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by Michele Tuttle

June 14, 2021

And how to incorporate whole-food proteins into your diet

Protein is required for life and athletic performance. But how much? And when? And what happens if you eat too much? Here are answers to those questions for swimmers.

Myth 1: You need protein powders and bars to meet your protein needs

The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that endurance athletes such as swimmers eat approximately 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. For a 150-pound swimmer, this is 82 to 95 grams.

Most people can (and should) get their protein from a variety of whole foods before using supplements. If you can’t consistently meet your protein needs with whole foods, consider a supplemental source before reaching for protein powder or bars. Sometimes doing simple things, such as making your oatmeal with milk rather than water, can boost protein.

Myth 2: Only animal sources of protein are well absorbed

Eating a variety of protein types from animal and plant sources ensures that your diet has all the essential amino acids and important minerals such as iron, calcium, and folate. Protein from animal sources is highly absorbed (especially eggs), and protein from plant sources provides fiber, a key nutrient for microbiome health. There are nutritional benefits to both types of proteins.

Myth 3: There’s no such thing as too much protein

To get the most benefit from your protein sources, eat protein throughout the day and especially after harder workouts to encourage muscle repair. Aim for 15 to 20 grams at every major meal or snack. Because your body doesn’t absorb more than 30 grams at one time, eating excess protein becomes calories and will be stored as fat if not required for energy. Although protein powders and bars do provide a lot of protein, they don’t provide any extra or “side” nutrients since most of that has been stripped away. Eating different types of whole food protein sources throughout the week means that you get the protein plus lots of other vitamins and minerals.

Tips for adding whole food proteins to your diet

Here are six categories of whole food protein sources to consider including in your diet:

Nuts, seeds, nut butters

  • 2 tablespoons of nut butter or 1/4 cup of whole nuts provides 4 to 7 grams of protein.
  • Side nutrients include Polyunsaturated fatty acids, fiber, Vitamin E, and magnesium.
  • Eat as snacks, sprinkle on yogurt, cereal, or salad; spread on crackers, bread, or fruit.

Whole grains: whole wheat berries, oatmeal, quinoa, millet

  • 1 cup cooked provides 6 to 9 grams of protein.
  • Side nutrients include fiber, iron, zinc, magnesium.
  • Use as side dishes, salads, or in recipes.

Milk, yogurt, and cheese

  • 1 cup milk or yogurt provides 8 to 11 grams of protein.
  • 1 ounce cheese provides 7 grams.
  • Side nutrients include calcium, riboflavin, Vitamin D.

Beans, lentils, tofu

  • 1 cup cooked provides 14 to 18 grams of protein.
  • Side nutrients include fiber, B-vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, zinc.
  • Use in salads, soups, stews, or “burgers.”

Fish, seafood, shellfish

  • 3 ounces cooked provides 20 to 22 grams of protein.
  • Side nutrients include zinc, omega 3 fatty acids.
  • Eat as a main dish or mix into salads, soups, stir-fries, etc.

Eggs, chicken, pork, beef

  • 3 ounces cooked provides 24 to 26 grams of protein.
  • Two eggs provide 12 grams of protein.
  • Side nutrients include iron, zinc, B vitamins.
  • Eat as a main dish or mix into salads, soups, stir-fries, etc.


  • Health and Nutrition


  • Health
  • Nutrition