If you want to look, feel and function your best in karate, you need to focus on protein.
In other words, sufficient amounts of high-quality protein will help you kick ass at karate and look good while doing it.
Functions of Protein in the Body
Proteins are the building blocks in the body. Remember playing with blocks? Well, nature has put you together with protein building blocks.
Proteins are used to form our body’s structure: specifically our muscles and bones. Without muscles and bones, you’re gonna have a tough time practising karate.
Proteins are also important parts of our cell membranes, enzymes, blood and some hormones. And without those…. well… you’d probably be dead. (Kidding not kidding.)
Benefits of Dietary Protein
Getting enough protein in your diet is key if you want to:
- manage your appetite and weight (because protein is really filling),
- improve your body composition (because protein is crucial for both maintaining as well as building muscle mass),
- repair muscles after tough training and competitions,
- recover faster after your training and tournaments,
- improve your performance in karate as well as during daily activities, and
- improve your health in general.
Best Dietary Sources of Protein
Here is a list of high-quality protein sources. Note that different cultures will gravitate towards different foods, so not every food on this list will necessarily appeal to you. Choose what you like:
- beans, legumes, lentils
- eggs, egg whites
- cottage cheese, Greek yogurt
- beef, bison, buffalo
- pork, boar
- lamb, goat
- wild game (venison, caribou, moose, elk)
- poultry (chicken, duck, turkey, pigeon)
- mollusks (mussels, clams, scallops, escargots)
- seafood (lobster, shrimp, squid, octopus, crayfish)
- rodents (rabbit, beaver, squirrel, guinea pig)
- seal and whale
- protein powder (whey, casein, egg, collagen, pea protein, hemp, etc.)
How Much Protein Do You Need?
How much protein you need at a particular meal and total for the day depends on a few things, specifically your size, age, and activity level.
I’m going to make this simple for you:
Most people need between 1-2 servings of protein per meal, with a total of 4-8 servings of protein per day.
Typically, the lower numbers are usually for people who are female, smaller, older, and/or less active. And the higher numbers are usually for people who are male, larger, younger, and/or more active. So me, for instance. I’m female, small, uhh kinda old, but very active, but I’d go with 1 serving per meal and 4-5 total servings per day.
Next question: how much is a serving?
One serving of protein is approximately 20-30 grams, and two servings would equal 40-60 grams.
An easy way to measure this is using the palm of your hand. One serving of protein is the size and thickness of your palm. Bigger palm, bigger portion, so this method adjusts for body size. And hey, your hand is usually with you—hopefully—so you can use this method anywhere. No need to drag your food scale to tournaments anymore. (Probably kidding.)
Just make sure you’re eating a variety of food sources. All eggs all day long, for example, and you’ll probably not get enough protein, because eggs don’t have as much protein as other sources on that list. But eggs as part of a variety of sources? Absolutely, because that protein in eggs is of high quality. It’s just not going to be enough on its own. Choose a variety from that list I gave you—eat a variety of high-quality proteins—and this method will work. Pick something different from that list at every meal. Switching it up like that is a great dietary practice in general.
When to Eat Protein
Ideally, you want to eat those 1-2 servings of protein at every meal throughout the day.
But what about your karate training? Do you need protein before training? After training? During training?
The answers are: Yes. Yes. And possibly.
Eating protein before your dojo session can help you:
- maintain or even build muscle mass,
- reduce muscle damage (which equates to faster recovery), and
- flood your body with those important amino acids (the building blocks of protein) when you need them most: during your karate training session.
For maximal results, eat 1-2 servings of protein before your karate training session. If you want to have a reasonably sized meal, time it for about 2-3 hours before your training session, and include 1-2 servings of protein in that meal. Any source of protein can work here: plant, animal, supplement. 2-3 hours is enough time for your body to digest that protein, even if it’s a thick steak.
If you prefer to eat closer to your training, say up to an hour before training, go with liquid sources. A smoothie with one scoop of protein powder will work really well. You’ll have time to digest that protein, and you won’t feel full and sluggish (and possibly vomit) during your training, which you might if you had a big, protein-rich meal an hour before class.
Eating protein after your training is crucial for:
- better recovery,
- maintaining or building muscle mass, and
- improving your performance.
For maximal results, eat 1-2 servings of protein after your karate training session (in addition to before). Anytime in the 2 hours after your session is totally fine. And any protein source can work well here.
Whole foods or protein powder: it’s really up to you. If you want to eat right away but aren’t hungry enough for a big meal, go with a protein shake. If you can handle a bigger meal, do that. Just try to do so within 2 hours of that training session.
Do you need protein during your karate session? Maybe. Eating a small amount of protein during your session can lead to better recovery over the long term. Particularly if it’s been awhile since your last meal. For example, if it’s been longer than 3 hours since your last meal—if you couldn’t eat 2-3 hours before—adding protein during training can help offset this.
The best source is Essential Amino Acids—you can buy these at your local supplement store. 15 grams of EAAs per hour of training is sufficient.
So you CAN do this—eat EAAs during training—but do you have to? This practice is only necessary for some people. Like if your training session is particularly long and intense, if you’re training multiple times throughout the day, or if you’re trying to make huge changes to your body composition.
For everyone else: sure, you can try it. You might benefit from it, but it’s not mandatory. Eating protein before and after training however: that will get you results. So prioritize those meals for maximal results.
But hey, what if you’re having a crazy day or week or month and you can’t follow this protein timing schedule? Don’t stress about it. Focus on trying to hit those daily totals—4-8 servings of high quality protein per day, with 1-2 servings at each meal—and you can still kick ass in karate and life.
What are your go-to protein sources? Are there any I didn’t mention in this article? Please share below.