference in body composition, but there weren’t any disadvantages either.(3) (Note the study only looked at the participants’ levels of muscle and body fat.)

With that said, as the International Association of Athletics Federations suggest, it may be worth exceeding the 0.7 grams per pound if you’re trying to lose a lot of weight quickly.(4)(5)

For a deeper dive on these questions, check out our complete article on how much protein you should consume.

Thanks to Dr. Brad Schoenfeld for the tip.

Featured image via @iaaf_athletics

References

1. Burke LM, et al. International Association of Athletics Federations Consensus Statement 2019: Nutrition for Athletics. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2019 Mar 1;29(2):73-84.
2. Rodriguez NR, et al. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Mar;109(3):509-27.
3. Antonio J, et al. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 May 12;11:19.
4. Helms ER, et al. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 May 12;11:20.
5. Longland TM, et al. Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Mar;103(3):738-46.

Nick English

Nick English

Nick is a content producer and journalist with over seven years’ experience reporting on four continents. At BarBend his writing more on nutrition and long-form content with a heaping dose of strength training. His underlying belief is in the middle path: you don’t have to count every calorie and complete every workout in order to benefit from a healthy lifestyle and a stronger body. Plus, big traps are cool.

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