Boxer’s Diet: Protein Requirements and Best Protein Sources
We’ve all heard it -- we need protein to build strong muscles, Popeye style. This is especially important for you if you’re looking to improve your boxing training or change your body composition. But there is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to protein consumption -- how much do people actually need, how to incorporate it into a boxing routine, whether it needs to be supplemented, etc. Read on to learn how protein can improve your performance in the ring and for boxing training, and the best protein-rich snacks and meals to consume.
WHAT IS PROTEIN AND WHAT DOES IT DO?
Protein is one of the essential macronutrients in a diet, along with carbohydrates and fats. But protein is much more than that. Protein is the most versatile of all macronutrients as it is crucial for many biological processes such as transporting oxygen throughout the body, supporting the immune system, transmitting nerve impulses, controlling growth and development of cells and tissues, and more (Source). You may have heard of amino acids. These are the building blocks of proteins, some which your body can make on its own and some which you must get from food. “Essential” amino acids are those that your body cannot produce, therefore they must be supplied through protein in foods.
PROTEIN AND MUSCLE BUILDING
Protein is essential for muscle growth, but how exactly does that happen? When you exercise, whether it is punching a boxing bag, lifting weights or doing bodyweight workouts, your muscle fibers experience small tears known as microtears. If you have good nutrition and proper blood circulation, your muscle is able to repair the damaged fibers which in turn increases muscle size, a process known as muscle hypertrophy. Muscle hypertrophy occurs when muscle protein synthesis (the building of proteins) exceeds muscle protein breakdown. This is achieved with both resistance training and protein ingestion (Source). Research has shown that adequate protein intake leads to increased strength, muscle mass gain, muscle mass preservation, and may limit age-related muscle loss when coupled with resistance exercise (Source). Adequate protein intake is also essential for muscle recovery by fueling the muscles with essential amino acids that assist in the muscle repair process.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN SHOULD BOXERS EAT?
Boxing requires force, strength, conditioning and agility. Boxers expend more energy than the average person, and therefore they require more nutrients to supply the energy and aid in recovery from intense physical activity. Given that protein is needed to help repair and strengthen muscle tissue, boxers should be aware of their protein requirements.
The recommendation for daily protein intake for healthy individuals is 0.8 to 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Since athletes, including boxers, require higher needs, The International Society of Sports Nutrition, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and The American College of Sports Medicine recommend 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. This means that an athlete weighing 90 kg (200 lbs) requires anywhere from 108 to 180 grams of protein per day. Although this is a wide range, it’s important to know that the exact amount of protein is dependent on several other factors such as gender, age, level of physical activity, and pre-existing health conditions. Therefore, it is important to work with a Registered Dietitian to determine the best range for you.
WHEN TO CONSUME PROTEIN
Let’s make one thing clear: The days of chugging protein shakes in the gym locker room immediately after your workout are over. Historically, it was believed that protein should be consumed within a 30-minute period post-exercise, otherwise muscle growth would be less effective. However, this theory is not backed by evidence. It turns out that this so-called “anabolic window of opportunity,” which is the time when your muscles are repairing and growing (fueled by protein and carbohydrates) is quite wide. Although research is mixed, it appears that muscle synthesis takes place for several hours following exercise.
In addition, studies show that the nutrients consumed pre-workout, including protein and carbohydrates, besides being essential for optimizing performance, are also important for aiding muscle repair and growth. Ideally, protein consumption should be spaced out throughout the day, preferably every 4 hours, as part of meals and snacks. After a workout, consuming a complete meal consisting of protein, carbohydrates, and fats is an adequate way to replenish nutrients lost during a workout. Otherwise, consuming a nutritious snack containing both protein and carbohydrates is appropriate.
DO BOXERS NEED PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS?
Boxers and athletes can meet their protein needs through food alone, without the use of supplements. However, protein powders and protein bars can be a convenient option when on-the-go, if time is limited and no other options are available. Dietary supplements such as BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) are marketed as being able to increase the anabolic response and muscle protein synthesis, but these claims are unwarranted by science. In fact, it’s important to note that supplements are not regulated by the FDA and therefore the claims on labels are not either.
TOO MUCH PROTEIN?
We certainly live in a “high-protein culture” where protein is glorified and over-consumed. Sure, protein is essential for life, but too much protein can do more harm than good. Studies have shown that long-term consumption of protein at amounts higher than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) can have adverse health effects. Possible complications include kidney damage, bone disorders, increased cancer risk, decreased liver function, increased risk for kidney stones, and increased risk for coronary artery disease. Many of these adverse effects are linked to animal protein consumption due to its high purine content and its association with increased risk for cancer and heart disease. When compared to animal protein, plant protein is associated with a reduced risk for chronic disease and mortality (Source 1) (2) (3).
HEALTHY HIGH-PROTEIN SNACKS
- 1 scoop plant-based protein powder + 1 cup soy milk = 30 grams
- 1 cup Greek yogurt + ⅓ cup blueberries = 20 grams
- 1 cup steamed edamame = 18 grams
- 1 slice high-protein bread (rye, pumpernickel, wheat) + ¼ cup tuna fish or 2 oz. smoked salmon = 16 grams
- ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese + 1 cup raw celery or carrots = 12 grams of protein
- Banana roll-up: 1 small whole wheat tortilla + 1 banana + 2 tbsp almond butter = 11 grams
- Overnight oats: ½ cup milk + ½ cup rolled oats + 2 tbsp hemp seeds = 11 grams
- 12 multi-grain crackers + 4 tbsp hummus = 9 grams
- 1 hard-boiled egg + ½ avocado = 8 grams
- ½ cup trail mix (nuts + seeds + dried fruits) = 8 grams
- 1 cup celery sticks + 2 tbsp peanut butter = 8 grams
- Chia pudding: ½ cup plant milk + 2 tbsp chia seeds + fresh berries = 6 grams
HEALTHY HIGH-PROTEIN SOURCES
- 3 oz chicken breast = 26 grams
- 3 oz ground turkey = 24 grams
- 3 oz salmon fillet = 19 grams
- 3 oz canned salmon = 18 grams
- ¾ cup Greek yogurt = 18 grams
- 2 oz canned tuna = 13 grams
- 3 oz extra-firm tofu = 10 grams
- 3 tbsp hemp seeds = 10 grams
- 1 cup lentils = 9 grams
- ¼ cup pumpkin seeds = 9 grams
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds = 8 grams
- 1 cup black or kidney beans = 8 grams
- 2 tbsp peanut butter = 8 grams
- 1 cup cooked quinoa = 8 grams
- ¼ cup almonds = 6 grams
- 1 egg = 6 grams
- ½ cup rolled oats = 6 grams
- ¼ cup pistachios = 6 grams
- 1 slice whole wheat, rye or pumpernickel bread = 5 grams
- 12 whole grain crackers = 5 grams
- 1 cup brown rice = 5 grams
- 2 tbsp chia seeds = 4.5 grams
Protein is absolutely essential as part of a boxer’s diet to ensure proper muscle recovery, repair, and growth. However, overconsumption of protein can have serious long-term health implications. Boxers should work with a dietitian to determine their protein needs and plan their meals and snacks to distribute the protein sources throughout the day to meet requirements. Before a workout, protein and carbohydrates are essential to fuel the body and optimize performance, with more emphasis on carbohydrates to provide energy. After a workout, protein and carbohydrates should be replenished through a complete meal or nutrient-dense snack, with a higher emphasis on protein to assist muscle recovery while carbohydrates replenish glycogen stores.
To learn more about how you can enhance your boxing training, muscle growth, and performance in the ring, visit the FightCamp YouTube Channel to get pro tips, drills, and exercises to keep you in fighting shape. It's never too late to get started on your at-home boxing journey!
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The Author: Carolina Schneider, MS, RD is a registered dietitian specializing in plant-based nutrition and wellness. With a Master of Science in Nutrition & Dietetics and a background in Journalism, Carolina is passionate about evidence-based nutrition and educating individuals on how to eat well for good health. Her favorite boxing move? Uppercut. Favorite food? Sushi (unless you count chocolate as food). Her Instagram is @TheGreenRD.