Protein is an important part of everyone’s diet. We all know that. However, if you’re a runner, protein is like having an extra physio in your corner. For runners, protein is crucially important to help support your training, particularly so if you’re a triathlete or take part in endurance running over long distances where your stamina needs to be top of its game.
As a macronutrient, protein is one of the three major food groups that we all need each day and is vital when it comes to both building and repairing muscle tissue.
If you’re training as a runner and you don’t get enough protein, then injuries, underperformance and decreased motivation are likely to follow. That’s obviously not what you need.
Why is protein so important for runners?
Protein has long been associated with strength sports such as weightlifting. Runners, especially distance runners, have often focused on carbohydrates as providing the essential fuel you need to keep on running. In fact, protein is just as important for runners as it is for weightlifters. It aids tissue repair, helps to support exercise recovery, reduces the risk of injury, supports immunity and aids the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
All of these help you perform better as a runner, run for longer and recover quicker. With the right amount of protein in your diet you stand a better chance of shaving time off your personal best or completing that ultra-run you’ve targeted.
How much protein do runners need?
The average person needs 0.8-1.2grams of protein per kilogram per day. To work out what this means to you, find your weight in kilograms to discover what your recommended daily allowance should be. It’s important to remember though that this is for the average person, who is keeping moderately healthy and active.
The requirements of runners, particularly endurance runners, are different. Research indicates that endurance athletes, runners included, have vastly increased protein needs. In fact, the same research found that endurance runners may even need more protein than bodybuilders.
Recent studies have indicated that endurance athletes may find as much as 1.65-2.6g of protein per kilogram a day may be beneficial, which is roughly the same as needed by a typical bodybuilder. Surprising but true.
Why is it so important?
Here comes another science bit. Only about 0.2g of protein per kilogram is for energy during any endurance activities, the protein intake will have a huge impact on muscle protein synthesis and breakdown. What this means is that as soon as your endurance activity ends, your muscle protein will begin to repair the damaged muscles that have just been supporting your activity.
During endurance training or competing of any kind, these muscles will sustain significant wear and tear over a longer period meaning they will require extra time to recover, as well as extra nutritional support. If you’re not getting sufficient amounts of protein, that recovery becomes significantly more difficult.
So even if you’re putting the miles in, upping your intensity and ensuring adequate rest periods, you still might not see the kind of improvements you were hoping for if you don’t get enough protein.
Many runners are under-fuelling
We all live busy lives with competing demands that can make it difficult to take care of ourselves as we would like. If you’re devoting extra hours on top of all your other commitments to endurance training, then ensuring you have an appropriate nutrition balance might not be your top priority. It takes time and planning to consistently prepare food with the correct balance of nutrients for your training. This is time that runners don’t have.