It’s critical for runners to keep track of how much protein is in their diets, but it’s also important to eat it at the appropriate times to maximise performance benefits. Here’s when to chow on this key nutrient for muscle recovery and become a stronger runner.
RISE AND SHINE, PROTEIN TIME
Start your day with protein to ensure you’re properly fuelling all that training. Sports performance nutritionist Krista Austin, who has a doctorate in exercise physiology and sports nutrition and has consulted with the Oregon Project, says that runners who front-load their day with more protein set themselves up for a more stable supply of energy, wind up feeling more satiated throughout the rest of the day, and enhance their moods. The goal is to keep pace with your energy demands, never letting your body go into a deficit.
Match your protein percentage intake to the type of training you have planned for the day. All of her recommendations are based on a 55kg runner. On easy days, eat 35 per cent protein, 45 per cent carbs. (For a 2100-kilojoule breakfast, get 43 grams of protein; scale for your recommended kilojoule intake.) On days when you’re going hard or long, make it 25 per cent protein and 60 per cent carbs (31 grams of protein in a 2100-kilojoule breakfast). Austin says that overall, runners need to increase their protein intake for breakfast on most training days.
- Four-egg omelettte with spinach and tomato, two soy sausages, and fruit = 2180 kilojoules/34 grams protein
- Protein Pancakes (1 serving, adding 25 grams protein powder to the mix) and two-egg omelette with spinach and tomato = 2260 kilojoules/44 grams protein
THE POST-WORKOUT RECOVERY WINDOW
Protein is imperative for muscle repair and growth. Runners need to time protein intake to hit the 30-minute post-workout recovery window. Austin recommends that this meal or snack contain 25–30 grams of protein. Scale proportionately to your weight.
Chris Winter, a Canadian steeplechaser at the 2013 world track championships, is a big fan of fish for go-to recovery. “I’ll spend the few bucks extra to get that little better cut of meat or piece of fish,” he says. “I find that in doing so I stay healthier, leaner, and generally have more energy. A plate of fresh salmon, quinoa, and a salad is my idea of a perfect recovery meal.”
- Apple and 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese = 1170 kilojoules/25 grams protein
- Tuna melt: 85g tuna, 30g cheese, one English muffin = 1425 kilojoules/27 grams protein
DAIRY PROTEIN BEFORE BED
Contrary to conventional wisdom, eating before bed will not add unwanted kilos. While some studies have linked weight gain and late-night eating patterns, an extensive review by the British Medical Journal showed that this correlation only exists if you are eating too much or making poor food choices. In fact, eating a protein-stocked snack before hitting the pillow will do your training a favour – it’s a bonus recovery window to stimulate muscle repair and growth. A 55kg runner should ingest 20-25 grams of protein, and to increase the benefits of this window, opt for a dairy source: The special enzymes from dairy enhance the benefits of this nightly protein. Skim chocolate milk, the ever-popular recovery drink, mixed with some protein powder, is the perfect combination of dairy, protein and sugar to aid restoration. Drink it right before going to bed to make tomorrow’s workout more productive.
- 450mL skim chocolate milk = 540 kilojoules/16 grams protein
- Add protein powder of choice = 10 grams protein