The NCAA has overturned a regulation limiting the amount of protein permitted to be contained in supplements provided by an institution to its student-athletes.

In a meeting in December of 2015, the committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) brought into question the prevailing regulations set by the NCAA regarding the dietary protein needs of collegiate student-athletes.

The rule in question, No. 16.5.2 (g), stated that “nutritional supplements containing more than 30 percent of calories from protein are classified as muscle-building supplements and may not be provided to student-athletes.”

The new regulation proposed by CSMAS is worded as follows:

An institution may provide permissible nutritional supplements to a student-athlete for the purpose of providing additional calories and electrolytes. Permissible nutritional supplements do not contain any NCAA banned substances and are identified according to the following classes: carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks, energy bars, carbohydrate boosters, protein and vitamins and minerals.

CSMAS requested input from Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) group and the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA) about the pertinence of the rule. SCAN and the CPSDA issued a joint response including a review of the most recent data.

In their response, SCAN and the CPSDA detailed several categories of student-athletes who may be put at risk by the current regulations. One such category is female athletes, who may fall into what the report labeled the “female athlete triad,” characterized by low energy, menstrual dysfunction and low bone density. This triad puts student-athletes at a high risk for injury, but can be minimalized by adequate protein intake.

Another group detailed in the response is student-athletes presenting with metabolic syndrome, defined by high levels of triglycerides, HDL-C, abdominal obesity, glucose or blood pressure. SCAN and the CPSDA named football linemen as one class of athlete statistically at higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, as they are habitually provided with a “recovery cocktail” that is high in simple sugars.

According to the response, “High-carbohydrate supplements put an already at-risk population at a greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Providing these at-risk athletes with a high protein post-workout supplement, plus complex carbohydrate foods would help decrease the amount of simple sugars consumed in their diets.”

The research presented by SCAN and the CPSDA concluded that “If sports dietitians were permitted to provide protein supplements to their athletes, they would more effectively control the amount and type of protein the athletes receive, and precisely match the individual athlete’s nutritional need.”

The CSMAS proposal was under consideration for over a year before being voted into effect in January of this year.

Courtney Cameron is Editorial Assistant of Athletic Business.