We know by now it's just as important as carbohydrates.
It keeps your energy up and cravings at a minimum and builds muscles while burning fat, but it is often the one nutrient many runners lack in their diet: getting enough protein.
How much protein to consume
Enough protein plays a significant role in a runner’s diet. It helps repair muscles after a rigorous workout. It also builds and maintains muscle mass, which boosts performance. Of course protein intake varies depending on the intensity of your run workouts. Many female athletes are able to consume the recommended protein requirements from their daily diet as long protein intake is 10 to 15 percent of their nutrition plan, according to the Journal of Sport and Exercise. However, regardless of your protein consumption, protein should be managed based on your body weight, not percentage of daily intake.
Dave Scott, six-time IRONMAN champion, works with many athletes to make sure they consume the right balance of nutrients to avoid any issues during a competition. Warning signs that you might not be getting enough include: restless sleep, lack of clear cognitive thought process, loss of muscle tissue, brittle nails, that “laziness” feeling and low libido. Scott suggests women should use the following protein guideline to ensure they consume the right amount:
- Light exercise (30 to 60 minutes a day) take in 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight
- Moderate exercise (1 to 2 hours a day) take in 1.3 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight
- Heavy exercise (more than 2 hours) take in 1.6 to 2.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight
How to consume the right amounts
Regular diet: Include cold water fish, grass-fed beef and chicken into your diet three to five times a week. If you’re a vegetarian, try consuming Nori seaweed or Tempeh.
In every meal: Try to include a piece of protein per meal. You can sprinkle protein powder in your oatmeal, smoothie, coffee or yogurt parfait in the morning. Eat beans or meats at lunch or dinner, and snack on high-protein foods in between meals.
Don’t forget the golden rule: It’s best to have a 2.5-hour window before eating, which means no grazing throughout the day. This sets your key hormones, Ghrelin and Leptin. Also, try to avoid sugary foods—sorry, ice cream lovers—before bed. This negates HGH and testosterone production, which helps regulate hormones, recovery and protein synthesis. You have a much higher risk of muscle loss if you consume too many sweet treats.