Both proteins and carbohydrates are important components of a healthy diet for athletes. Protein-rich foods help build muscle, while carbohydrates provide energy.
But which of the two macronutrients is more important for endurance performance? A researcher from the University of Hertfordshire in Great Britain, together with scientists from Helsinki, were able to find out in a small study.
The findings suggest that excessive protein intake can harm gut health on the one hand – and impair the performance of professional runners on the other.
A high-protein diet is important for building and maintaining muscle. In addition, meat, fish, eggs and also plant protein sources such as legumes and nuts support fat burning – thus helping you lose weight. Athletes especially rely on protein, whether it’s in the form of natural foods, protein shakes or bars.
On the other hand, carbohydrates get less attention. Even experts disagree about how healthy bread, pasta, rice & co are. What is certain, however, is that carbohydrates provide the body with energy and are involved in many processes in the body. Therefore, athletes should incorporate macronutrients, in addition to protein and good fats, into their diet.
But which nutrients are particularly important for improving endurance performance – proteins or carbohydrates? Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire, Great Britain, in collaboration with scientists from Helsinki, have now been able to do so in one small study We point out the result: carbohydrates have been underestimated so far, that’s for sure.
Carbs or Proteins: Which macronutrients are most important for endurance athletes?
The research team wanted to find out what diet was particularly appropriate for endurance athletes. To do this, they divided 16 participants who regularly participate in marathons into two groups. The first group was placed on a high-protein diet (40% protein, 30% carbohydrate, 30% fat), while the second group received a high carbohydrate diet (10% protein, 60% carbohydrate, 30% fat). Calorie requirements are individually adjusted for each person.
During the study period, the athletes kept a food diary to be able to compare the values of the two groups. In addition, they committed to a pre-set weekly training program. Sports units were recorded and transmitted using GPS smartwatches.
The athletes’ performance was then checked by completing a ten kilometer run on a treadmill. That is why they must train to the utmost exhaustion in the recent period. In addition, the researchers analyzed the participants’ bowel movements in order to draw conclusions about their intestinal health. In this way, potential links between gut flora and performance must be identified.
The study suggests that: Too many proteins can damage the intestinal flora
The intestinal flora includes all the intestinal bacteria that colonize parts of the large intestine. Bacteria regulate many of the body’s functions – for example, they make up vitamins important for our immune system, brain function, metabolism, and thus also our weight. The greater the diversity of our gut bacteria, the better our immune system works – which in turn benefits our well-being and performance.
Study results show: Compared to the carbohydrate group, study participants from the protein group had disturbed intestinal flora and a smaller variety of intestinal bacteria. In addition, the athletes’ performance deteriorated by about 23 percent compared to the initial status. For comparison, the carbohydrate group improved by about 6.5 percent on average. A diet that is too high in protein compared to carbohydrates can weaken our gut flora and reduce our performance. But how do these links arise?
Carbohydrates are important for performance
Scientists believe that consuming a lot of grains, fruits and vegetables stabilizes the intestinal flora. It is already known that carbohydrates can support our endurance. However, it is not clear whether the decrease in the performance of participants in the protein group was solely due to high protein intake. It is also possible that the low carbohydrate content has an effect on the composition of the intestinal microflora.
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