Protein in Preparation for the Marathon

“Good nutrition may not make an average runner a great runner, but poor nutrition can make a great runner average.” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Nutrition plays a vital role in your exercise regimen or training for an event. One benefit of taking a closer look at your nutrition is determining your body’s baseline. Once you know this, you can plan your nutritional needs to help your body adapt to, and recover from, stress caused by increased physical activity. Protein is responsible for healing the body after increased activity or stress. Therefore, it is recommended to get an adequate amount of protein to make the training process easier.

Here are some key points to help you:

1. It is about how much you eat...

First and foremost, along with the protein you eat to be used in recovery, you need to eat enough calories and carbohydrates. If you do not eat enough calories and carbohydrates throughout the day, you risk burning the protein you eat during your training session or competition, which could ultimately result in lower muscle mass. Carbohydrates help your body utilize protein!

Weight loss, weight maintenance and weight gain

For athletes who would like to maintain their current weight and muscle mass while training, the recommendation for daily protein is between 1.3 and 1.7 g/kg of body weight. For athletes looking to lose weight while training, the recommendations for protein increases to 1.6-2.4g/kg as well as incorporating resistance training into routine. You will need to adjust your intake of other macronutrients (e.g., fat, carbohydrates). We’ll cover this in an upcoming blog, so stay tuned! Increasing protein from this point greater than 2.5g/kg body weight is not recommended as it does not illustrate further adaptive advantages. To put this into perspective, a person weighing 150 pounds should not plan to eat more than 170 grams of protein a day.

2. It is about what you eat...

Secondly, the source of protein matters. Protein from milk-based sources, lean mean, soy and egg are good sources as they have the full complement of amino acids the body uses to build and repair muscle. Milk-based protein in liquid form is considered one of the best proteins due to its special digestive properties. Whey protein sources like milk are high in leucine and easily digestible proving its superiority over other sources such as soy and wheat. For those who cannot tolerate regular milk, lactose-free cow’s milk will still provide the same benefit for you. Getting your protein through whole foods is recommended. Protein can be filling, increasing protein content within a balanced diet will help to supply your body with all the nutrients it needs to function properly. However, when access to whole food after exercise is limited, protein supplements will do.

3. Incorporating how much you eat and when you eat it...

Protein before training or competition

Consume 30g of protein Three to four hours prior to a training or competition run. If you do not have enough time to eat 3-4 hours prior to a race, have a snack 1-2 hours prior to the run. This snack should not be high in protein or fat. A good snack would include juice, fruit, granola bar, mini bagel with peanut butter or yogurt. If you have less than an hour before the run, drink liquids to fuel. A sports drink or meal replacement low in fat in recommended for this situation.

Protein after training or competition

Eating protein several times throughout the day improves muscle adaption with training. Eating 0.25-0.3g/kg of your body weight within 2 hours after training can prove beneficial. Additionally, eating another 0.3-0.4g/kg body weight of easily digested protein every 3-5 hours or 4-5 times a day can help your muscles. If you are eating protein along with other food, it may be beneficial to bump up the intake to 0.4-0.5g/kg to accommodate for digestion and absorption. For example, for a 150 pound person, it is recommended to plan post-training meals with 27-34 grams of protein each.


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