Cincinnati Bengals safety Chris Crocker says, “Diet is very important to me as a player. High protein is my main focus along with incorporating more carbs the night before the game.”
There’s a reason pro athletes like Crocker won’t go anywhere without their protein. It’s an essential ingredient in every cell of the body, including the muscles.
During a workout, your body goes into a catabolic state where it’s breaking down muscle. Once you’re done lifting, you want to put it back into an anabolic state where it builds muscle again. Rob Livingstone, a strength and conditioning professional in Norcross, Ga. who has trained many pro athletes, says, “It’s so important post-workout to get something in your body to start that anabolic phase.”
Bonci says the goal with eating protein is to optimize performance and build lean muscle mass. Ideally, you want to get in a serving of protein both before and after a workout, she says.
When you eat your protein, don’t take it solo. “You’ve got to have some carbohydrates,” Livingstone says. “There’s got to be some sugar in that protein to increase the absorption.” Carbs not only help your body grow muscle, but they also provide you with fuel for your workout.
A lot of NFL pros get their protein on the go. A quick protein fix in bar or shake form is great when you’re at the gym. But it shouldn’t be your only source of the nutrient. “To me,” Bonci says, “a meal is not a shake or a bar. I think there’s something to be said for utensils and chewing. But they really can help somebody get to their goal and they’re really convenient. It’s a little hard to whip a turkey leg out of your [gym] bag.” Bonci recommends using whey protein isolate, a straight shot of protein that you can add to shakes, peanut butter, oatmeal, and just about anything else you eat or drink.