06 Apr Why Protein Matters For Runners
What is Protein?
How Protein helps me as a runner?
What are the best sources of protein?
Do I need to supplement protein intake and how much?
Do I need protein pre-runs or post-runs? Or both?
Are these questions familiar? We will help you answer them.
The above are questions every runner should ask, but first, let’s understand what protein is, what it does to your body, and more importantly, how it helps you as a runner.
What Is Protein
Protein is a macro-nutrient in your body that helps build and repair body tissue (bones, muscles, cartilage, skin). Protein is a vital substance, especially if you are a runner. Protein is 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.
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 two enzymes (amylase and lipase) are already starting the work of breaking down proteins (note that is very important to chew your food thoroughly for a better protein absorption starting in your mouth). As proteins get to your stomach, another group of enzymes (protease) will continue the work of breaking down protein. From the stomach, the protein already broken down into amino-acids chains will go to your small intestine where they will be finally broken down 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 can appear, and your muscles need to continually rebuild and recover. This process is directly supported by Protein. If you are a runner, you need 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.
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 eat between 0.4g to 0.5g of protein per lb of weight. This means, if you are a 170lb person, your daily protein intake should be around 80g of protein per day.
Recreational athletes should eat around 0.6g of protein per lb.
Competitive athletes should eat around 0.7g to 0.9g of protein per lb.
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. Although 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.
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. Out of the available options (Casein and Whey), Whey Protein has been proved to be an excellent source of essential amino-acids which will be 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.
Within 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 whereas Casein protein can be used also as muscle recovery (taking it before sleep for example) as it is more slowly digested than Whey 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 (Casein type) before going to bed can also provide great benefits.
Some studies have found that consuming casein protein before bedtime promoted muscle growth.
When physical demands are higher than average, you can refer to the (above) level of protein intake that you should have on a daily basis. Protein shakes are a quick way to add up that extra protein to your body for faster absorption after workouts, this way your muscles are getting what they need to rebuild and recover tissue. Also, make sure your daily diet covers the minimal levels of protein that you should be consuming, this is key. And don’t forget that lean sources (grass fed and organic) are always better options than the rest.