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Protein for Endurance Athletes – iRunFar

[Author’s Note: When we started the Running on Science column, we were worried we would run out of topics to write about. Five years later, that’s not even close to being the case! However, with new and exciting life and career moves on the horizon, it’s my time to step away. I owe so much to the team behind the scenes at iRunFar — especially Meghan Hicks — as they’ve made me into a much better writer than I ever thought possible. To our readers, this won’t be the last science column you read in this place. I know this wild idea that Dr. Tracy Høeg and I originally pitched will always have a special home here, and it’s a column I’ll continue to read with my morning coffee.]

The group I run with has this unwritten rule. We’re not allowed to speak about what we’re going to eat post-run till we’re lower than three miles from the trailhead. And whereas the checklist of post-run noshes is lengthy and runs the entire spectrum of meals teams, we regularly overlook the very first factor we’ll devour after we make it again to the automobile — the standard restoration beverage. Normally, it’s a mixture of protein and carbohydrates, one thing to get us to our subsequent actual meal and kickstart the restoration course of.

Let’s face it, as endurance athletes, we perceive that fueling our our bodies is critically vital, and due to that, we spend numerous time pondering and speaking about meals. Within the endurance group, this often revolves round carbohydrates: what number of grams you’re ingesting per hour throughout your run, how a lot you’re making an attempt to eat pre-race, and the way a lot you want post-run. You get the image.

However what about one other vital macronutrient, protein? For many people, protein usually is an afterthought, one thing we’re possible scraping by in our carbohydrate- or fat-focused gasoline plan. How vital is protein for endurance athletes? What position does protein have in our eating regimen? And the way will we profit from it pre-, throughout, and post-exercise?

Protein shake

The worth of the post-run restoration shake is usually underestimated. Photograph: Shutterstock

Protein Fundamentals for Endurance Athletes

Protein in its most elementary kind is a macronutrient made up of amino acids or what we routinely name the constructing blocks of life. They’re compounds which can be vital so that you can construct not solely proteins but additionally hormones and neurotransmitters. You’ve possible heard of the time period important amino acids earlier than. That’s the place ingestible protein comes into play. Important amino acids are amino acids that can not be made by our our bodies, we’ve to ingest them. There are 9 important amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine (keep in mind this one), lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan (did somebody say turkey?), and valine.

We are actually product of protein. Our our bodies have many makes use of for the protein we ingest. Some is used for muscle protein synthesis in repairing tissues; some varieties hemoglobin, which permits our crimson blood cells to hold oxygen; and we can also use protein for gasoline by drawing on our amino acid pool after we are working low on carbohydrate shops (1). So sure, whereas carbohydrates and fat are our main gasoline sources for producing vitality that retains us working down the path, protein shouldn’t be missed.

Tailwind Endurance Fuel and Recovery Mix in the wild - feature

Tailwind Endurance Gas and Restoration Combine are among the many iRunFar crew’s favourite working and restoration meals, and the protein-rich restoration combine is simply as merited because the carbohydrate-dense endurance gasoline. Photograph: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

How A lot Protein Do We Want?

Each day Consumption

Broadly talking, the common particular person has a really useful every day allowance (RDA) of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of physique weight per day. However an RDA isn’t the optimum quantity of protein for you — an energetic endurance athlete who has a large number of things at play, together with age, way of life, bodily exercise, physique composition, and underlying continual well being circumstances — and what we have to know right here is your estimated common requirement (2).

Train breaks down muscle proteins, and what we do as endurance athletes breaks down fairly of little bit of it — that means we have to ingest extra protein than the common particular person. Getting this stability proper prevents the lack of muscle tissue, aids in restoration, and helps preserve muscular power. Whereas we’re not all the time making an attempt to construct muscle like a power and energy athlete, we nonetheless have excessive protein wants to permit for physiological diversifications to happen and profit from our coaching.

Functions of protein

Infographic exhibiting the essential capabilities of protein for the physique. Photograph: Shutterstock

The overall consensus at this level, together with from the Worldwide Society of Sports activities Vitamin, is that endurance athletes want at the very least 1.4 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of physique weight per day and as a lot as 2 grams per kilogram per day throughout peak coaching (1, 3). That’s two to 2.5 instances extra protein than the common particular person! For an athlete weighing 75 kilograms (165 kilos), that’s 105 to 120 grams of protein most days, and as a lot as 150 grams throughout peak coaching volumes.

I discover this all troublesome to visualise, so here’s a checklist of protein-rich gadgets and their protein content material:

  • 2 eggs — 14 grams
  • 1 cup of cottage cheese — 28 grams
  • 1 medium-size hen breast — 25 to 30 grams
  • 2 tablespoons of almond butter — 8 grams
  • 1 ounce of nuts — 6 grams
  • 1 cup cooked lentils — 18 grams
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa — 8 grams

Protein Throughout Train

Whereas in most actions protein ingestion is most crucial within the two-hour window post-exercise, our sport has barely completely different dietary calls for as highlighted by this text. One attention-grabbing distinction is that we’ve the power to comfortably ingest fats and protein on the run after we are racing at decrease intensities.

When your runs and races get lengthy, protein will also be on the menu. In observe, what this seems to be like is as much as 0.25 grams of protein per kilogram of physique weight per hour, once more for a 75-kilogram (165 kilos) athlete that’s 18.75 grams of protein per hour (1).

What I’ve personally carried out is so as to add in a restoration drink that comprises carbohydrates and protein throughout lengthy races just like the Western States 100, UTMB, and lengthy runs just like the Tahoe Rim Path each 4 to 5 hours. What are the advantages? In the case of protein on the run, including it in largely aids in limiting exercise-associated muscle injury.

Ingestion additionally aids by decreasing creatine kinase elevations (a marker of muscular injury), decreases subjective emotions of muscle soreness, and will enhance muscle protein synthesis (1). This turns into extra vital as ultramarathons develop longer, comprise numerous eccentric contractions (learn: working downhill), and through stage races the place speedy restoration is vital.

Protein Instantly After Train

When you’re immediately making an attempt to get in 100 grams of protein in a day, timing and dose change into actually vital, to be able to most readily take in the protein you’re ingesting.

You’ve possible felt strain to adjust to the rule of ingesting protein inside two hours after your lengthy and laborious classes. This does seem to offer nice muscular and mitochondrial protein synthesis (repairing muscular tissues) and help in glycogen synthesis (replenishing these carbohydrate shops in your muscle tissue) (3). So, how a lot protein do you have to be ingesting throughout this window?

Effectively, you may solely actually take in 25 to 30 grams of protein at a time. A lot above that, and also you begin to produce costly urine. The go-to post-exercise suggestion is round 0.3 grams per kilogram post-exercise (1).

Unfold It Out

Lastly, and perhaps the step we battle with essentially the most, it’s useful to unfold out your protein consumption — not simply between your three principal meals a day — however each three to 5 hours, using protein-rich snacks as properly. This permits us to ingest protein in a amount that we are able to truly take in and really helps us maximize muscle protein synthesis.

The Sort of Protein Issues

Whereas there are many meals which can be excessive in protein, it seems the kind of protein additionally issues. For the longest time, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) — leucine, isoleucine, and valine — have gotten numerous consideration. And whereas this isn’t totally unwarranted, a brand new favourite has risen to the highest — leucine. Particularly, protein sources larger in a variety of important amino acids (not simply the three in BCAAs) that additionally comprise leucine have change into the best protein kind for muscle protein synthesis (1).

The locations you will discover the best quantities of important amino acids and particularly leucine are in dairy merchandise, and different animal proteins, however are additionally in pumpkin seeds, peas, navy beans, and cooked oatmeal. What which means virtually for many athletes, is that whereas there are good whole-food sources of leucine, in case you are additionally going to spend money on protein/restoration drink mixes you’ll wish to lean into whey, pea protein, and pumpkin seed protein choices.

Plant based protein sources

Once I consider protein-rich meals, my reminiscence jumps again to dwelling within the U.S. Olympic Coaching Middle in Colorado watching bobsledders stay on a eating regimen of hen breasts and broccoli, and whereas animal proteins abound, there are numerous different sources of protein round us. Picture: Shutterstock


  • We’re protein. Whereas we would gasoline our runs and races on carbohydrates and fat, we are able to’t overlook the significance of the last-but-not-least macronutrient — protein. Proteins, and the amino acids they’re comprised of, are our foundational constructing blocks.
  • Endurance runners want extra protein than the common particular person. Whereas the common particular person wants round 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of physique weight, endurance athletes want as a lot as 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of physique weight. This permits us to take care of muscular power, restore tissue injury, and even turns into a gasoline supply if we’re working low on carbohydrates.
  • Contemplate slightly protein on the run. Including in as much as 0.25 grams of protein per kilogram of physique weight throughout lengthy runs and races would possibly assist stop muscle injury and related muscle soreness. Identical to with something new, we’d suggest you do that in coaching earlier than implementing it on race day.
  • Timing issues after train. You’ve got a heightened window for muscular protein synthesis (and glycogen resynthesis) post-exercise for roughly two hours. Use it.
  • You may solely take in a lot. Most individuals, in a single sitting, can take in 25 to 30 grams of protein. That is at the very least the candy spot for using this protein for constructing and rebuilding functions. Due to this higher threshold, it’s additionally greatest to unfold your protein consumption out over the course of the day, aiming to devour 20 grams each three to 5 hours.
  • Search for leucine. Whereas BCAAs have been all the fad, really leucine (one of many three BCAAs) is the queen of the protein fortress. Whereas animal proteins and notably dairy merchandise are wealthy in leucine, you will discover leucine in vegetation as properly like peas and pumpkin seeds.

Name for Feedback

  • What’s your favourite protein supply?
  • Any suggestions for squeezing extra of it into our diets?

[Editor’s Note: Every trail has its end somewhere. We’re so grateful for the time and love that Corrine Malcolm has put into the Running on Science column. Her dedication to serving you, the reader, has always been unwavering. We’re excited to see her next steps, and we’re also excited to bring you the next version of Running on Science. Thank you, Corrine!]


  1. Vitale, Okay., & Getzin, A. (2019). Vitamin and complement replace for the endurance athlete: Evaluate and suggestions. Vitamins11(6), 1289.
  2. Mercer, D., Convit, L., Rental, D., Carr, A. J., Hamilton, D. L., Slater, G., & Snipe, R. M. (2020). Protein necessities of pre-menopausal feminine athletes: Systematic Literature Evaluate. Vitamins12(11), 3527.
  3. Jäger, R., Kerksick, C. M., Campbell, B. I., Cribb, P. J., Wells, S. D., Skwiat, T. M., Purpura, M., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Ferrando, A. A., Arent, S. M., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Stout, J. R., Arciero, P. J., Ormsbee, M. J., Taylor, L. W., Wilborn, C. D., Kalman, D. S., Kreider, R. B., Willoughby, D. S., … Antonio, J. (2017). Worldwide Society of Sports activities Vitamin Place Stand: Protein and train. Journal of the Worldwide Society of Sports activities Vitamin14(1).


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