Get Fit-Get Healthy – Is Protein Important for Runners?

Get Fit-Get Healthy – Is Protein Important for Runners?

In a previous blog article “Get fit – Get Healthy – High Carb vs High fat” we explored the potential benefits and pitfalls of these two highly debated macronutrients. This article will focus on the positives/negatives of a protein diet in relation to physical performance & meeting energy demands.

How much protein is enough?

Protein is an important component of any runner’s diet for its role in recovery & repair. The working muscles are composed of proteins, which are stressed during activities such as running. This causes both damage to the muscle fibres & induces breakdown of muscle proteins. The average person requires only 10% of their daily calorie intake to come from protein, rational thinking would suggest runners would need more, perhaps 15-20%. However, measuring an individual’s protein requirements in relation to percentage daily calorie intake is often misleading. Instead, it is better to calculate protein requirements relative to the individuals body weight. Running increases, the total energy demands, meaning the macronutrient totals should all increase. A good example is comparing a physically inactive person to a person that runs several times per week. The runner will require a greater number of calories over the course of the week, meaning 10% of their total would be greater than that of the non-runner. For this reason, runners will only require 10% of their total calorie count. The timing of protein consumption is perhaps the most important consideration. Protein intake within 30 minutes post exercise will yield the best results in relation to muscle recovery & repair.

What are the best sources of protein?

The recommended protein intake for a runner is anywhere between 0.5g-0.8g per pound of body weight depending on the volume of training. The best sources of protein are;

• Almonds
• Skimmed Milk

Sources of Protein- Almonds
Sources of Protein- Almonds

• Eggs
• Low fat yoghurt
• Salmon
• Turkey
• Chicken

Vegetarian/Vegan Protein Sources

• Lentils
• Split peas (yellow & green)
• Dal
• Seitan
• Hemp Protein
• Brown rice
• Nuts & seeds

Its important to recognise that while protein intake is important, too much can have detrimental effects when used as a primary source of energy. Relying solely on protein for energy can induce a state of ketosis. This occurs when there is an insufficient amount of carbohydrate in the diet to provide glucose. As a result, substances known as ketone body bodies are formed from fatty acids which can lead to several problems. Firstly, an increased level of fatty acids can disrupt the acid-base relationship within the body which can cause hyperphosphatemia. This can also disrupt the resorption of calcium from the bone which can induce both kidney stones & osteoporosis.

Alan Webb- Former USA Middle Distance Runner
Alan Webb- Former USA Middle Distance Runner
Conclusion

While protein intake is important for runners it should not replace carbohydrates as the primary energy source to prevent conditions such as ketosis. It is best to consume around 10% of your daily calorie intake in the form of protein. However with the different demands in energy it is best to calculate protein requirements relative to an individual’s body weight to gain a more accurate estimate. The recommended protein intake for a runner is anywhere between 0.5g-0.8g per pound of body weight depending on their volume of training. If you decide that a protein diet is right for you, ensure you are consuming it from the right sources & not becoming dependent on supplementation.

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