The lowdown on protein for runners

Who, what, why and how much protein do runners really need?

The lowdown on protein for runners

Words: Charlotte Kennedy

If you're a runner or interested in health and fitness, then chances are you'll have heard that including protein in your diet is essential. But why is it so important for runners, where do we source it and how much do we need? Nutritionist Charlotte Kennedy answers our key protein questions. 

Muscle growth and repair

Protein is a nutrient made up of amino acids that is important in the diet of every individual. However, for athletes protein may become even more important. Protein is required for the structure, function, maintenance and growth of body tissue and organs.

One of the main functions of protein is to help muscles grow and repair. Therefore it is important for runners, as it helps muscles to get stronger as well as encouraging good recovery from sessions. If you want to get stronger and quicker, paying attention to protein intake can be very important.

When should runners eat protein?

Protein should be a staple part of all runners diets and should be eaten with most, if not all, meals throughout the day. When it comes to eating around running, protein is most important after exercise to stimulate recovery. It is widely researched that 20g of protein post-exercise is enough to stimulate muscle growth. 

Protein could also be included before exercise, but this meal should be focused on carbohydrate as this is the fuel your body will need to run.

How soon after running is it best to eat protein?

The idea of a recovery window is one which has stemmed from scientific research, so while there is some truth in it, it’s not something to stress about. After intense or prolonged sessions, the recovery window becomes quite important so therefore try to get some nutrients in within 30 minutes of finishing. This helps to kickstart the recovery process effectively.

However, if for any reason you can’t eat something or if the session is of a low intensity, don’t stress about it too much. You can still recover properly and replace your fuel stores with correct nutrition in the few hours after.

What's the best source of protein?

Some great sources of protein include chicken, turkey, quinoa, lentils, beans, eggs, tuna and salmon. However these are only examples- there are loads out there depending on preferences and taste and most supermarket websites allow you to filter foods by protein.

Supplements can also be a very good option for increasing protein intake in the diet or using around exercise. This is because they are designed with the right nutrients so that you can conveniently get what you need to complement your training. We recommend SISMyProtein and Protein Dynamix

Protein products such as drinks usually contain very high quality protein in an easily digestible form and therefore can be a good way of getting nutrients in after exercise. If using a protein shake after exercise, use whey or soy protein but if you’re using a protein shake before bed to top up your stores, go for casein.

How much protein do runners need? 

For runners, protein requirements will usually be 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kg of body mass. So for example, for someone that weighs 70kg and runs a lot of miles, their daily protein requirements would be around 112g per day (1.6 x 70). 

If you don’t want to get too bogged down by numbers, try to have a ‘palm sized’ portion of protein with every meal along with some high protein snacks (probably one before bed too!). 

Like with any nutrient, you can have too much of it. Protein contains 4 kcal per gram, the same as carbohydrate, and therefore overindulgence can lead to weight gain. Remember high protein intake alone does not lead to muscle growth-  you need the exercise stimulus to get stronger too. Don’t simply increase protein intake and expect your performance to improve. 

Charlotte Kennedy is a nutritionist for Etixx Sports Nutrition. For more information visit www.etixxsports.com

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