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Muscle Recovery and Growth for Sports Performance 

02 Feb 2021

4 min

Protein supports muscle mass by providing amino acids which the body uses to make new proteins and new muscle for greater strength and increased performance.

We interview Aaron Fanning, a long-standing powerlifting athlete who is also a Science Manager who supports Fonterra’s Sports & Active Lifestyle team. In this article as well as on Esquire, he shares key nutritional advice on taking protein for muscle recovery and growth.

Q. What is powerlifting and how did you first get into it?

Powerlifting is similar to weightlifting, except it’s a three-part competition where you squat, bench press, and then deadlift.

My brother started going to the gym and being a bored teenager in the 80s, and I tagged along and got interested in weight training. I did my first competition in 1989 and have pretty much been competing ever since. 

I am currently working towards the World Championships, and the upcoming Commonwealth Championships planned in New Zealand in 2021.

Q. You’ve been in your sport a long time!  Do you have any advice to share on your approach to rest & recovery?

A lesson I learnt the hard way from bombing out of a meet because I failed three times to even lift my starting weight, is that you don’t need to train every day of the week! It is possible to do too much. Your body needs time to repair including getting plenty of sleep.

Another obvious one is to get enough protein post exercise so your muscle can repair itself.

Aaron Fanning, Powerlifting Athlete & NZMP Nutritionist

It also helps to have scheduled blocks of different types of training to mix things up. I only train with weights 3-4 times a week. In between, I do cardio which uses energy systems. This includes rowing or is even as simple as going for walks at lunchtime or in the evening.

Protein for physical performance

Learn how a high quality dairy-nutrition diet can help you fully optimise the benefits of exercise and promote muscle recovery.

Q. How did COVID affect your fitness or training?

Lockdown reduced my normal physical activity, as I was not walking as often. This seemed to impact my recovery and how my body felt after training. Like most people, my eating habits also changed. We moved to eating a lot more comfort food which meant I gained weight.

However, New Zealand moved out of lockdown quickly and a competition date was announced so I then had the task of losing weight!

Q. What was your approach to losing weight?

A lot of people will cut food (energy) intake to lose weight. But in doing so you must make sure you are still maintaining quality nutrition to make sure you can train hard and recover. Basically, when it comes to weight management, you don’t want to be losing lean muscle mass because this comes with the loss of strength.

I focused on an even higher protein diet that I usually would, because protein is absolutely necessary to lose weight whilst maintaining performance.

Aaron Fanning, Powerlifting Athlete & NZMP Nutritionist

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Q. What are some of the different ways you incorporated protein into your diet?

To be honest, it’s hard to keep up the protein and not get bored! Plus, for dieting, you have to select foods that keep you full and satisfied

I had a range of dietary sources of protein, such as cheese toasted sandwiches, protein bars, milk protein, and high protein yogurt. When I eat high protein yoghurt, I mix in instantized whey protein concentrate to boost the protein level.

NZMP Spoonable Yoghurt in a pot

Q. At work you’re sometimes known as ‘Mr Protein’! Do you have any nutrition tips you’d like to share? 

I’d say protein has gotten a lot of attention lately, but it’s not magical. It's not a drug. It's also not the only nutrient you need, so there is no need to cut out other food groups to just focus on protein. I’d recommend that the diet should be higher protein & carbohydrate and moderate in fat. 

As you get older your energy needs will drop off, but it’s important to note that your protein need increases so you will need more protein in your diet despite eating less food.

Aaron Fanning, Powerlifting Athlete & NZMP Nutritionist

For older folks above 50 years old, I’d say aim for 1.6-2.2g of protein per kilogram for muscle maintenance and healthy ageing.

My last thought is that looking great doesn’t always mean feeling great. It can be unfortunately common for females to suffer what we call the Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). This is when athletes, especially female, are suffering impaired body function due to poor eating habits or restricted diets, and as a result, have impaired body function such as hormonal changes; low energy; and low bone mineral density. 

Q.  To close, is there any advice you’d give people trying to get into your kind of sports?

Listen to your body. When you train you don’t need to do the maximum every time, but rather doing what’s best for you. Sometimes this will mean taking a step back rather than pushing yourself too hard. I see a lot of people get hung up on numbers, especially when it comes to weights. But some days you just won’t be able to lift as much as you usually do. That’s when you need to just focus on the process and remember that maximum performance is not gained from an individual session, but rather it all adds up over weeks, months & years. 

The Interviewee

Aaron Fanning

Science Manager, Fonterra

Aaron Fanning is a Science Manager who supports Fonterra Sports & Active Lifestyle team, providing key nutritional advice for NZMP SureProtein brand. As well as being a qualified nutritionist who has been involved in a wide range of clinical protein research, Aaron is a long-standing athlete, who is able to apply his professional knowledge to his sport of choice — Powerlifting.

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