01 Sep Exactly How Much Protein Do I Need As A Runner
Steve: I am on a training routine and I know I need protein, but…am I getting enough of it? How much is enough? How can I know?
Steve is asking very important questions that are common for runners (and people working out in general). Sometimes proper protein intake level is overlooked, and we think we’re just getting enough.
But knowing exactly how much and when to take protein is essential to stay at the top of your game. Protein is a vital substance for athletes that allows them to recover tissue breakdown better and faster.
Your muscles need protein.
Let’s cover some basics first
What is protein
Protein is a macronutrient in your body that helps build and repair body tissue (bones, muscles, cartilage, skin). Protein is a vital substance composed by smaller substances called amino-acids which will end up in your blood stream getting to your tissue after protein has been broken down in the digestive process.
There are 20 amino-acids, of which your body produces only 11, the rest 9 amino-acids are called essential amino-acids, and you only get them through your diet.
The best sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products, which include all the essential amino-acids, whereas other sources such as beans and nuts will only contain some of the essential amino-acids (still, these are good sources of protein).
How is Protein Digested
Proteins will be broken down by enzymes into amino-acid chains, and then into individual amino-acids. This process starts in your mouth, where some enzymes are already starting the work of breaking down proteins. These proteins will be further broken down in your stomach and small intestine where they will be finally converted into individual amino-acids.
Finally, amino-acids will be released into your blood stream which will end up traveling through your body to build and repair tissue.
When there is continuous muscle exhaustion (running), micro tears in your muscle tissue will occur, and your muscles need to continually rebuild and recover. This process is directly supported by protein.
If you are a runner, you need protein to recover.
When to take protein
Unlike carbs and fat, your body does not store protein. In other words, there is no protein reservoir in your body to draw on when it needs new supply. This is why it is so important that your protein intake is well distributed throughout the day, but with special emphasis after workouts.
Are you including whole protein foods in your diet? If so, this is good. Although is safe to mention that you should focus on consuming lean sources and less or no processed meats (linked to increase the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular issues).
The best lean protein sources containing all essential amino acids are:
Grass-Fed Beef. This grass-fed option has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. 3 ounces provide approx 22 grams of protein.
Organic chicken. Excellent option providing almost 30% of your daily needs or protein and also a good source of Vitamin B. 3 ounces provide approx 21 grams of protein.
Wild caught salmon. One of the healthiest of all. Not only salmon is high in protein but also in fatty acids (good for heart, brain, eyes, skin, and cells). 3 ounces provide approx 17 grams of protein
Eggs. All essential amino-acids are included in this food. They are rich in biotin to improve protein absorption. One large egg provides approx 7 grams of protein.
Other good sources are: nuts, lentils, black beans, almonds, goat cheese.
How Much Protein Do You Need
In general terms, adults should get around 0.40g of protein per pound of body weight. This means, if you are a 170lb person, your daily protein intake should be around 70g of protein per day.
Recreational athletes should get between 0.40g to 0.60g of protein per pound of body weight a day, depending on their level of workout.
Competitive (endurance and resistance) athletes should get around 0.60g to 0.80g of protein per pound of body weight a day.
So, let’s do another quick math, if you are a competitive athlete (endurance or resistance) and you are a 170lb person, you should be getting between 100g and 136g of protein daily.
If you are already getting your daily protein levels in your daily diet, research has shown that supplementing (protein shake for example) has minimal marginal effect on your results. But there are some other instances where supplementing can be of great benefit:
- Your daily physical demands are higher than average (if you are a runner)
- If you are starting a training routine
- If you are amping up any training routine
- If you are recovering from an injury
When physical activity is higher than average it is highly recommended to keep your Protein intake at higher than average levels. Your muscles will need to rebuild tissue and recover, and Protein will support this process.
How much protein are you taking?
This is where we need to pay attention. If you are in the group of recreational and competitive athlete, it is important to know how much protein you are taking on a daily basis to support your recovery. A simple way to do this is by using the guide below (quantity/grams of protein):
There are countless studies and approaches, but in general terms, protein supplements are a good source of essential BCAA for those engaged in higher than average physical routines, and when you don’t get your required amounts of protein from your daily diet.
From the available options, animal protein powders are complete proteins (Casein and Whey). Whey Protein has been proved to be an excellent source of essential amino-acids that are quickly absorbed. A protein shake can add up to 45g of protein on top of your daily intake. Whey protein seems to be highly effective in stimulating growth in humans.
Whey protein isolate is high in leucine, the amino acid mostly responsible in muscle protein synthesis and repair, which is what you need after your workouts
From the Whey protein, the type ‘Concentrate’ is the one that keeps most of the benefits of the nutrients from the Whey, although it contains lactose and some fat. If you have lactose intolerance, Whey isolate (or hydrolysate) will be your second best option. Whey protein has short term effects as it is quickly absorbed.
Casein protein has a slow absorption rate, and can be used also as muscle recovery (taking Casein protein before sleep is a good practice on days of demanding workouts).
Our top recommended:
- X-Protein Graham Cracker Whey Protein
- Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein
- Organic Plant Based Protein
- Naked Whey Grass-Fed Protein
- Universal Nutrition Animal Whey Protein
- Isopure Low Carb Whey Protein
- Optimum Nutrition Casein Protein
- Dymatize Elite Low Absorption Casein Protein
When to take Protein Supplement
Since muscle protein synthesis is maximized right after training, for those working on endurance and resistance it is recommended to take Whey Protein supplements in a period of 1 hour or less right after your workout. Also, for recovery purposes, protein intake before going to bed (Casein) can also provide great benefits.
Some studies have found that consuming casein protein before bedtime promoted muscle growth.