Protein

Protein is essential to build and repair muscle tissue. Protein allows muscles to contract, gain in size, and increase in strength. Loading up on protein does not guarantee larger muscles. Protein in excess of the body's needs is stored as fat, not protein. Muscle growth comes from hard work, proper training, and balanced nutrition. Food sources of protein include lean meat and poultry (fish and chicken), fish, legumes (dried beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and dairy products. Protein needs for active athletes, especially endurance sports, are higher than for non-athletes. The maximum recommended amounts of protein is 1.2 to 1.4 g/kg of body weight. This requirement can be met through diet alone.

Fat provides energy, protects the body's organs and helps with the absorption of some vitamins. When fats are eaten as part of healthful foods, they provide an important energy source for athletes in training. Good choices include the fats from nuts, seeds, vegetable oils (canola, olive, peanut), and avocados.

When the body is dehydrated, blood circulation decreases and the muscles do not receive enough oxygen for maximum performance. Thirst is an indication that dehydration has already occurred, so it is important to drink frequently during exercise, before thirst sets in. Here, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs drinks from a water bottle during the 2003 New York City Marathon. [Photograph by Richard Cohen. Corbis. Reproduced by permission.]

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