What Is Protein and Why Is It Important for Basketball Players?
Proteins are chains of molecules that are vital to life. Named more than 150 years ago after the Greek word proteios (meaning of “prime importance”), proteins have been studied and found to hold the answers to many physiological questions about the human body.
Protein is the second must abundant substance in the body, aside from water, and makes up roughly 18-20% of a person’s total body weight. In fact, it can be found in every single one of the trillions of cells that make up the human body.
Protein is a macronutrient along with carbohydrates and fats, meaning that it provides calories and energy for the body –providing 4 calories of energy for every gram consumed.
Unlike healthy carbohydrates, which mostly benefit the metabolic system; protein plays a key role in several functions of the body including: immune function, achieving a healthy pH balance, maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance, transporting nutrients, supporting growth of muscles and maintaining healthy muscles, as well as building enzymes, hormones and other important chemical compounds in the body.
As you can see, protein’s role in the body is much broader than simply supporting healthy muscles which is why it’s so important to take this macronutrient seriously!
What are the building blocks of proteins?
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are classified as either essential amino acids or non-essential amino acids. The body can make about half of the 20 amino acids that it needs which are known as the non-essential amino acids. The other 10 that the body cannot product on its own, known as essential amino acids, must be attained through diet and supplementation in order to keep up with the demands of a basketball body.
There are three essential amino acids that are classified as ‘branched chain amino acids’, more popularly referred to as BCAA’s. These three amino acids include L-leucine, L-isoleucine and L-valine, which are particularly important to basketball players and athletes as they play a big role in muscle recovery and new muscle tissue synthesis.
L-arginine is another essential amino acid that is popular for being the pre-cursor to nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator meaning that it will cause the blood vessels to expand and allow for increased total blood circulation to the entire body. Where blood flows, so do nutrients, vitamins and minerals for faster, more effective recovery. As L-arginine converts into nitric oxide, the stimulation of the release of the human growth hormone (HGH) from the pituitary gland also which means that the body is going to be able to grow bigger, stronger muscle mass in much less time than someone who is deficient in this particular amino acid.
Amino acids are what make protein so unique. You can attain all of these amino acids through your diet, however many people do choose to add nutritional supplementation in order to give themselves a natural, healthy protein boost. This can be beneficial especially after a longer than normal workout or on those days when you feel like you are dragging because of consecutive intense training days. It’s always better to focus on taking a full amino acid profile nutritional supplement rather than isolating specific amino acids since this can cause an imbalance in overall levels overtime.
Why is protein so important for basketball players?
The lifestyle of a basketball player is incredibly demanding. Aside from being under loads of stress and pressure to maintain good grades and healthy personal and professional relationships, the body must undergo hours of physical wear and tear so to speak. The entire body is left depleted often after basketball workouts, practices and games and is need of important protein replenishment. Without the right amount of protein to support your basketball body, you will be left with a weakened immune system, less muscle mass, as well as being more likely to fill your diet with too many carbohydrates and fats which can lead to an undesirable body fat percentage.
On the other hand, players who are getting enough quality protein each day in their diets will more easily build strong, lean muscles in the weight room as well as maintaining an ideal body fat percentage to support their endurance efforts out on the court. Basketball weight training is essential to college basketball dreams and protein fuels that growth and dream.
Basketball players ought to keep a close watch on their daily protein intake to build up a healthy body and to help the body recover after intense physical activity. Keeping a food journal is an easy way to track your exact protein amounts and also the timing of your protein consumption throughout the day.
How much protein do basketball players need?
You might be wondering exactly how much protein you should be getting as a basketball player every day.
Most nutritionists and dieticians are going to recommend that you reserve at least 20% of your daily diet for your protein consumption. However, the easiest way to determine exactly how much you should be getting is based upon body weight.
Here is a simple formulation that can help you set a daily target goal:
Take your body weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms. Then, multiply your body weight in kilograms by 1.8 to get the number of grams of protein per day you should strive for.
Also note, a recent Canadian study determined that highly active athletes should be consuming a little bit more than the average person, at anywhere from 1.8-2.8 grams of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight. 
Many athletes thrive on a slightly higher protein intake than a person who is only moderately active or sedentary considering that athletes are constantly having to rest and recover their muscles and body.
What types of protein should basketball players consume?
After calculating the minimum amount of protein you should be consuming each day, go ahead and jot it down in your food journal as you begin tracking your daily intake to ensure that you’re getting enough.
You can easily get enough protein each day from your diet.
Some proteins are classified as ‘complete proteins’, while others are known as being ‘incomplete proteins’. Complete proteins are sources that contain a full profile of amino acids, while the incomplete proteins contain only a few of the amino acids necessary for basic bodily functions. It’s important that you get plenty of complete proteins from both animal protein choices and some plant-based choices like quinoa, hemp, chia and brown rice.
American culture tends to lean towards animal proteins as primary sources, however in order to lead the healthiest lifestyle possible, you are going to want to mix up your daily protein intake with both animal and plant-based sources.
Stick with most of your animal protein choices coming from sources like turkey, chicken, fish and eggs. If you’re going to go for beef or pork, just be sure that you pick the leanest cuts possible, otherwise the fat content of those meats can ultimately make them not worth adding into your healthy basketball diet.
Plant-based sources of foods can provide with you just as much protein as animal sources can along with a full amino acid profile and much less fat. Go for whole foods like quinoa, buckwheat, hemp seed, chia seed, soy, Ezekiel bread, beans, legumes, seeds, nuts and brown rice to stay on top of your protein needs.
What about protein shakes, drinks and bars supplemented into the diet?
While it is very possible for most of your daily protein needs to be met through your actual food sources, you’ll find that most highly active people still choose to supplement protein into their diets through shake mixes, pre-made drinks and bars.
The great thing about supplementing protein into diet like this is that there are some really quality products out there that can give you 20 or more grams of protein in one single serving.
Most athletes add in the protein powder mixes, because they are delicious, lower sugar and can be taken on-the-go and simply mixed with your choice of water, milk or a milk alternative. Some of the shake formulations are complete meal replacements featuring vitamins, minerals and superfoods and superfruits while other products are just protein. Still others look to smoothies to add or maintain weight in baksetball training. Here is a good resource for that: Basketball Smoothie Recipe. It’s all in what you feel like you need, but these can be a smart way to go to support your basketball protein needs!
A few of my top protein shake mixes are:
- Genesis PURE’s Complete Shake (http://www.genesispure.com/products/display/2087/complete-shake)
- Genesis PURE’s Sports Recovery Shake (http://www.genesispure.com/products/display/2082/recovery)
- Vega Sport Performance Protein (http://vegasport.com/product/performance-protein/)
- Sun Warrior Warrior Blend (http://www.sunwarrior.com/store/)
Protein bars are another convenient, easy way to get in extra protein when you need it most! Be careful to double check the sugar content of the bars you are consuming, because many brands contain anywhere from 15 to 24 grams of sugar per single bar, which takes away from the nutritional value of the protein content. Other than that, be sure to fill your sports bag with them, because they can be an ideal mid-practice snack or even a quick pre-workout boost that you are needing to fuel your body for practice or a game.
A couple of my favorite healthy protein bars include:
- Quest Bars (http://www.questnutrition.com/protein-bars/)
- Power Crunch Bars (http://powercrunch.com/products/energy-bars/original/)
- Vega Sport Protein Bars (http://vegasport.com/product/protein-bar/)
What is the difference between Whey, Casein, Natural and Blends of Proteins?
When you walk into any nutritional supplement store like the Vitamin Shoppe or GNC, you will notice that there are different types of protein powders to choose from which can be very confusing.
The distinct difference between the different kinds is that whey and casein are derived from cow as a by-product of cheese, while natural proteins come from plant-based sources like quinoa, soy, hemp, chia, brown rice and other grains and sprouts. So if you lead a more plant-based diet, the obvious choice is to stick with the natural proteins.
You will notice that most whey protein these days is hydrolyzed whey, which basically means that it is partially pre-digested for faster assimilation and absorption in the body. Many heavy weight lifters like to use whey so that they can gain an almost instant protein boost any time they might need it.
On the other hand, casein protein is a more slowly digested and absorbed protein that many athletes will take before bedtime so that the body has protein to utilize over the course of the night. Not too many people actually use just casein by itself aside from athletes who are heavy weight lifters, but it is more popular for athletes to use casein in general if it is in a protein blend.
Blended proteins are pretty straightforward and are not specific to the milk derived or plant-based protein sources. You can find whey and casein blends, as well as natural protein blends that combine the above mentioned proteins together as well. Your natural blended proteins are also going to be your complete meal replacement products, which are a very wise choice since they can provide the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that protein specific supplements cannot.
According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers at the University of Texas Medical found that compared to whey, a combination of soy (25%), casein (50%), and whey (25%) after a weight-training session delivered amino acids to muscles for an hour longer. This suggests that muscle building goes on for a longer period of time with the blended formulations then with whey by itself.
Protein is a big part of our society, while some people are consuming too much, others not enough. As a basketball player, it’s your responsibility to know exactly how much protein you are getting each day to meet your needs. Start by calculating what you need and then begin to keep track and consider your sources. Are you consuming too much or too little? Could you benefit from adding more plant-based or animal sources of protein into your diet? Do you think that keeping protein supplements handy might enable you to stay on top of your daily intake in situations where you need a boost? All of these are things to start considering as you refine your basketball diet to help you build a strong, lean body that can make you a better basketball player and athlete!
Get Started Adding Quality Basketball Protein To Your Diet Today!
 Nutrition Concepts and Controversies, pgs. 186-194