It is no secret that protein is an important component of an athlete's diet. From recovery to lean tissue building, protein is a great go-to nutritionally. But protein doesn't have to come from animals or animal sources to be an effective choice. One lesser explored option is soy, often eaten in the form of tofu, soynuts, edamame, soy milk, soy yogurt, or soy protein powder. Before you back away from the scary thought of trying something new, check out the performance-enhancing properties of soy:
1. Antioxidant boosting
When athletes train, they create tiny muscle tears. This is important for muscle adaptation. However, these tears bring with them inflammation. Short term, this inflammation will do no harm. Long term, it is an athlete's worst nightmare...leading to poor recovery, increased soreness and general fatigue. Increasing intake of antioxidants helps the body attack this inflammation to reduce the long-term effect. Research has shown that antioxidants may also help decrease the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Soy is a great source of antioxidants.
2. Muscle building and recovery
Protein is an important component for muscle building and recovery, and soy protein is no different. However, intake of complete protein sources such as soy provides all of the essential (your body can't make them) and non-essential (your body can make them) amino acids to working muscles, enhancing that recovery and building. Different sources of protein have differing absorption rates. Whey protein is considered "fast", casein is considered "slow" and soy is considered "intermediate". Generally, whey is recommended immediately following workouts to most quickly get necessary nutrients to muscles. By combining intake of whey protein with soy protein, there will be a more sustained source of protein to the muscle, which may contribute to a larger amount of amino acids being absorbed by the muscle. This could eventually lead to greater rates of muscle synthesis and overall increases of lean body tissue.
3. A beef alternative
Some studies show that consumption of soy protein is just as effective as animal sources of protein (such as beef) at increasing strength and improving body composition. This is a great option for athletes concerned about their saturated fat intake, as soy contains no saturated fat. Several studies have also shown soy to effectively reduce cholesterol levels.
No need for caution
When I mention soy as an option to my athletes, many have concerns about its effect on men, as well as breast cancer survivors. There has been a lot of press about the "dangers" of eating soy. Rest assured that soy is perfectly safe for consumption in these groups too. Research over the past 20 years has shown no effect of soy consumption on breast cancer or testosterone. In addition, the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society recommend that breast cancer survivors can safely consume anywhere from a few servings per week to 3 servings per day of soy. In fact, evidence has shown that when soy is consumed during childhood and adolescence it may actually protect against breast cancer.
So I encourage you to branch out and give soy a try.
Source: Diekman, Connie. Role of Soy in the Performance of Active and Athletic Americans. SCANNERS. Spring 2012; 4:1.