While carbohydrates are the fuel for our body, proteins are the building blocks of our tissue, and particularly of muscle tissue. Because our body needs energy and muscle strength to function, the intake of protein will also positively affect our performance. Proteins not only contribute to muscle building, they also prevent muscular breakdown and accelerate muscular recovery. By consuming proteins, we maintain sufficient muscle mass to build up energy (see carbohydrates).
During digestion, proteins are broken down into individual amino acids. Amino acids are absorbed by our body and are responsible for the production of new proteins. A broken down protein contains 500 or more amino acids from 21 different types. There is a distinction between essential and non-essential amino acids. Non-essential amino acids are automatically produced by our body. Essential amino acids are not, or not sufficiently, produced, and must be provided by nutrition.
Consequently, protein-rich sports nutrition is the ideal way to provide the necessary amino acids and to stimulate muscle building. However, it is important to note that the right quantity of protein must be combined with the intake of sufficient energy sources or foods. In a situation of carbohydrate deficiency, our body will search for energy from other sources and protein could be broken down. This energy supply can be convenient in emergency situations, but it results in no muscle building, and could therefore lead to muscle breakdown. A good combination of carbohydrates and proteins is essential.
Because protein is responsible for the building and recovery of our muscles, the intake of protein-rich sports food can happen before or after the activity. Thanks to a higher muscle glycogen increase, a combination of carbohydrates and proteins is the best recommendation for muscle recovery.