Most people know that protein is an essential part of post-workout nutrition. Without it, your muscles can’t properly heal – and that exposes you to a host of issues, including making you more susceptible to over-use injuries. But some runners might tend to overlook protein. They might think that it’s not as important as maintaining their glycogen stores.
But they’d be wrong.
So let’s take a closer look at the benefits of protein and how much protein you as a runner should be incorporating into your diet.
What is Protein?
Simply put, protein is a macronutrient that aids in building and repairing muscle.
There are three different types of macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Each of these provides the body with calories – or energy. In order to keep living, you need copious amounts of each of these macronutrients.
And by copious, we really mean a lot: one gram of protein equates to just 4 calories, but almost 16% of your full body weight is comprised of protein. Only the amount of water molecules surpass those of protein in the human body.
In short, it’s vital to your existence. Indeed, when protein is broken down, it does more than just build and repair muscle. It also improves metabolism, strengthens the immune system, and even helps you stay feeling full. This last is a particularly beneficial benefit to those looking to lose weight – if you snack on something high in protein in the afternoon, you’ll likely end up eating less at dinner. In fact, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition even found that protein can aid in weight loss and can even help you lose that stubborn belly fat.
A high-protein afternoon snack can even improve your kids’ mental state and appetite control.
The recommended daily intake for protein (generally speaking) for women is 46 grams; for men, it’s 56 grams. Some experts believe these numbers are too low. That’s why it’s important for anyone – not just athletes – to incorporate high-protein foods into every meal.
What are some of the different sources of protein?
- Eggs. 35% of an egg is protein; egg whites are entirely protein. A single large egg contains 6 grams of protein
- Roasted chicken breasts with no skin. This contains 53 grams of protein
- One three-ounce serving of turkey breast contains 24 grams of protein
- One three-ounce serving of lean beef (10% fat) contains 22 grams of protein
- A cup of whole milk contains 8 grams of protein
- Tuna is a great source of protein: just one cup of tuna contains 39 grams of protein
- A single cup of boiled lentils contains 18 grams of proteins (soybeans, kidney beans, and chickpeas are good sources too if you don’t like lentils)
- Just one ounce of peanuts contains 7 grams of protein
- Half a cup of raw oats contains 13 grams of protein
And that’s just to get you started. Check out the videos below for a more in-depth look into what protein actually is, and what foods can provide you with an adequate amount.
How Much Protein Do Runners Need?
All of the above is good information, sure, but runners – all athletes, actually – need to be more precise with what they put into their bodies.
Protein is no exception.
Counterintuitively, consuming too much of it is just a waste. Consuming enough of it too late may be better than nothing, but it doesn’t make for optimal benefits.
The general rule you should follow post-run is to consume about 20 grams of protein no more than 30 minutes after stopping. That time frame is when your muscles are most able to utilize the protein you can provide. Remember also that your carb-to-protein ratio matters. You should strive to keep that ratio at about 4:1.
But that’s just what you need to replenish.
The following are the general rules to follow for overall protein consumption, not just for after a run:
- When you’re not training, you should be shooting for 1.76 grams of protein per 1 pound of total body weight a day
- If you’re training for something up to a half marathon (13.1 miles), you should consume about 2.64 grams of protein per 1 pound of total body weight
- For a full marathon, up that intake to about 3.08 grams of protein per 1 pound of total body weight
What kind of protein sources are best for runners?
Generally speaking, it’s always best to go for leaner, healthier, and preferably natural options. Sure, you can load up on some delicious red meat and get your protein intake that way, but you’ll also get calories you didn’t want, fat, more carbohydrates than is necessary, cholesterol, and all that bad stuff. That’s why the Harvard School of Public Health recommends that you stick to poultry, fish, and legumes.
And that’s all there is to it.
If you have any questions or concerns, please make sure to drop a comment below.